This is a guest post by Sean Howard, a long-time friend (even though we’ve never met in person), marketing genius, photographer and dog lover. The subject of passion is cornerstone to his ideologies, and he encourages us to seek out passion, despite the potential hazards.
“Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture. But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.” So said David Brooks in a New York Times article called “It’s Not About You”.
I wholeheartedly agree with him: Passion is a red herring on the path to fulfillment and true happiness. It represents a fleeting and hedonistic approach to life.
All of which leads me to my advice.
Go and follow your passion
You heard me right. Following your passion may not lead to fulfillment or true happiness, but it is worth every second of your time.
It’s likely you will have to liquidate your nest egg and everyone will say that you are being immature, but it will free you from the shackles of comfortable things.
More importantly, you will be awakened from your slumber.
Let’s say you agree and are willing to follow your passion. Almost everyone has the same question: “How do I find it?”
Think of someone you know that is very passionate and engaged in the world — someone who is continually dashing to the next adventure in their lives.
Contrary to popular wisdom, they didn’t get to where they are through some objective understanding of their own desires.
University of Toronto psychologist Jordan Peterson, who has spent his life studying purpose and how we attribute meaning to the world, insists that “passion comes after action.” This means we have to experience something before we can know if we are passionate about it. Then we listen to see if a spark flares up. If so, we have found something we are passionate about.
Following our passion is simply doing this over and over, exposing ourselves to new experiences and then taking the next step towards anything that excites, tantalizes or calls to us.
But once the shine of the “new” wanes, there remains an emptiness. This is what David Brooks was warning us about.
Some people call it a voice, some a nagging feeling, but the message is always the same. It is the realization that something vital is missing from your life.
I know because I have chased passion for my entire life. And I continue to chase it.
I’ve been an animator, professional juggler, strategist, gaffer, marketer, information architect, photographer, dog trainer, hacker, teacher, and podcast host. Each venture offered wonderful new challenges and opportunities, but I was unable to shake this feeling that something was missing.
Like most people, I wanted pleasure, recognition and approval.
Except that these are just distractions.
“Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life,” writes David Brooks. “They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. A relative suffers from Alzheimer’s and a young woman feels called to help cure that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss and must develop management skills so his department can function. Another young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never thought of in a job category she never imagined. This wasn’t in her plans, but this is where she can make her contribution.”
A lifetime of following my passion didn’t lead me to fulfillment or enlightenment.
So why am I recommending it to you?
Because it gave me the confidence to meet and overcome any challenge.
It also woke me up. It prepared me to start asking the really hard questions.
Who can I help?
What is the work that is truly worth doing?
What, larger than myself, am I here to serve?
“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.” — Parker J. Palmer, educator and activist
Has a passion project every left you unfulfilled? Was it still worth doing?
Sean continues to wear too many hats and has too many projects on the go at any one time. You can learn about his photography at seanhoward.ca, his Most Passionate project at mostpassionate.ca and his dog business at upwithpup.com.