Passion: hype, annoying, or…it’s complicated?

There are people who are so sick of the word “passion” that they shudder visibly when they hear or read about it. It’s trite. It’s overused. It’s hype. In my earlier post, The Passionistas vs the Passion Skeptics, I revealed a little of what the Passion Skeptics are writing about. They don’t want you to face “the grand betrayal of the false idols of passion.” Stop being so self-absorbed. It’s not about you. Focus on the world’s needs. You have to suppress yourself to get ahead. Get in line with reality.


Passionistas send a not so subtle message.
CC: RESPOND TO FALSE IDOLS by andeecollard, on Flickr

I believe people are unhappy with the word because it’s too simple to explain the complexity behind it. Passion is overused. Passion will break your heart. Passion will lead you down a broken path. We can’t stand to watch people getting played by over-simplistic romanticism and tear-off calendar truths. We get frustrated and blame the language.

But if you lean into the language a little more, and look at the etymology of the word passion, it comes to us from the Latin word passio, meaning suffering or enduring.

So, let’s get this straight. No one is promising you a rose garden if you follow your passion. But you’re sure not to get one if you don’t try. The sweat, the toil, the nurturing, fighting off pests…and what do you get for your trouble, even if you’re lucky enough to get blooms? Thorns.

Passion is what you have when despite all the trials and tribulations, you can’t not do your thing. Open-eyed passion is understanding and preparing to meet those trials and tribulations.

Kristen Ulmer, a former Olympic skier, writes about passion in her blog.

In many ways, passion is a trap – it is both everything, and nothing. People who claim to always be in a state of passion can seem fake and annoying. If passion were really a permanent state, we’d all be like moths to the flame. We’d burn up quickly. We’d miss much the rest of our lives.

Kristen’s story is one of many that suggests that passion exists, it can be followed, it changes over time, and well….its complicated. This world-class professional skier and extreme sports athlete obviously followed her passion – if you’re just looking to be successful or rich, you probably wouldn’t choose the field of extreme sports. She now specializes in helping people get unstuck so that they can find and follow their own passions.

In her blog about passion, Kristen advises us to go for balance by embracing the opposite of passion when we feel it, and to be honest about it. I previously quoted Kristen in the blog entry A Head-Fake into Gratitude, where she advised leaning into the negative emotions and feelings helps transform them, so that you’re no longer stuck. I attested to the fact that this technique works.


Somewhere, Passion Skeptics are rolling their eyes while Passionistas are shouting 'Go, Go, Go!'
CC: Passion by quinn.anya, on Flickr

The Passion Skeptics would tell you that the false idols of passion are leading you astray into a wasteland of unemployment and broken dreams. The Open-Eyed Passionistas would tell you to “embrace the suck.” The pain, the failing, the apathy, the suffering is all part of the passion process. And when you lean into it, you find something. The cadre of Passionistas represented by the extreme sports athletes will tell you that passion takes endurance.

Danielle LaPorte is another Passionista. She’s got a fiery brand, as evident in the title of her upcoming book, The Fire Starter Sessions (April 2012 release). Her in-your-face passion will either turn you on, or turn you off. Either way you feel, her words ring with an inner truth, which makes it worth staring into her flame for a while:

“Passion will always move you in the direction of your authentic self….It helps you know when to say yes or no. Passion doesn’t need to be constantly fiery and all-consuming – it can be steady curiosity and commitment….You don’t need to want to die for your calling or chain yourself to a tree for a cause. Genuine curiosity and sincere interest are burning coals that can warm you for a good long time….Your curiosity is your growth point. Always.”

In her talk at Chris Guillebeau’s June 2011 World Domination Summit, Danielle speaks about living on our edge.

“When it comes to living on our edge, we come to it in generally one of two ways. We come to our edge either in our desire to be of service, or through the desire to self-express.”

Based on her experience, she realized that in leaning completely into her desire to serve, to “get somewhere” and “achieve something,” she was leaving out her self-expression. She urges us to put the two together, because:

“If you’re self-expressing just because you need to get it out, you run the risk of being hurtful, irresponsible and wanky. If you’re just being of service, you’re leaving yourself out. When you bring them together, you transcend. You get what the Buddhists would call ‘right action’ and you come to your edge: Your service and simply what you must express.”

So here’s what I love about this topic. Both the Passionistas and Passion Skeptics have a piece of truth. You just have to explore what they’re both saying to find out that the desire to be of service and the desire to self-express are the yin and yang of passion.

You can start your passion journey anywhere on the circle. What calls you to be of service? What inside of you is craving expression? How can you put the two together?

Start your journey out of desire. Start it by leaning into skepticism. Start it with doubt. Start it being perplexed. Start it by being curious. Start by making a list of issues you’re passionate about. Start by exploring yourself. Whatever you do, just start it.

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