Why NOT following your Passion is a bad idea

In recent years, I have both read and heard many of those who advise us to not follow our Passions. The reason behind this is to favour a value model instead of an individual model. The narrative suggests that following your Passion is I-centric and to deliver your value is holistic. 

I couldn't agree less with this argument and here's why.

Passion as I have come to know it to be, is an intrinsic economic system. Your body essentially has created a method whereby due to the nature of the way we are wired, we feel good by doing things that we are passionate about. Said another way, we are rewarded by our bodies for work rendered. To ignore this is to deprive ourselves of feelings of true fulfillment.

To illustrate this, we need to examine the role of Passion, and create some common language to a topic that seems to confuse the vast majority of us.

So what is Passion?

If we were to look at the 'dictionary' version we see that the net definition is that Passion is something that curates’ intense enthusiasm for something.

But what is intense enthusiasm and where does it come from?

To evaluate this, further, we need to come up with some form of standard expression for an emotion that is quite subjective. 

To do this requires a further investigation into what makes Passion, Passion. 

Passion is an emotion. Plain and simple. And as any other emotion it generates varying degrees of excitement based on how we are individually wired. Another thing to note is that like any other emotion, Passion cannot be found - it needs to be activated. We don't find anger, we don't find happiness, and we certainly don't find love. What we do however, is we engage in something that stirs up these emotions.

There is an activation quality that is proportional to the environmental pressures we engage in. Any emotion is generally a feedback system. A way that the internal mind/body has evolved to navigate the external environment. In evolutionary terms it goes back to the basics; based on some environmental factor, the body creates a surge of neurological and physiological responses. These responses are in the form of chemicals and hormones that cascade throughout to help motivate us to move away from danger, or move towards pleasure. Investing in or engaging in our environment creates a value system that responds in accordance to the situation at hand.  

Appraisal Psychology is a form of psychology that helps us understand how we appraise our environments (the value and meaning that we apply to outside forces). Everything that we evaluate in our moment to moment experiences are logged and categorized in our mind. Each experience, and memory generates a thought, and a feeling. Combined, this helps us forecast, or create 'best guesses' for situations that have not happened as of yet. Our thoughts and emotions are intricately connected. The emotion generated can be negative, neutral or positive in ranging degrees depending on its associated thought. 

Exposure to situations, events, experiences are the environmental pressures that create neural pathways to instruct our brains on how to respond to the things in our environment. Exposure and experience is therefore a key element required to activate Passion.

The resulting formula for Passion

When we think about activating Passion, all we are doing is investing time and energy in something we identify with as being meaningful to us. The more engagement or investment we put into the things we find meaningful, the higher our chances that we will become Passionate about it. 

Therefore, Passion can be seen as: Meaning x Investment

Passion is NOT Interests

Interests are those things that we find curiosity in and are motivated to entertain. We can be attracted to many activities in life, but Passion does not necessarily result from engaging in all our interests. Sometimes we can even lose interest for things over time, and curiosity can be fleeting and passed by. The distinction here is that Passion has a quality that exudes a high degree of pleasure in an activity. But more than that it generates a desire to want to engage in that activity over long periods of time, or regardless of adversities that may come in the way of us engaging in said activity. It is the emotion that reveals to us that we are expressing the most authentic version of ourselves, and that stimulates joy and other higher emotional responses. 

Passion's behaves is in many ways like romantic love.

Sure, there is the small chance of experiencing love feelings at first sight, but only through investment and nurturing of the relationship can one experience the evolution of true love. Passion works the same way, but instead of nurturing a relationship with a person, what we are doing, is nurturing the relationship or bond with an activity or subject matter that we find meaningful. If engaged regularly that value is expressed as Passion over time.

When asking how one would go about finding Passion, it is a lot like asking how to get a winning goal? There are a series of steps that need to happen prior to asking about the goal, the first step is getting out on the court and picking up that ball. The second is playing the game, moving through hardships and experiencing the rewarding experiences of victory through taking many shots. If you find yourself motivated through the game, feeling good and optimal, and wanting to ideally play it all day long, then you have found Passion. But here is where it gets interesting. Interest only develops into Passion if the right chords are played. The  high comes not from the game basketball, but from the sum of ingredients that come together to create a positive experience to the individual. This combination varies from person to person. To know a Passion, or to be Passionate, requires first understanding your internal motivators and drivers, and then to participate in interests that stimulate, or trigger those intrinsic drivers. Understanding your own recipe combination is crucial to understanding what you will have higher potentials to be Passionate over.

It is additionally important to keep in mind, that much like romantic love, Passion can dwindle. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but it does not have to mean that all is lost. In time, exposure to new things as our value systems change can find us engaging in other things we find meaningful that can re-activate the feelings of Passion.

Remember Grit?

In Angela Duckworth's 'Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance', she reveals that when studying sustainable long term high achieving people, Grit (the combination of Passion and Perseverance) outperformed those with skill and natural talent.

To ignore Passion, and function purely on perseverance makes us vulnerable to early burn-out, or the inability to perform at our highest potential. To only function on Passion, we are equally at a deficit as when the flame dies, our efforts can dwindle. Both are required to achieve optimal states of functioning, and the best part, is that when we express both we can activate four other Psychological universal needs: Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose and Relatedness. 

Autonomy in the sense that we choose to go in the direction of our Passion. This is always a choice.

Mastery in the sense that because we intrinsically love what we do, we tend to want to do it more and for longer, cultivating eventual mastery

Purpose in the sense that when we express our Passion in the form of the work we do we value the work intrinsically, therefor resulting in a shared value system that creates a feeling of Purpose

Relatedness in the sense that when we do the things we love regularly we experience a higher state of Psychological well-being, which then reflects outwards into our relationships

To undervalue our Passions, are to not live up to our highest potentials. Not in the form of extrinsic compensation, but in the form of our intrinsic compensation. To only go after the things that are valuable to others, but not valuable to one's self is to deprive our lives the fulfilment necessary to feel higher levels of well-being. We do not have enough time on this planet to sacrifice our intrinsic needs for the needs of others. We will only end up draining our own cups, which are of no value to anyone when empty, especially ourselves. Dare to live, by daring to dream.

Final Note:

There is a word of caution when considering doing the things we are Passionate about, and that is to be mindful to ensure we align it to the harmonious side of Passion.

Dr. Robert Vallerand created a dualistic model for Passion.  This model suggested that the quality of life in those expressing harmonious Passion experienced both sustainable and significantly higher levels of well-being than those that expressed obsessive Passion or no Passion at all. Harmonious is defined as being able to control your Passion, and harmoniously integrate it into your life; whereas Obsessive were defined as having an inability to control your Passion and have it dominate all other facets of life.

Following your Passion should be done, but not at the consequence of acceptable living. There are many platforms shaping up in the 21st century that allows us like no other time before to express the things we find meaningful in an abundance of different ways. It is important to reflect on what you find meaningful, what your strengths are, what you value and what your ideals are to come up with an effective strategy to implement Passion into your life in a way that fits your circumstances the best. 

Kira Day


The Neuro-Science of Passion

We can feel curious about something, or be attracted to other things, but what differentiates Passion is our intrinsic desire to nurture a topic and bond with it. This nurturing happens through regular engagement in the things we care about. This increases the value of that topic over time, and can ultimately develop into a Passion.

But here is where it gets tricky. This is not 100% science. We can lose interest in things relatively easily. But some things can stick forever. Why is that?

Going back to Passion being multi-dimensional. There are many facets that effect how we develop our passions. The brain is an instrument of amazement. A lot of what we find passion in is correlated to areas of the brain we have allowed to develop.

Neuroplasticity is a popular conversation these days as the brain has been shown to change shape, and even develop volume just by the thoughts we have, the things we learn, and how we choose to engage with our environment. As a matter of fact, some of the content provided may have just changed your brain! Kind of cool, right??

We have roughly 70,000 thoughts per day. By engaging in what we find meaningful and interest in, causes us to think about that topic more. The more we think about it and evaluate it, the more neurons develop that subsequently interact with other neurons, forming different pathways.

You are essentially creating a brain map that allows for chemical activation at each juncture point.

Dopamine is a popular one. This is the same chemical that creates an almost addiction like sensation to social media and gaming. Hacking the dopamine supply has been a hugely successful marketing strategy. So, going back to interest and Passion. Regularly exposing yourself to new activities, and engaging in things that make you curious is an effective way to activate those neuro-chemicals that create intrinsic feelings like meaning, and Passion.

Passion is a form of intrinsic Economy

Passion is a form of motivation. Intrinsic motivation. Simply meaning, a type of economy our bodies has created to reward you for your work or effort. These rewards are so great in fact that people can persevere onward in an activity they are Passionate about, defying all odds, facing all types of suffering and adversity, and defeat what would seem like immobilizing fears to others, to pursue their Passion. The net result is that in this pursuit, they find meaning. A powerful emotion that enriches life by increasing its value.

What have you done recently to align yourself to your Passion?

Please comment below, would love to hear some of your own examples!

Living Passion & Purpose: a 21st Century challenge

Working as a Passion Development Coach, I work with those that are confused about their life’s mission. Many are unclear about what their Passions are, what their purpose is, and as a result, their own individual value. This is a depressing state of affairs, and one that truly becomes pronounced when we look at global stats suggesting that this is an issue that faces more than half of us today.


It is being recognized as a 21st Century problem.


We know this because there has been no other time where so many of us could afford to concern ourselves with, or contemplate the notion of, living a Purpose-driven life. Historically, people were set up in two main camps:


a) Born into cultures/societies that shaped a purpose-driven life-style, such that it didn’t occur to anyone to question having a sense of purpose, OR

b) Raised in a class system of some sort creating a black and white picture of who you were and how you made a living.


In the latter case, socioeconomic and cultural structures limited and prohibited choice, ambition and desire. Regardless of either end, the net result was the same: you were born into what you did. 


The birth of the industrial revolution began the disruption of that entire thought system. Western culture brought in a new way of working where personal value entered the stage and was compensated for accordingly. This wave of new technology being adopted in a global fashion soon started to spawn this reality for other cultures and communities around the globe.


Consumerism brought on through the capitalistic infrastructure played a strong role in creating a rise in individualism in the West. Creating a comfort standard where people were realizing more choices than ever before. A realization that evolved into a life of its own; carrying us further into the relatively new understanding that we can live a life by design. Although there were still external cultural influences that dictated to some of us who we were to become, more and more of us were able to break free and see a lifestyle that would have been non-optional in any other time period.


As the Information Age continued to evolve alongside the Technical and Digital Revolutions, we now find ourselves in a current time where there are more opportunities to create revenue engines that support increased financial lifestyles. We see this largely in the growing gig economy whereby we can now entertain a side hustle that creates higher revenue support via signing on to the likes of Uber or AirBnB, or the large online businesses that continue to rise. The disruptive nature of these new platforms allows individuals to make choices about their lifestyles to a degree that was before not possible.


The challenge with this ever changing interface, is that we are in a position where there are so many options now available that it is becoming hard to see the forest through the trees.


I meet people everyday for example that are not quite sure, and are struggling with, how to support both their need to pay their bills and the human intrinsic needs of finding higher levels of meaning in their lives. I also meet people who fundamentally have a flaw in their notion of the value of money. Believing that they must be practical and select pursuits of financial degrees but in the same breath are not happy with their lives and experience high levels of dissatisfaction in their lives. That being said, I also meet people that are quite happy making a lot of money, and are intrinsically driven by what they have done in life and express all of the behaviours that suggest they are extremely living lives that are happy and fulfilled. The lesson here is that we are all individuals and are motivated by different things than one another. To cast a net over an entire population and say that one version of success is the road to happiness was flawed the day it was suggested. Yet we have seen ourselves seduced by the notion of money and all the 'joys' it can bring. To me, our value systems are going through a re-set. We have been enthralled in it long enough now to know that the dream is only but a dream, and the flaws are in the seams of the very garment.


We are realizing a time where all generations simultaneously are currently facing this brave new world, and trying to figure out and forecast their placement in it. It is a reality that is universal to those that inhabit this 21st Century Western reality.


But... as that famous book suggests.... "What got us here, will not get us there"


Since the birthing of the industrial revolution, our institutions have not advanced by much – even if our technologies and industries have. I have come to understand that in the West we have designed an infrastructure (Education) that was never intended to focus on individual growth or personal development. The Education system as we know, is designed to create standardized knowledge to allow us the ability to function within, and add value to, systems that assist the capital model that aligns with the values of current industry. Sure you develop skills and tools en route to that end goal, but they are not skills and tools related to how to intrinsically be fulfilled. Although I'm sure there is an elective you can take if one was interested enough.


The education system functions as the system that educates our future knowledge worker, a concept coined in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. What it is not intended to do is to help the individual realize their personal ambitions, or connect with what makes them happy. It is designed to help us become successful candidates, allowing us to get jobs to feed the economic engine of society and as a direct consequence will allow us the opportunity to live decent and  comfortable lives. Although neither are garaunteed in our current climate as the rates in which graduates are getting jobs directly related to their fields of study continue to decline.


Nothing about this is about focusing on the personal development of the individual. This is architecting human production and performance.  That's it. A metric entirely used to suit the needs of industry.


This is not a bad thing, as we need industry to feed the engine of production and progress which is the backbone of Capitalism. However what it does, is leave us vulnerable to an imbalance in our value infrastructure. This becomes ‘bad’ when we are left only to value the economic engines without feeding the individual need for growth, value, autonomy and purpose. An increasing pressure that is spawning from the many facets of society in our new age of disruption.


 We have aimed to fill this gap through an industry known as ‘self-development’ or ‘self-help’. The challenge here, is that the entire Self-Development industry is particularly fragmented. It would be of considerable value to incorporate self-development into our institutions (both education and corporate) as a standard to enable higher levels of job satisfaction and happiness in our student communities and then eventually, our organization communities.


The challenge is, we are dealing with system’s that still function at the level it did when it was first created. There are many studies done on this, and is a major focus of present day thought leaders. It is becoming increasingly evident that there is a need to bridge the gap between institutions that were designed to function at the rise of the industrial age, with the radically different and changing needs and behaviors of the 21st Century.


When we consider integrating personal development into human production two things must be considered:


1.   The ability to customize protocols to attend to individuality

2.   The ability to maintain that there is more to intelligence than what we previously considered. Re-evaluating and changing our standard testing models


The goal here is primarily to peel off some of the layers in evaluating paths to purpose, and identifying if there is a way to incorporate our individuality into a broader discussion of where to look to identify purpose in the avenues and professions we decide to pursue. Even if that means that we enable a generation that can pave their own pathways outside of current industries. Isn't this how innovation is bread anyway?


The information age has spawned a new platform of increasingly newer products, services and value ads.


It has also encouraging new levels of competition that has commoditized entire industries, to created new models that have not existed previously.


I personally feel a shift, drawing us into a value age. One by which we can create newer forms of infrastructure based on value, and attracting customers through value. As a custom nation has formed in many ways and continues to form, there are increasingly newer opportunities for us to be creative, and think outside the box. The only concern here is how to monetize these new creations, as services evolve and infrastructures change at exponential rates. 


How do we combine our need for purpose with a dynamic changing job platform?


This is one of the questions that we are evaluating. One answer that is readily available is the need for us to understand how to do and teach Personal Intelligence. Which is defined by the dynamic interplay between personal perceptions, and intangible concepts such as emotional intelligence, natural optimal states, individually defined passion, purpose and meaning.


Providing a platform for individuals to learn more about themselves to understand the right recipe of their collective motivators can allow a more empowered society enabling the pursuing of niches that authentically brings to surface drivers for optimal performance in said niche. Creating creative outlets that bolster society and meet the fundamental psychological needs in higher levels of people.


The value that these drive is currently unmatched by today’s climate. As we conclude that various facets of intelligence exist, and that people are motivated by more than just extrinsic drivers there is an opportunity for us to re-shape and shape up future generations that find roles that are intrinsically rewarding. Giving rise to new standards of health and quality living, as well as social interactions and performance.


More about the author:


Kira Day, CCP is Founder and Lead Passion Development Coach at The Passion Centre.

For more information on her project, The Passion Centre please go to: www.thepassioncentre.com