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