October 26, 2009

Have You Abandoned Your Passion?

There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. — Nelson Mandela

“I’ve lost my passion,” Robert said, “if ever I had any at all. I just woke up one day and it was… gone.”

Who among us has never had times like that?

Robert insisted he hadn’t felt passionate about anything in years. “Work is horrible,” he continued. “I feel like I’m walking into this negative energy field as soon as I walk up the steps. I dread going in there, but I guess that’s just how it is.”

“Why not do something else,” I asked.

He shook his head. “All the tech companies are exactly the same. We work long days and it’s just relentless. I’m angry all the time. About the only time I get any relief is when I’m reading.”

“What do you like to read?”

“History.” Robert’s eyes lit up. “History is absolutely fascinating. I always wanted to be a history teacher, you know.”

“Why not do that now?”

“Oh, I could never do that. I’m just too old. Besides, they say there’s no money in teaching.”

You can see how Robert was lying to himself. He still had passion, all right. He’d simply given up on it, snuffing its light the way you snuff out a candle.

He snuffed out his life out in the process, seems to me.

To Live Without Passion is Vile

It might even be evil. Settling for a safe, off-the-rack experience is is a losing proposition. Choosing to douse your passion because “they say there’s no money” in it will backfire on you over time. You’ll either wind up miserable and angry like Robert or, worse, complacent, dull, and arid.

You may have heard someone say you can’t build a life on passion alone. True enough. Take passion as a starting point and unite it with useful action, though, and you’ve got fuel for unlimited creative fire.

Nothing great ever arose from sterile ground. It rises from the fertility of passion. Passion is powerful, infectious, and polarizing. Passion is the foundation for anything worth doing.

What to Do If You Think You’ve Lost Your Passion for Living

First off, you can’t actually lose passion. You can ignore it, abandon it, allow others to convince you it’s only for the young. You can stop tending its flame, but that ancient fire never dies out completely. Fan those coals a bit, my friend, give it a little fuel, and you’ll have a roaring blaze.

I make that statement with absolute certainty because I was once convinced that passion had abandoned me. I felt dried up and old before my time. But passion hadn’t abandoned me.

I’d abandoned it.

Here’s the thing: Many of us have been socialized into believing we can’t follow our passion. “You’ll never make any money as a writer,” people told me in high school. As long as I believed those words they held true. But once I decided to reclaim what was rightfully mine I found my passion for writing again. And yes, I did make my living doing it for many years.

Though what I’m passionate about today is different, it’s passion with a commitment to useful action that fills my life now.

How can you rediscover your passion once you’ve let it slide? I know I had to do a little hunting. You will, too. I remember sitting in my living room wondering where it had all gone. Then late one night I picked up pen and paper and wrote like hell about my fears and what I thought I’d lost. It came slowly at first, then flew out of my pen like water from a fire hose. I wrote reams of poetry for myself. I wrote songs and stories.

Of course I was writing — I could hardly do anything else. I hadn’t given it up. I’d just ignored the raw power of the passion it represented.

Maybe you’ve given up on your passion, too. I’ve known computer programmers who became fire fighters, graphic designers who started textile companies, and school teachers who became ceramic artists.

You have to start exploring again. You have to get going with no particular place to go, no specific destination. You’re sniffing the breeze, so to speak, for the scent of a small fire in the dark. If it’s been a few years since you’ve tended that flame, you’re going to have to search a little bit.

But it’s there, not far from where you are right now. Trust me, it’s waiting for you.

Some suggestions:

  • Turn off the television. Just walk away from it. It’s a jealous mistress that stamps out the creative fire. You won’t find the coals if you’re filling your head with fast cuts and sound bites.
  • Stop reading the news. Now.
  • Go to the library or a well-stocked book store. Real ones, please, not the virtual kind. Wander through the stacks and browse the magazines. Watch for the stirrings of interest at a title or topic. Read and even study anything that pricks your imagination.
  • Look back to your childhood. What excited you then?
  • Ask yourself what you would be doing right now if you didn’t have to work for a living. Where would you be doing it? What would you do to make life exciting?

It will take time for you to relocate your natural passionate energy. That’s okay. The key for now is to explore. Seek, listen, and you will find it.

Put your fears aside. Simply begin the search for what excites you. Like as not you’ll find it right where you left it.

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