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Follow Your Passion? Really???

It’s been such a rule for the past 20 years or so that, to live an authentic life and be happy in your career, you need to follow your passion. I have several problems with the whole notion.

If you happen to have one, meaning a clear interest and an obsession with doing it, chances are you are already engaged in both being interested and obsessed.

So you don’t need anyone to tell you to do so.

Then there are legions of honorable folks who found themselves with obligations that necessitated their doing whatever would best provide for them, or take care of their families, or meet the needs of their group. After decades of doing what’s necessary, how are they supposed to suddenly change gears and find a passion, much less drop everything and follow it? And where, by the way? Where will they find themselves?

What if the reason is that your background taught your taboos against doing so? Lots of people were taught that they weren’t supposed to focus on themselves, that they were to meet the needs of others and be concerned with whether those others were happy or irritated.

And some of us were rather violently punished for having interests of our own. If we didn’t keep our attention vigilantly on the lookout for danger, we were likely to get creamed. So a passionate interest in something else was a luxury we couldn’t afford. So then what happens when we’re older is that we don’t know how to locate our interests, and investing that kind of emotional energy in it seems too threatening. Those beliefs that were formed early that say that we take our life in our hands if we take our eyes off the dangers are virtually impossible to undo by ourselves, because we can’t see them. We need a trained, very perceptive helper to locate the particulars of those taboos.

Then there’s another problem. No one feels passionate or happy about what they do all the time. And what really supports the creative process, or reaching a goal?

What’s needed is a habit of valuing your work, and your process, and having a relationship with your work that honors it, no matter what feedback comes in from the outside; a habit of honoring the process of work, and for what it grows in you to be committed to it,

If that’s true, then how do you figure out what you want in your life, now that you’re in a transition period and can, or need to, look around for what you want to make space for; the way you spend your precious time; and for what you want to bring forth and offer to your community and the world?

Expecting passion to lead the way may actually shut down your creative process and the voice of Spirit whispering within you. It may kill the tender green shoot of a new direction, or of your newly-developing ability to listen to your inner voice. The mandate of passion might be Darth Vader hiding behind a self-help idea. It might be another way to invalidate yourself, your path, your way of developing things. It may be a giant should that shames you.

I was thrilled to read in Elizabeth Gilbert‘s wonderful book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, that she shares my distrust of passion as a defining force of your path. Too often the call of a great passion leads to suffering and sacrifice.

Gilbert doesn’t believe in suffering as a prerequisite for creativity. She suggests curiosity as the alternative. What do you have the slightest interest in? The mildest curiosity? Start on that line. Keeps choosing what your lightly held interest, that connects you to some place in yourself besides your head, chooses. See where it leads. Trust that it’ll all work out. It may lead to something you become obsessed with, or to a fertile direction. Even if it doesn’t lead to your next big thing, you’ll have a good time and feel connected with yourself and with the joy of living. And that is much better than beating yourself for not being able to identify a passion that’s supposed to define your life. Curiosity will also lead you more towards doing things in ways that feed you and the planet, and connect you with Spirit, than if you thought that living your true life mean that you had to suffer and struggle.