There’s always the call to be passionate. The call to be passionate in my marriage, passionate in my business, passionate in my writing. There are people who are passionate when they cook. Other people --when they champion a cause, when they write a song, when they make a perfect join on a cabinet corner, when they grow a twelve foot sunflower outside the kitchen window -- do so with passion.
What is this thing called passion?
When I think about the peak experiences and accomplishments in my life, I see a distinction between things I did because I needed to perform -- and things I did because I was propelled to do them by some internal force.
Excellence is a word people use to describe a certain level of performance. It’s an outside assessment. Approval is a powerful motivator to some of us -- at least during the first several decades of our lives.
It’s not just that I needed to perform in my earlier decades. I needed someone to witness that performance and assess that performance. This was the larger part of the value of the experience or expertise -- the assessment, the approval. These pursuits in pursuit of approval fall away after a period of time ranging from days to a decade or two. I see this in my early foray into playing the piano and learning to read in French. These pursuits were about performance, not passion -- approval not purpose or self-actualization. I no longer play the piano; I no longer choose to struggle through some tome like Le Mythe de Sisyphe by Albert Camus.
My level of passion is something only I can assess. And it defies measurement, like all the really important things in life -- like love, and compassion, and tolerance. Passion is there, or it isn’t. It’s not a matter of degrees. Passion -- or the absence of it -- is not subject to outside assessment.
Passion does leave clues, but it’s possible for passion to be invisible to other people. We see it when we hear a superlative musical performance and when we witness instances of selfless courage. More often, though, passion is identifiable only by persistence bordering on allegiance -- and also usually by a certain quality of energy and eye contact.
Passion also implies purpose -- another inside deal. Performance for approval can serve a purpose as well, but it has a different driver, and it doesn’t cause the soul to soar.
Consider a rockstar who burns out and spins out of control. Not an uncommon scenario. Is it possible that this star is someone who began with passion as the driver and, over time, the passion to express something powerfully shifted to an addiction to standing ovations? Perhaps there was a tipping point when the approval of others outstripped self-expression and self-approval (AKA self-esteem). And when that happened, self-destructive behaviors began to skyrocket. A vacuum had slowly spread and it couldn’t be eradicated by drugs or adulation. There was something missing, and I believe that something missing, or lost, was passion.
This thing called passion is defined as fervor, zeal, ardor -- and also as ire, fury, wrath, rage. I found only one antonym: apathy. Passion moves me to act; apathy paralyzes my spirit, my mind and my body. Not all movement is growth, but movement in the service of one’s passion is expansion by definition.
A job requires excellence if I’m going to advance. After all, someone else is going to decide whether I get the title or the raise. To sustain a business of my own during the duration of the launch -- which can be months or years -- requires sustained performance driven by passion. I have to decide if I will progress to the next level. No one else can bestow success upon me because I pleased them with my performance.
A marriage based solely on approval for doing one’s part is a transactional relationship that lacks…. well, passion.
How does one answer this call to passion? Where does one find the magic driver? Inside, not outside. Passion is an inside job -- birthed inside and evaluated only from inside me.
This birthing requires self-knowledge -- self- knowledge of a very specific kind. Not knowledge of my strengths and talents. Not an awareness of my psychoses or foibles. Rather a deep knowing of what it is that gets me off my butt and propels me in a direction that makes me feel a certain uncontainable glee. This glee is the gut-based certainty that I’m on the right track, doing what it takes to bestow upon my life that magic formula that is equal parts joy and purpose.
Drilling deeper -- where does self-knowledge come from? No doubt, being willing to take some risks, being open to the road less traveled and stepping in some potholes is the only way to learn what I’m about. Following the herd will never lead me to my true self. I’m not talking about reckless, uninformed risks. I’m talking about “mentoring-up.” Finding those individuals who have the lives, the relationships, the sense of purpose that I crave in my life.
Let’s see if I can map this out:
Right smack in the middle is PASSION. I can see what precedes it, and the reward that follows it: A life with purpose, on purpose. I can get passionate about that.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Helen Keller