YOU DON’T FIND YOUR PASSION. YOU WORK FOR IT.
Google images of “passion”. What you get are pictures with platitudes telling you to “find” your passion, “fuel” your passion, “follow” your passion, and so on — with of course the occasional steamy sex pic (passion means many things…).
I’ve always thought that we have had a misguided view on passion. Spanning all the way back to Ancient Greece when we believed that muses and spirit-like geniuses provided us with creative inspiration and talent, it’s understandable to believe that passion is intuitive, innate. In a way, I can find some truth here — much of what we want to do stems from an internal spark of “hey, try this!”
But who is ever truly passionate about something the first time they try it? Did six-year-old Simone Biles decide on the first day she tried gymnastics that she was going to dedicate 32 hours a week in the gym for years? Even Meryl Streep didn’t seriously consider acting until she was in college — and even then, she had moments when she considered quitting.
What do people always say the greats have in common? Psychologist Angela Duckworth’s research points that perseverance and grit are the most important indicators for success.
I believe that passion grows from putting more time in something. Much like what Duckworth’s conclusions affirm, having a not-giving-up attitude towards something leads to more time connecting with the activity, the craft, and the culture involved in your passion. I don’t think that something starts off as a “passion” — it grows into one.
The Paralympics are currently happening now. US swimmer Anastasia Pagonis recalls the struggles she had returning to the pool after losing her vision at 14 in an Olympics interview:
“The first time I got [back] in the water, I was crying and I told my mom that I never, ever wanted to do this again. And then the next day I told her, ‘mom, can we go back to the pool and try it again?’
“I sliced my nose, I’ve broken all my fingers, my hands, my ankles — it was a process to say the least.”
It was the time she spent in the water, not that initial day back in the pool, that built her passion. Who were the people who supported her swimming career? How did swimming shape her identity? What kind of a life is created through healing from broken bones, winning races, and practicing hours at a time daily? There’s a connection and love forged in swimming. There’s passion.
Is this to say that you have to stick with something and never give up no matter what? Honestly, that depends. What kind of life do you want? Your enjoyment in something is going to rock back and forth no matter what you do. Writers have writers block, musicians fight with band members, swimmers break their fingers, etc. James Clear even describes what he calls the “Plateau of Latent Potential” (pgs 21–22) in his book Atomic Habits as, generally, the time period required to push through with a habit before you see improvement. Still, it’s up to you on how you want to spend your life. Do you want to keep crocheting crappy scarves until you make an awesome sweater, or are you cool with keeping this skill at the “beginner” level?
Writing is what I consider to be my passion. I’ve been writing almost since I could use a word processor. With that said, I would have on-off periods. Long stretches of not writing anything, periods of writing dustbin-worthy stuff, periods of doubting myself as a writer. Through all of that, however, that gnawing inside of me remained — you need to write. So, as long as I keep writing, whether I’m enamored with a project or just opening up a document for a Medium article about whatever, I’m honoring the gnawing inside of me.
I’m not writing because I’m buzzing with excitement and love every time I sit in front of a computer writing something out. In fact, it’s not even easy to get myself to write every day — you have to make yourself.
But once I start, I don’t want to stop.
Then, with each day that I write, I continuously form a bond with the craft. That’s passion.
So, go ahead and “find” your passion as all of the Facebook quotes and self-help books tell you to do. Try that archery class that’s been tickling your mind for the past few weeks. Read that female serial killer book that caught your eye on the library shelf. Do whatever you want without overthinking it. And if you want a passion out of that, you’re going to have to keep honoring that inner voice of yours and do the daily heavy-lifting.
Enjoyment comes from a day of play. Passion comes from a lifetime of it.