When Passion is a Requirement

Have you ever had the impression that people would like you to be more passionate about things than you can realistically be?

For many of us, it may seem like this, and all the more so we consider the media an important point of contact with the world. Morning shows, ads, life-style blogs, ads again, job offers, and for the final time, ads – all of them promote the images of passionate, energetic people who go about their daily activities with a smile running all the way around their heads.

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…Or throw books around themselves in a frenzy. Photo by Lacie Slezak

But it’s a silly approach where you show excitement as the only acceptable state to be in, tell your readers to boost their energy like it’s the only thing they can possibly need, or require a steadily exorbitant level of passion from job candidates.

It probably won’t be a surprise to you if I say that being in low spirits from time to time is only natural, that low-energy people can be happy in their lives just as well, and that a lack of passion doesn’t entail being no good at what you do in life.

The fact is that those periodically miserable, low-energy, unenthusiastic people can be just as good as friends, partners, parents, teachers, construction workers, artists, dentists and whatnot.

We are the way we are, and that’s okay.

Still… there’s always this shade of doubt when we think about ourselves, isn’t there? Whatever we do, it just doesn’t seem good enough when we compare it to the enterprises of the ideal, passionate people we’ve been trained to look up to.

Let me tell you a secret: I’ve struggled with my self-image as a writer for many years. Me writing + other people reading it + us together talking about me writing? No, that just doesn’t compute.

Why? Because I’m not passionate about writing, and how am I supposed to tell people that?

Let’s give it a try: I haven’t felt all my life that I should write. Holding a book with my name on it is not my biggest dream. I don’t wreck my sleep to write. My life is not defined by the stories I’ve written. Sometimes when I want something written, I force myself to write it because I have no enthusiasm for it. In fact, I suppose I’d be just fine without writing.

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Photo by Green Chameleon

It’s just that I like to write, and some people like my writing. But when I think that, panic enters the stage because it sounds so terribly insufficient that I want to withdraw all the signals I’ve ever sent to the world outside that yes, I want to be a writer. Because if I’m not passionate about it, I’m not a real writer, no?

This doubt has its effects on the work itself. As with writing, so with other hobbies and endeavours. Every so often, one gets discouraged by adverse circumstances. Or one lose interest in what one does, and may even forget about it for long stretches of time. Very often, one’s lack of passion translates into a lack of motive to develop your skills.

If you add this self-doubt to the fact the world favours passionate people, it’s easy to call oneself a good-for-nothing, lie down and be sorry for oneself.

But don’t do this just yet! Because I’ve some important things to tell you. Here they are:

I. You are fine the way you are. You don’t have to be passionate about something to “count as a valuable person”.

II. You can be good at things even if you’re not helped along by passion. Without it, it may just be slightly more difficult in certain respects.

III. After you’ve admitted that you don’t feel passionate about things, it’s time for you – not for anyone else who may see your lack of passion as a shortcoming – to decide what to do with your time, skills, and energy.

But I can’t help you with that last one. Too busy writing.

Madness, Downplay, and Some Nice Music

I’m friends, or acquainted, with some people who are utterly mad.

For instance, they stay up and night-write novels even though they’re supposed to go to work or classes in the morning. Or they stand up and leave in the middle a party because they suddenly feel they don’t fit, and “everyone knows” that’s a sure way to end up lonely and perceived as weird. Or they obstinately study the most outrageously useless of subjects with the dull certainty that they’re not going to find a job in the future that would satisfy them. Or they get involved with someone else’s wife even though “everyone knows” that will only make them abandoned, lonely, hated fucks in the end. Or they give strangers looks of deepest sadness, glances of most unreasonable fear, or they just beam at them with happiness because they can’t restrain an emotion when travelling together on some shaky means of public transport – and that’s a complete disgrace, as well as a sign of MADNESS, ISN’T IT?

No, it isn’t, and the preceding behaviours aren’t signs of madness either. To me, they seem like actions undertaken because some emotion, or need, or passion, drove one to do that, but also ones undertaken in spite of some other people’s expectations, in spite of the fact that “everyone knows” these actions are in some way wrong.

And as far as I’m concerned, they really may turn out to be wrong, stupid, or simply great mistakes.

But on the other hand, “everyone knows” mistakes are great learning material, too, don’t they?

And there’s yet another thing: how exactly does “everyone” know if a given action is a mistake? I mean, how do you know whether someone else’s actions will prove wrong? They’re not yours, they may have a totally different meaning to them than they have for you, so far they haven’t produced any outcome and… guess what: they may not produce the outcome you expect.

Some people would call the behaviours I described at the beginning “mad”, or “irresponsible”, and they’d say the people who do that kind of stuff “don’t know what they’re doing”: “You must be mad, doing that kind of stuff. It’s so totally irresponsible of you. Do you even know what you’re doing? Have you thought about the consequences?”

To this, I can only say — sad as I am even thinking of this kind of judgemental stand — that these so-called “irresponsible” actions usually come along with much consideration; sleepless nights and drowsy days; sacrifice; sometimes suffering. And I can only say anything here on the basis of my own experience and people-watching, but I’m sure that those “irresponsible”, “mad” people do know what they’re doing, and they do think about the consequences, and sometimes very hard at that.

Sure, you can’t predict all the possible consequences. And sure, getting tips from other people on what might be the possible outcome of what you do is awesome. Personally, I love hearing people’s stories of what happened when they did this or that, how they failed, or how they became the happy people they are, or how they just learnt a new thing. I love advice, too, especially when I need it.

What I don’t love, and what makes me sad, is judgement of the “that’s irresponsible of you” type. The downplay that some people want to pull you into, and which is nothing like fun, so that I don’t even understand why I call it “play”. Because it’s actually a sad thing to engage in, no matter whether you’re the one played down, or whether it’s you who plays someone else down. It shows a lack of respect for the other person, his or her decisions and the load of fear, hope, tension, and love that may come along with these decisions. And it shows a lack of… umm, knowledge about… umm, how things work.

Because even though other people’s actions might seem mad, irresponsible, doomed to failure or otherwise wrong to you, they may work quite differently for someone else. It sounds stupid, I admit, but things just work in different ways for different people in different situations. And it would be so much more respectful to stop playing the people around you down, and accept the fact that they may just do a different kind of stuff than you, and make different sense of that stuff than you would, and get from it a different outcome than you expect.

‘Cause everyone knows that it sometimes happens that people end up as the authors of some truly amazing stuff when they give up sleep in order to write, or they just get their peace of mind, or their emotional balance, or whatever it is they need, by acting like they feel they should. Many good things may actually come out of putting those loads of fear, hope, tension, and love into our actions. And on this optimistic note I’ll finish my happy ramble.

Or no, no, no: there’s a song I wanna share. I found it yesterday evening, and it’s so, so, so awesome. Here it is: Skin by Jóga.

Have a nice day,
Mulan