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.

Writer’s Anxiety

It was autumn, and a strong south wind was blowing in Buenos Aires.

He was facing the sea, and occupied with a desperate strife to recall his younger self into being, “Proust lies,” he was thinking, “you can never succeed searching for lost time…”

He sort of missed his younger self — the trembling, helpless being who wanted to be a writer, but once got criticized harshly for a novella, and suffered, suffered truly and shamefully, not willing to admit that critique could make him suffer…

All that was left now was an imperfect recollection, and the ability he now had, as a great author, to offer support to that young man he once was. To say, “here I am, you know. You’ve made it.”

But it was imperfect, and the helping thoughts he thought to help the young Witold Gombrowicz got lost to the wind…

***

And some sixty years later, a young would-be writer was sitting in front of her laptop, rereading the passage describing it from Gombrowicz’s Diary, and then — with caution, with some bashfulness — she started to type.

All along, she was thinking, “we’re in this together. Me, you, and this great author. And you, too. Yes, you.”

***

I based this on a passage from Witold Gombrowicz’s Diary. The book isn’t available for free on the internet, and all I can offer is a quote in Polish I once shared here. Those of you who can read Polish, and would be interested in what I wrote about this passage as a nineteen, even more bashful writer, can also go here.

Otherwise, just go buy the book. It’s totally worth it.