If you read personal development blogs, you’ll often be told you should find a business / career / job that you’re passionate about. Oh, the passion you will feel, doing activity X every day, blissful rapturous X, the source of a lifetime of passionate happiness.
Except then you start wondering, OK, what am I passionate about? Let’s say you are wise and you know yourself and you know what you’d like to be doing every day. Then you start to wonder, OK, how will I get paid to do X? Because after all, you have to eat. And that’s where one problem starts to come in.
Let’s say you are really passionate about playing tennis. Fine, so how are you going to get paid to play tennis? Well there are ways. You could become a professional tennis player and make money by winning tournaments. This is a stressful life, though, isn’t it? You’re always trying to make due, live or die, by how well you play in a tournament. Maybe you’re Roger Federer and you just don’t need to worry about it. But then again, maybe you’re not Roger Federer.
Maybe you decide to get a job as a tennis pro at a local club, teaching people how to play tennis. Except now you’re not exactly following your passion, which is playing tennis. You’re teaching tennis. It’s a little different. And you’re probably spending quite a bit of time marketing yourself, trying to build your network of students. That’s really not playing tennis, that’s marketing. So are you really following your passion?
Maybe you don’t yet know what your passion is. That brings up the other problem with passion: if you’re always thinking about some mythical passion that you should be pursuing, you’re probably not bothering to stop and enjoy whatever it is you DO do on a regular basis. Maybe you’re convincing yourself you dislike your job, because you aren’t sure you’re 100% PASSIONATE about it, and so you’re making yourself miserable for no good reason other than some vague idea that you could be perfectly happy.
A better approach, which has worked for me, is the “optimalist” approach. That is the phrasing used in Tal Ben-Shahar’s book, The Pursuit of Perfect. He argues that trying to get everything perfect robs you of your humanity. You are not perfect — no human is — and trying to be so will just result in frustration. Better to enjoy life as it is than dream of a perfect situation.
Challenge yourself, of course, but accept that things won’t always be perfect.
If you find a job or any path you’re passionate about, go after it. But when you hit a rough spot, don’t beat yourself up over the idea that maybe there’s a better, more fulfilled you just around the corner. This kind of relentless and fruitless pursuit, rather than bringing you happiness, is actually guaranteed to bring you at least some misery, because by definition you are focusing your attention on what you are lacking.
Passion is a moving target. What you are passionate about one day may not excite you after you’ve experienced it for a year. Growth is a part of life. You’ll be happier if you think about life as a challenge to perpetually improve yourself, but allow yourself the space to have things go wrong, even to fail. And that includes, sometimes, not feeling passion to the nth degree with everything you do.