Temper Your Passion

One of my problems with the whole “Hollywood Syndrome” is the celebrities’ blatant promotion of the “follow your passion” concept.

“Follow your passion” sounds inspiring, but it’s likely to lead you along a path that’s overcrowded with others following the same passion. Obviously, you can expect intense competition to make progress along this path, and a correspondingly small chance you’ll ever reach your goal.

In addition, your passion is likely to change over time. If it does, your efforts to follow your passion may lead you in a direction that later on won’t feel so satisfying.

This is not to say your passion isn’t important, or that you should ignore what you care deeply about. It’s merely a strong indication that you should temper your passion with other considerations.

These other considerations can include:

Practical Issues

Think about a passion to become a movie star or Hollywood mogul, or to play in the National Basketball Association or dance in a major ballet company: large numbers of people pursue such goals, but only relative handfuls actually make it. Everyone else pursuing such a passion winds up disappointed.

If following your passion brings you smack up against these kinds of daunting numbers, you can still continue. But you ought to consider the odds as you make important decisions regarding your future.

You should also consider other practical issues, such as:

  • Do you have or can you acquire the skills and abilities you’ll need to follow your passion?
  • Are you willing to make the sacrifices – the time, effort, lost opportunities, and so forth – inherent in following your passion?
  • Have you considered the relationship and emotional obstacles you must endure and overcome in following your passion?

Gut Feelings

I’ve already mentioned that your passions are likely to change as you mature. That’s a problem if you’re going to single-mindedly pursue your passion.

But what’s even worse is that most people are notoriously bad at recognizing and anticipating what will make them happy. For example, you may feel you want a certain car, a certain home, a certain life-partner, but when you get what you want, too often you may feel disappointed.

For this reason, it’s important to consider more than your passion and your “gut feel” when making important decisions in your life. For example, maybe that car you have your eye on isn’t reliable, maybe that home you want isn’t practical or comfortable, and maybe that life-partner you are pursuing won’t care enough about you and your happiness.

Your gut has many important messages to convey, but you should balance that “gut feeling” against other important sources of information and guidance.

Level of Engagement

One of those other important sources of information and guidance usually turns out to be the level of engagement you feel regarding particular parts of your life. By seeking a higher level of engagement, you can potentially steer a straighter course toward long-term satisfaction and success.

Some of the ways you can measure your engagement include:

Competence: You’ll feel more engaged when you’re capable of performing at a high level. Of course, you may need some time to achieve a decent level of competence, but having the potential to perform at a high level in your chosen activity, and steadily getting better, is often as engaging as excellence itself.   

Control: You’ll feel more engaged when you’re independent and free. Few people are totally autonomous, but the more control you have over what you do and how you do it, the more engaged you’ll feel. 

Diversity: You’ll feel more engaged when you get to reduce monotony and repetitive stress by incorporating diversity in your schedule. You’ll feel even better when you’re in charge of your own diversity, in terms of both the range of things you do and the frequency with which you do them.

Finality:  You’ll feel more engaged when you get to finish what you start, or at least when you get to update your goals or switch to fresh tasks and projects on your own timetable.

Value: You’ll feel more engaged when you take pride in what you’re doing. Whether you’re helping to end poverty and disease or working toward telling funnier jokes, you’ll get important levels of pleasure and satisfaction when you feel that others appreciate you and your accomplishments.

Notice that none of these criteria narrowly dictate your goals or choices in your work and your life. Each of us will have different interests, strengths, preferences, and values, and each of us will chart our own course accordingly.

But these criteria – both practical and emotional – will help you temper your passion with other considerations that can lead you in highly satisfying directions.

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