I believe the best art is based on passion. We hear advice about “follow your passion” all the time from self help gurus, but what is it? What does that mean? Do you know how to find your passion?
What you think you want
In these times I think it is harder than ever to find our real passion. There are too many demands. Too many competing voices calling for our attention.
My personal opinion is that we are seldom equipped to know our passion until we get more experience of life. True, some people have a clear “calling” for something. They may know from childhood what they want to do. I don’t meet many of those. Expecting to identify your passion when you are young seems as unfair as expecting a 17 year old high school junior to pick their major when applying for college. They don’t know. They haven’t experienced enough life to really know what they will be good at and want to do for the rest of their career. That’s why so many change majors. Sometimes several times. Nearly half of older millennials — 47% — wish they had chosen a different career, according to a CNBC Make It survey.
So some people might say their passion is landscape photography. Next month it may be French literature. Another month later it may be organic cooking. But they are not being dishonest. They really don’t know. They are trying to figure it out.
Maybe our friend likes a certain thing so we think that is our passion too. Often a celebrity feels strongly about something so we get caught up in it for a while. But those are someone else’s passion, not necessarily ours. We quickly get tired of following other people’s passions.
What you’re willing to work for
Passion demands work. I think a lot of times we discover our passion accidentally. We find our self putting a lot of time and work on something, and to our surprise, it doesn’t seem like work. It actually energizes us and makes us happy.
That is a passion. They are usually not easy. If they are too easy they will not hold our interest. It takes a lot of time and effort to master something worthwhile and even more to practice it and keep learning and exercising our creativity. Our passions are those things where this work seems almost like play. We would rather be doing this than almost anything else we can think of.
What are you working for and what can you effect? You may be “passionate” about homelessness, or the environment, or inequality, but what are you doing about it? If you are just saying “someone needs to work on that”, then it may be a value of yours, but probably not one of your passions.
In A Beautiful Anarchy, David de Chemin makes the point that a lot of people tell him they envy his lifestyle. They would love to travel to exotic places and do interesting projects that benefit people. But, he says, the reality is they won’t make the sacrifices required to do it. They “wish” they could do it but won’t pay the price or go out on the limb to risk it.
What price will you pay? And what is worth paying it? Those questions help you understand if something is really you passion.
Learning is part of it
Ramit Sethi promotes the idea that we should always be willing to invest in our self, to constantly learn. I completely agree with this. He goes on to offer actionable advice. He discounts the time honored “10,000 hour” rule as being what is required to be an elite expert in a field.
Instead he says that for a great many things, if you put in 20 hours learning it, you would be better at it than most people and far enough along to know if you are interested in going deper. So he advises if something appeals to you even a little, get a book on it, take a class, spend a week focusing on it and trying it. If after a week it has run it’s course and you feel done, then you know. But if you are still interested, keep digging.
This is great to build a base of experience to build on and it can be a great help to identify your passions.
But whatever our passion turns out to be, we need to be a student of it. Be familiar with what has been done in the past. Stay somewhat aware of trends and directions in the present and who the thought leaders are. Learn the technology involved. Master the tools. These things are just a base to build on.
When we find our passion, our commitment to it is usually long term. While it is true that our passions can change over time as we mature and our experiences change our values, we usually hold on to a passion for quite a while. Years.
It may take years to build sufficient expertise in our area of passion to achieve mastery. Then we can enjoy pursuing it at a high level of skill and satisfaction.
But mastery is an illusion. We may become quite proficient in the technology and the practice of the subject. If we feel like we have learned it all and there is no more challenge, then our drive and our passion will evaporate. The reality is that for most art we learn that no matter how far and deep we go, we are a beginner. We can always look at it fresh and discover new paths to explore.
This is the challenge that keeps it engaging and captivating for us.
More than a feeling
Your passions are not just a matter of feelings. Feelings are ephemeral. They come and go with our mood. Our passions are like love. Love is not a feeling, it is a commitment.
Passions touch something deep inside of us. Something that is a need that seems to be fulfilled by pursuing the passion. I like the quote “What is it that you can’t not do? This is your art”. And your passion.
We have many demands on us. Sometimes we just have to block things out and go spend time on something else for a while. Like, you know, a job. That is life. But our passion is what we daydream about when we have a few moments. It is what energizes us when we think about it. Subconsciously we are usually planning new projects or envisioning new creative things to do. We can’t not do it.
Your value in the work
We pursue our passions because they have value to us. It may not be monetary. It can just be a sense of fulfillment. Or just the joy it brings us.
For those of us who are artists, our passion is often our art and much of the joy comes from creatively engaging in the practice. Speaking personally, my value derives from being able to do creative things, to grow and stretch my limits, and my love of the things I create. I get little pleasure in doing the same things over and over. Creatively discovering new ways to present my vision is what I need.
It’s ours to make
We are all unique and different. All were born into a situation we did not control. Each of us is given a certain set of talents and capabilities. It is up to each of us individually to decide what we do with what we have. Saying we are disadvantaged or not capable of doing what we want is just whining. We each will chose what to do with what we have and can do and the time we get.
I could never have played NBA basketball and I can’t even draw well. OK. Those are some paths that are closed to me. I will do other things. It may turn out that the particular things we do may not be important in themselves. The important thing is our fulfillment of our needs and the benefits we may bring to other people.
I would not call it great art, but I appreciate this image. It shows an aspect of railroads we usually don’t notice. I wonder sometimes how trains are able to stay on their track.
Beyond that, it reminds me that our path is usually twisted and with many branches and turns. It is seldom clear at the start where we will end up. But the choices we make lead us somewhere. Following our passion involves making choices and tradeoffs. Do it consciously. Let’s choose the best outcome for our self that will help us become the best person we can be.