“Chase your passions.”
We’ve all heard that advice a million times. It’s usually uttered alongside directives to “chase your dreams” and “find what makes you tick,” and usually finished with the phrase, “and then you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
The exhausting attempt to “find my passion” transfixed me for years. At first the journey was exciting, because so many things held my interest. I tried this or that, only to inevitably discover that every “this or that” was a mirage, or at best a temporary fix. My “passion” seemed to be something that was always just beyond my reach, an ever-illusory concept that held up only in my imagination and never in reality. Was it something I had to find within my career? Could my passion just be my hobbies? If that was true, what was the point of work? What if I was passionate about something for 6 months but then I didn’t care? What if my passions changed?
Ultimately, the advice to “find my passion” proved to be hollow at best and debilitating or destructive at worst. The problem is that the advice assumes a false premise–the premise that a passion is something “out there” that you must discover in order to find fulfillment and happiness.
If we wait until we “find our passion” to become fulfilled or happy, we may be waiting our entire lives.
So is that it? Are we all doomed to just muddle along through life, crossing our fingers and hoping that at some point, and in some way, we will find ourselves fulfilled, or self-realized, or “happy” (whatever that means)?
I think there’s another way.
We’ve all heard the stories. We’ve seen people endure immense trial, tragedy, or difficulty, only to eventually come out stronger the other side. But some have even taken their strength to the next level–they have actually become passionate about the very thing they’ve had to overcome or endure. We see it in seemingly menial things (like when someone who hates running becomes passionate about running after being forced to run), and we’ve seen it in incredibly consequential things (like when someone who loses a close family member to drugs becomes passionate about helping strangers who are addicted).
But how can this be? How can someone become passionate about something she endured at such personal cost, often through no choice of her own? How can someone become passionate about something he did not even select? These people never set out to find their passion, but find it they did.
There’s something to this. There’s power in this. There is power to overcoming something, especially something that was at one time a weakness or deficiency. It’s a transformative power that leads humans into a place of incredible fulfillment. And not only fulfillment, but passion. Passion for something we once thought was unattainable. Passion to live in such a way so people may see our strength and then be able to overcome their own trials and tragedies–and not only overcome, but thrive on the other side.
The Apostle Paul, no stranger to incessant tribulation, knew this kind of passion well. In a letter he wrote to the Church in Philippi, he explained “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” It was a passion Paul found through immense personal cost and trial.
What is life but a series of trials we must overcome? It follows that in order to enjoy life, we must find passion in, and from, the process of overcoming.
Notice that this process has nothing to do with what we originally like or dislike. The trial or obstacle was probably something we didn’t even want to face in the beginning. It just hit us like a ton of bricks and we were forced to deal with it.
Good. Or at least, let’s make good from it.
Maybe passion isn’t something that we search for. It certainly isn’t a dream we chase. Maybe it’s something we “find” through challenges. Through challenge and stress and heartache we discover who we are, and when we discover who we are, we discover the strength we have.
Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” is quoted as saying “never follow your passion, but always bring it with you.” I like that. Let’s challenge ourselves every day. Let’s put ourselves in situations that are difficult and even humiliating. Let’s triple down on our weaknesses so we can watch ourselves grow. You don’t have to go through immense tragedy to discover a passion (let’s hope most of us never do). We can do it through the everyday discipline of hard work and dedication to seemingly unattractive tasks.
Maybe it doesn’t matter so much what we do. It’s more important how we do it. Then, in the strain, and in the adversity that inevitably comes, we will discover what we are made of. At that point, we will be frontline observers to watching ourselves–and our minds–transform and become passionate about life and living.