It seems as though the number one thing preventing people and misleading them in understanding and mastering their passion is their misunderstanding of what passion is in the first place. As an example, I just stumbled across an interview with Robert Greene, the author of the book Mastery, and how he indicates that the recommendation to “live your passion” is a cliche and shouldn’t be done. Instead he recommends that you instead figure out and gain the awareness of knowing “what you love” and then work towards it.
Why this boggles my mind is because he just clearly articulated the process for understanding and mastering your passion, since doing “what you love” is your passion. So he has effectively just said “don’t follow your passion, instead follow your passion”. In effect, many of these people who are trashing passion are actually articulating what passion is the clearest. It’s actually quite hilarious and remarkable at the same time.
What is the Conventional Meaning of Passion?
So if this is the case though, what within his mind and others are people thinking passion is instead? The word that immediately comes to mind is something frivolous, like a passing fancy or interest. Let me reassure you. Your passion is not something frivolous or just your current “interest”. Rather it forms the bedrock, foundation, or cornerstone of your life, even if you’re not aware of it at first.
Another word that seems to come to mind when people think of passion is happiness. Let me reassure you that while happiness can arise out of your passion, so too can a lot of pain. Therefore happiness isn’t an ideal word to encapsulate it. A far better word is that passion provides meaning within your life. Thus while mastering your passion can lead to a roller coaster of highs and lows in your life, the meaning that arises from it is worth the journey.
Passion is Love
I think the simplest way to understand your passion is that it is something that you love doing. A lot of people may immediately misconstrue even this though because they may not fully understand what love entails. They may think love is a light, fluffy, happy relationship with someone but it isn’t (i.e “The honeymoon’s over darling!”). Love means wading through a lot of pain and suffering with that person because that’s where the deep meaningful experiences arise out of the relationship and truly bond those people together as one.
If anything, I think this is why following your passion isn’t some delightful flight of fancy, as the conventional mindset might project, but more an epic hero’s journey of trials and tribulations. In effect, pursuing your passion will be the most difficult thing you will do in your life because you’re effectively “birthing” a deeper understanding of yourself (i.e. “Know thyself”) which is very painful but also a beautifully transformative experience that will bring a lot of meaning into your life.
Passion Requires Mastery
All said and done, this is why I think Robert Greene’s work on his book Mastery is so poignant to this discussion because passion isn’t something that you suddenly understand and achieve overnight. Rather it is something that emerges and reveals itself to you in stages over the progression of your life.
For example, in the initial conventional half of my life, my “passion” evolved from games to computers to eventually the Web. Upon reflection of this part of my life, I realized I was articulating just the surface of my passion in a technical sense. You often see others do this in the same way when they say their “job” is their “passion”.
Once you live your life long enough though, you begin to realize your job can’t be your passion. Why? Because that would mean if my job became obsolete, I would no longer have a passion which is absurd. Thus your job isn’t your passion but rather your passion is a foundation of your job that gives it meaning and enjoyment (even if it can be difficult at times).
That’s why the post conventional second half of my life has helped me dig deeper within myself and reveal the more meaningful social core of what my passion is really all about, revealing its roots within meaning and identity. Thinking back, I realized this had always been there below the surface. For example, I loved playing role playing games like D&D and later World of Warcraft online because I loved creating characters and seeing the inner character of those I played with, revealing their motivations and values in overcoming the challenges within these virtual, imaginary realms.
No Conventional Path Ahead
In closing though, I think if there is anything I don’t agree with that Robert Greene said in his interview, it’s that you can “plan” a clear path for yourself in understanding and mastering your passion. This couldn’t be farther from the truth because if you truly want to express your unique, True Self as he indicated in the video, you’re often mashing up different parts of yourself that are normally and conventionally kept separate, just like the departmental silos in a conventional organizations. In terms of creativity, this means going beyond “this OR that thinking” and evolving to “this AND that thinking”.
This is where you start going into uncharted territory and effectively are leaving the map of the conventionally known world. That’s because you often really just can’t go to a mentor to learn how to craft your unique hybrid career but instead have to really break new ground on your own. That said though, more than anything today, we do need mentors and coaches who can help support us in the commonalities of exploring this “undiscovered country” within us all, no matter where our vision is leading us.
For example, Robert talks about the OODA loop, as a process of orienting yourself and your actions within the context of military combat operations. This is what we need more than anything nowadays, a process—a new way of being—to explore the unknown of ourselves, a sort of wayfinding for the soul if you will. This is why for myself, I’ve found work relating to understanding the stages of development in life to be greatly beneficial because while they won’t provide a clear 1-2-3 progressive map of what I’m working towards specifically, they will provide me with waypoints to help me understand where I’m at and how to cope with the challenges at my current stage.
To put this into different words, it’s like getting a Player’s Handbook for The Game of Life and being told each “level” your character will encounter, overcoming different challenges and receiving greater capabilities as one “levels up“. So while we are exploring within the undiscovered country of ourselves, these waypoints are like trail markers left behind by other travellers of greater wisdom who have already wandered these ways before us but are helping us along on our own journey now.