Do NOT Chase Your Passions
PASSION IS GOOD. . .CALLING IS BETTER.
I am passionate about quantum physics.
But I’m not meant to be a physicist.
I can talk for hours about cueball spin.
But I’m not meant to be a pro pool player.
My heart flutters when a favorite animator releases something new.
But I’m not meant to be an animator.
There are lots of things I’m passionate about.
But the thing that fulfills me on the deepest level, makes use of my unique gifts, and heals my core wound, AND ALSO fills my life with passion, is not any of my passions; it’s my calling.
And that’s something else entirely.
MY DENTIST'S ADVICE
When I was about 12, my dentist told me: “Do what you love and you’ll never have to work another day in your life.”
As a kid, I hated school, so that sounded like a great deal to me.
Later in life, I ended up taking his advice, and after two years of following my passion, I ended up broke, depressed, and purposeless.
In our society, "follow your passion" is the #1 plan for finding purpose in work, and more broadly, in life.
We hear it from YouTubers, business gurus, celebrities on Disney Channel, and (in my case) well-meaning dentists.
The formula is simple: Passion = Purpose.
It's simple and easy to sell.
(And people make a LOT of money selling it.)
Because people want to escape from a life of oppressive, meaningless work.
Wouldn’t it be nice to make money AND find purpose doing what you love instead?
There's only one problem.
It doesn’t work.
Passion ≠ Purpose
Passion is important, don't get me wrong.
Doing work we love with passion is not only more enjoyable, but we're more likely to do a better job, produce at a higher level, and take more pride in our work.
That childhood dentist of mine? His passion was art, not dentistry. And that showed.
He spent more time talking about art than working on my teeth. (My bottom teeth are crooked to this day.)
But where we get confused is thinking that passion is where we start.
Passion should be the byproduct, not the main attraction.
Passion in work is like infatuation in love.
The attraction we feel from passion is intense.
We imagine fantastic futures in which we get to be with the person of our dreams (or do the work of our dreams).
But highly passionate love rarely becomes a healthy, lasting relationship (or career).
Either we dream endlessly about the beloved person (or job) and never actually make a move.
Or we throw caution to the wind and run toward our passion—whether lover or career—only to find that paradise isn't all we thought it would be.
We may find that we liked the idea of being a professional musician much more than the reality of gigging, recording albums, and keeping the band together.
Or that being your own boss and entrepreneur—dealing with motivation, structure, finances—is far harder than you realized, and the business you started is far less gratifying than you imagined.
In my case, I wanted to become a novelist.
But my dream became my nightmare.
I followed my passion … It left me broke and depressed.
After graduating, I started writing right away, doing what I loved—all day long.
Early on, I was happy. I was even able to piece together a living entirely off my writing.
But two years down the line, I was nearly broke and very depressed.
I moved back in with my mother and took a job as a waiter.
I felt like a complete failure.
If following my passion didn't give my life purpose, what else would?
A lot of people who fail while following their passion end up beating themselves up because they think they either didn't try hard enough, or weren't passionate enough.
I certainly thought so at the time, but that wasn't the real problem.
I gradually realized, painfully, that I liked the idea of being a famous novelist far more than I liked the process of writing novels.
More importantly, writing fiction didn't fully align with who I was and what I needed to be fulfilled.
It didn't give expression to my problem-solving pragmatist. It didn't allow me to help people transform. And it didn't give expression to my gregarious conversationalist, or give me the live, eye-to-eye connection I craved.
Writing inspired me—it still does—but it did not align with all my needs or who I was at my core.
It ended up draining my cup, not filling it.
Even if you do succeed at your passion—and some people do—that in itself does not guarantee a purposeful life.
Passion doesn't necessarily lead to purpose.
Returning to the metaphor of romance. A passionate infatuation might be intensely pleasurable, but is it meaningful? Maybe. But not likely.
By contrast, finding a partner with whom you want to build something together, have kids, create a home—to share your life with them—that's meaningful.
When it comes to work, finding our purpose isn't about chasing our passion, it's about following our calling.
We may become passionate about this calling—in fact, we may throw our whole lives into it—but it doesn't start with passion.
Passion is about desire.
Calling is about fulfilling the role your soul requires of you.
By “soul” I mean the core of who we are—the totality of our unconscious, which includes most of our brain, our heart, gut, and the rest of our body's nervous system.
The science of the unconscious is still in its infancy, but it’s estimated that our conscious mind can process 40-50 bits per second.
Our unconscious can process 11 million bits per second.
Philosophical, religious, spiritual, and indigenous traditions point to the existence of a “greater intelligence” (which goes by many names) that exists within us, outside us, or perhaps both within and without.
Barring the existence of extra-physical explanations, I believe the place this intelligence likely resides is our unconscious mind.
If this is true, what does this vast, inborn intelligence—this deep inner self—ask of us?
That is the call we have to answer.
"Follow your passion," is about stoking the fire of desire higher and higher.
"Follow your calling," is about quieting the conscious ego so you can hear the small, still voice of the soul—and doing what it asks of us.
Lao Tzu wrote that "At the center of your being, you have the answer, / You know who you are and you know what you want."
It's that simple.
Well, if it's that simple, why doesn't everyone do it?
There are usually two things that stop us from living in alignment with our calling. . .