Follow Your Passion—Or Don’t: The Truth About Pursuing Your Dreams

What’s the reason you wake up every morning? Money? Fame? I bet not. Gone are the days when people shot straight from their beds, thinking, “Hey, you know what? I’m going to make a shitload of money today and become more famous than Jesus Christ himself!” No, money and fame have long been shelved to the Overrated section. Today, more people are setting their priorities straight and are living life the way they should.

You may be wondering what drew me to this grand, almost starry-eyed, conclusion that more people are choosing to lead meaningful lives. Well, I noticed in recent years that as digital communication developed into a more open and ubiquitous medium, people became more idealistic. Just check your social media feed. I bet you won’t find people flaunting their gold or pleading for likes. Yes, I realize that the world can’t be completely rid of humblebrags who will always rub in everyone’s faces just how much richer they are, nor can it be utterly freed from needy individuals who will always nag everyone to death with their pathetic need for external validation. But these people are exempted from my list because, as far as I’m concerned, they’re just total a-holes and losers.

No, what I want you to look at are the regular people who are simply chronicling their lives through social media without any ulterior motives. They share bits of their passion for others to see: a collection of comic strips, an original song, a simple poem, a vlog of their travel adventures, or an album of their latest culinary masterpiece. In other words, they share things they love and care about. They put PASSION first before MONEY or FAME.

Unsplash - Sidharth Bhatia
Photo by Sidharth Bhatia from Unsplash

Passion Makes the World Go Round

Passion is a beautiful thing to experience because it can be a source of enlightenment. It can give you a sense of purpose and serve as your light when you feel lost in the dark. In the same way, it’s also a beautiful thing to see and behold. When you find someone living their dreams, you feel more inspired to pursue yours. It’s a contagious feeling that can create a ripple of positive energy.

Nonetheless, there’s a toxic side to this phenomenon that many of us know subconsciously but rarely talk about. Passion only looks romantic when you’re experiencing it. When it’s lacking in your life, that’s a different story. Seeing others burst in rapture over something that to you looks trivial will only feel like a mockery of the emptiness you feel inside. To you, every ardent display of emotion will feel like another form of gloating. As years pass without bringing any positive change, you will grow distant and depressed. You’ll feel like there’s something wrong with you for not experiencing the same sense of fulfillment that others feel when they do something they care about. You’ll feel alone and frustrated. And in exactly this way, passion can be a source of not only happiness but also misery.

Bummer, right?

I don’t know about you, but this tragic side of passion just makes me miss my younger days. Everything was a lot simpler then. I just did things that made me curious without second-guessing myself. If I wanted to catch a blue dragonfly by the tail, for example, I’d just go ahead and do it. I’d focus all my energy and concentration on that single task. Maybe I was not “passionate” in the deeper sense of the word, but in those few minutes of utter dedication, I had an unquestionable purpose in life.

How simpler things would be if we all just remained kids forever. But, let’s face it, that’s simply out of the question. We’re all adults — and as adults, we’re responsible for understanding as much of the world as we can. This is why we need to probe deeper into how passion really affects us and how we look at it in general. Sure, passion makes the world go round, but that doesn’t mean we should drop everything else for it. That’s a crappy advice that only encourages a short-sighted way of looking at life and interpreting our role in the bigger picture. “Follow your passion” is more complicated than it sounds.

Unsplash - Noah Silliman
Photo by Noah Silliman from Unsplash

The Common Misconception About Passion

Mainstream media is wrong. Your passion isn’t always the same as your job, and vice versa. To equate the one with the other can be an infinite source of disappointment. Yes, I get it — the media is telling you all sorts of things about how you should be working four hours a week instead of forty (damn you and your awesome book, Tim Ferriss!), but things work out differently for everyone.

Who says you’re supposed to love your job? It’s a JOB, and its main purpose is to pay the bills. No one expects you to love every minute of your work. Even if you’re lucky enough to land your dream job, you will always find something to complain about. You’ll have your fair share of highs and lows, regardless of your level of dedication. And that’s fine. That’s how it’s supposed to be. We all need a way to achieve balance between the good and the bad, the yin and the yang, if you will. That’s just how it is.

And, besides, who in the Great Wall of China told you that you need to make money doing what you love? Sometimes, the things that are worth pursuing don’t bring any tangible rewards. But that shouldn’t bring you down because the fact that you’re at all able to pursue your passion is in itself the best reward you can get. Trust me.

The Two Faces of Passion

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to have an innate calling? They tell stories of how they’ve always known what they wanted in life. They just seem to have a natural passion for something. The best part? They also happen to be good at it.

And then, on the opposite side, there are people who seem to be clueless about what they’re supposed to do. They’re not excited about anything at all — never been and possibly never will be. And to add insult to injury, they also don’t seem to be good at anything special. They’re just not aboard the Passion Train.

I’ve read an article in The Minimalists, where Joshua Fields Millburn interviewed his old pal, Cal Newport, the author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, about the latter’s opinion on passion. While reading the transcript, an idea blossomed in my mind. I mulled over the points that Cal made until I found myself only partially agreeing with him. I’ll take a leap here and say that he’s only half-right because I think he’s seeing only half of the picture. Or maybe it’s the other way around and I’m the one who’s half-blind. We’ll see.

At any rate, I came up with two kinds of passion that explain why some people are convinced they’re born to do something while others feel compelled to find their calling. I call these natural passion and nurtural passion, respectively.

Unsplash - Haley Phelps
Photo by Haley Phelps from Unsplash

Natural Passion: The One That’s Right Under Your Nose

FYI, I’m not talking about your booger. Aight, I’ll see myself out.

Seriously, though, if you’re the kind of person who loves something so much that you feel like it’s already ingrained into your identity, then your passion for that thing can be classified as “natural.” Your natural passion gives you a renewed sense of excitement every time you immerse yourself in it.

To identify your natural passion, you need to quiet your thoughts and examine what’s left. Now, think. What’s the one thing that keeps gnawing at the back of your mind and that you just can’t stamp out no matter what? What’s the one thing you’d do if the world was handed to you on a silver platter and you didn’t have to worry about money or popularity anymore? The answer to that is your natural passion.

Still clueless? Don’t push it. Your passion may be nurtural.

Why You Settle

Sometimes, the rush you get from your natural passion goes unacknowledged and ignored. You try to push your dreams out of your mind and instead settle for your mundane job. I bet it’s because you’re plagued by at least one of these reasons:

You’re afraid of the repercussions. You’re afraid that the world beyond your familiar bubble is too harsh for you to survive in. But you have to remember that the longer you remain in your comfort zone, the more you’ll lose your sense of adventure. Your comfort zone is a utopia that can put a limit on your natural passions. Don’t wait for someone else to arrive in a shining armor and empower you to live your dreams. You can only overcome your self-imposed limits by acting and feeling brave, in that order.

You feel paralyzed because of certain stigmas. I consider myself lucky because my parents have supported my dream of becoming a writer from day one. Still, I can say that I have also been “stigmatized” by others for choosing a writing career. They’d say — or worse, imply — that there’s no future for me in this field and that I’ll never make enough money to live a comfortable life. For the most part, I was indifferent to their doubts, but there were times (very few, I guarantee you) when I questioned my decision. If my parents hadn’t had my back, I could be slaving away in a job I hate right now. I’m sure I’d have more money, but you can bet your bottom dollar I’d have less self-love.

I won’t blame you if you can’t chase after your dreams because you’re bound by familial responsibilities and societal expectations. Believe me, I get it. All I’m saying is that if you want the general atmosphere surrounding idealism to change, you should start with yourself. Courage and understanding are what we need to build a world that doesn’t persecute its dreamers.

You’re too benumbed to act out. As sad as it may sound, there are people who have simply given up on their dreams. They’ve just accepted their fate, whatever they think that is. They’re too deadened by the banalities of life that all they want to do all the time is sit on their couch and watch as others live their dreams. If you feel this way, talk to me. I can’t guarantee help, but I can guarantee you a listening ear. #ModernMartyr

Passion vs. Priorities

So, why do people settle? There’s actually just one inclusive answer to that: PRIORITIES. You see, most of the time, the problem isn’t really a lack of passion but a lack of commitment. It all boils down to what you consider as the most important thing in your life. What’s the reason you wake up every morning? If it’s money or fame, that’s fine. But if you prioritize those two because that’s what everyone expects of you, then how are you different from a spineless slave of society? #AlliterationAlert

Don’t stray down a path you don’t like just because someone somewhere drilled into your head that money is happiness. You can accumulate money over years of hard work. But guess what? While you’re busy piling up your cash, time’s busy flying out the window. Don’t tell me you’re toiling away at a job you hate day in and day out because you want to make the last ten years of your life perfect. What about your first sixty? Where do you want all those years to go?

I get it — it’s difficult to prioritize your dreams. Sure, you can choose to go on for years working towards financial stability and securing a respectable social standing. Let’s just hope you don’t end up on your deathbed wondering what you could’ve become had you put your passions first. Let’s hope you wouldn’t be one of those people who’d say, “I would’ve done things differently had I the chance.” You see, you’ve always had the chance. The opportunity has always been there, and it’s still there now. All you have to do is take it.

Unsplash - Alice Donovan Rouse
Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse from Unsplash

Nurtural Passion: The One You Need to Cultivate

“Follow your passion” is a saying that gets thrown around a lot. But the thing is, it doesn’t apply to many who just can’t wrap their heads around it. This is primarily because their passion is what I call “nurtural.” The main difference between the two kinds of passion is that while the natural variety is chased, the nurtural one is cultivated.

This is exactly the point that Cal Newport made in his interview with The Minimalists. He argued that passion is not a natural occurrence that you can just tap into when you feel like it. It’s not something you can find overnight. Instead, it’s the result of accumulated knowledge, interests, and experiences.

Why You Should Cultivate Passion

Passion, whether it be natural or nurtural, can give you a sense of fulfillment, and it is primarily for this reason that you should cultivate it. Nurturing your passion entails honing your existing abilities and developing others. You need to become the master architect of your life so you can have a lifestyle that resonates with you. To quote American businessman and blogger Ben Horowitz, “Find the thing you’re great at and put that into the world.” If you do this, you can grow fonder of your current commitments. By cultivating a passion, you can actually make loving your job possible.

I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s nothing more emotionally draining than going to work every day and doing something you don’t care about. However, if you love what you do, things will suddenly make sense and you’ll have a brand new purpose. Remember, work will take up most of your life, so you might as well do something that matters to you. If you love your job, you will not only be happier in general but also more poised to become successful in your chosen field. Need proof? Watch Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs.

Keep the Windows Open

If you don’t have a pre-existing passion, you should always keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to nurture one. For many of us, passion doesn’t come as an instinct but a small possibility that has to be maximized. You have to listen to small nudges that can lead you in the right direction. After all, you won’t find a career you’ll love just by sitting around and waiting for it to come knocking on your door. Experiment and explore new crafts to find that special thing you’ll put above all else. This is where following Cal Newport’s advice comes in handy.

Burrito Wraps

Are you still with me? I won’t blame you for dozing off halfway through this post. To those I have lost to boredom, peace out! I’m sure your daydreams are more interesting than my conscious stream of thoughts. To those who are still reading my post, thanks for the patronage. Let me leave you one final piece of my mind.

I’ve heard it said many times that following your passion is selfish. You’re putting your wants first over other people’s needs. While that may be true to some extent, I still think that a passion-centric world is a better, happier, and more progressive world. Whatever your passion may be, you can make a positive impact if you choose to.

For example, if you’re a promising writer who is pursuing a full-fledged writing career, you’re essentially doing the world a favor by sharing your masterpiece. Imagine an alternate reality where magnum opuses like Don Quixote, Lord of the Flies, Anna Karenina, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Robinson Crusoe, Great Expectations, and The Little Prince remained mere story concepts that their creators chose to let die. In that reality, the world is robbed of life-giving gifts — an unthinkable crime that humanity, with all the daily BS that it suffers, does not deserve. Sure, the process of writing may itself be selfish (I know because I take immense pleasure from it), but the output is ultimately the author’s gift to the world.

Whatever your passion is, people can always take something from the finished product. And that’s why the world needs you and your passion.

Let me close with an exchange from Steven Universe.

Peedee Fryman

Peedee: This seahorse used to make me so happy. Now, it’s just giving me whiplash. I feel like there’s just no point to it, you know what I mean?

Steven: I just feel tingly.

Peedee: You’ll understand when you have a job.

Steven: I do have a job! I protect humanity from magic and monsters and stuff!

Peedee: I mean a real job that you get paid for.

Steven: I’m paid in the smiles across the town’s faces!

Peedee: I don’t see anyone smiling. You pick up a job to buy a house or raise kids or to impress your dad. You work away your life and what does it get you?

Steven: Smiles on faces?

Peedee: No! You get cash. Cash that can’t buy back what the job takes. Not if you rode every seahorse in the world.

Do you like seahorses more than jellyfish? Is your passion natural or nurtural? Let me hear about it in the comments below.

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