Find your passion. The find your passion backlash. It’s complicated. I can pretty confidently say I’ve never uttered the phrase because, even when things we care about spring from reasons practically unknowable, I’ve never believed that care to be truly innate. So I would never say “find” your passion in the sense that it pre-existed, nor would I say “follow” your passion, which seems to imply that innateness even more strongly (though I note the indiscriminate switch between the two verbs in the Atlantic headline and article that prompted the recent mini-furore).1
Nor in this context would I use the singular form passion. I knew it was possible to have many passions—and did, sometimes to my detriment—long before I was old, aware and presumptuous enough to proffer what would come to be known as Tweet-size advice.
But the same article challenges the idea of following one’s passion through some pointed questions that I can’t imagine most people I know saying yes to: are you “waiting to find your passion?” Would you have “unlimited motivation for your passion?”
And does anyone take literally the clichéd adage “Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life?”
I believe in the superior richness of the growth mindset. I believe that we develop our passions, though not solely…the pressure of our pursuits may form some of those rough diamonds while others may come from those actions and events in our lives so complex as to be unknowable, but in both cases we cut and polish the raw diamonds we are fortunate enough to recognize.
But more than that, I unashamedly seek something that I have only discovered through pursuit of my passions: (moments of, so far) transcendence. There are pleasures to be had in “mundane” and “routine” work, but the peak, practically out-of-body experiences come for me only when what I am doing involves something I am passionate about.
My favorite quote of all time amidst a lifetime of collecting them is from the Henry James short story “The Middle Years” when the dying writer comes to terms with the fact that he will die before writing the great work he realizes he is finally ready to create: “We work in the dark, we do what we can, we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.” 2
Our passion is our task. The real question isn’t whether we find or follow or develop our passion(s), but what passion comprises and what it is composed of in our particular world and time. That takes work. It’s something we cultivate. But it’s also a little magical and there’s no reason not to let the mystery of it be a motivator.
- I’ll have to save my thoughts on this quote, particularly my recent insight into a misunderstanding of the last line, for another time