Thoughts, Stories & Ideas by Aphinya Dechalert

Dissecting the passion myth

Dissecting the passion myth
Photo by Manyu Varma / Unsplash

There is a myth that we must work ruthlessly towards a singular passion in life to achieve happiness and success. We idolize this concept through people like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. We look at the highlight reels and capture their sound bites about following their passion.

In these circumstances, ‘passion’ is always singular. But in reality, if we really look at it, the passion itself is a melting pot of various interests, skills, ideas, and intrinsic motivators that led people like Musk and Jobs to worldwide fame and copious amounts of money from their pursuits. Passion is more than just an intense emotional enthusiasm towards something.

So what exactly is passion? and why does it matter?

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” — Carl Jung

When millionaires, billionaires, and our idols talk about passion, what they’re really referring to is the internal drivers that motivate a person towards a particular end goal. These internal drivers are called intrinsic motivators — the things that make you want to pursue something out of your own free will.

The decisions we make about our careers, partners, and life are dictated by our intrinsic motivators. When we go against this, it leaves us feeling mentally and physically depleted, drained, and generally miserable.

The issue that many of us have is that we don’t actually know what our intrinsic motivators are. This leads us to struggle to figure out what exactly our ‘passion’ is. As a result, we end up spending our time in search of passion rather than experiencing it.

Skills + Intrinsic Values + The Right Environment

Throughout our school years and careers, we collect a series of skills that we develop and refine. Skills are easy to understand and pinpoint because they are tangible. It’s the stuff we put down on our resumes and do on a daily basis through our jobs.

Self-awareness, in contrast, is a process of uncovering yourself beyond the context of societal expectations and what we think we want.

It’s not hard to apply our skills to a specific role or job. However, the process of becoming self-aware is something that may never fully materialize for a lot of people. This leads to a continuous cycle of unfulfillment, frustration, and general unhappiness.

According to a report by Mental Health America, data from before the advent of COVID-19, 19% of adults experienced mental illness, including anxiety and depression. This is an increase of 1.5 million people when compared to the previous year’s dataset.

Modern-day philosopher Alain de Botton talks about anxiety as a fear of the future caused by experiences in the past. When we are not self-aware and put ourselves in situations that do not nurture our intrinsic values, we create a history of negative memories. These negative memories then form the basis of how we assess our situation, the world, and general feeling towards life. When there is enough negative backlog, it can lead to anxiety and depression.

The task of becoming self-aware involves externalizing the knowledge of what intrinsically motivates us — that is, figuring out where we stand on values such as social status, money, relationships, and personal definition of freedom.

We thrive when we are able to apply our skills in an environment that nurtures our intrinsic values. The positive emotions produced from this allow us to experience an alternative perspective to a once seemingly depressing reality. It motivates us to produce better work, sparks our creativity, and inspires a sense of meaning into our lives.

“The most important conversations you’ll ever have are the ones you’ll have with yourself.” — David Goggins

The moment we become self-aware is the moment we are able to make informed choices that nurture our personal and professional growth.

This leads us to seek our spaces and places where we can productively apply our skills and craft in a way that uniquely prioritizes what is important to us.

Someone who values personal autonomy will thrive in a workplace that is able to offer flexible hours and freedom to create. Someone who prefers structure and clear tasks may struggle in such an environment.

It is a reason why remote work is not for everyone — even if it is for the exact same job. While remote work is convenient, it does not offer the same level of social relationships and communication styles required by those who value feedback and status.

“Follow your own passion — not your parents’, not your teachers’ — yours.” — Robert Ballard 

The most passionate amongst us are those who are self-driven towards something.

Obsession is a by-product drive.

To be passionate, we need to have an understanding of ourselves first. Self-awareness is important and knowing what our intrinsic values are can nurture our drive to apply our skills in the most productive manner.

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Jamie Larson