“Follow your passion” is, today, one of the most common mantras of the modern human. In less than a generation it became the synonym of “living a fulfilled life” in a significant part of our world.
But was it like this always? Were humans always in the pursuit of their passion as the main, fundamental activity of their lives? And, if not, what made this approach so popular and attractive? Even more, is this even true, in the sense that it will actually improve your life significantly?
As one of those who followed this mantra for many years – and who still observes it, but with a few caveats, see below – I’ll try to give my two cents on it.
Was It Always All About “Follow Your Passion”?
If you happened to live in medieval Japan, for instance, following your passion would have been the single, most effective way to ruin your life completely. If you wanted an intense and meaningful life, you would most likely tried to offer your loyalty to somebody, by becoming a samurai. Or your devotion to a religious school, by becoming a monk. Or you started by joining an okyia (a Geisha school) at a very young age, or some apprenticeship as a sailor, or, I don’t know, just kept working in the family business that you hoped to pass away to your grandsons.
You got the idea. Very few choices, a lot of social and economical pressure and voila, even the idea of following your passion would have been perceived as ridiculous, if not downright outrageous.
Historically, the “follow your passion” approach is not very mature. It probably started during romanticism, but back then it was more about sacrificing your current status by fighting for something or someone worth fighting for (being it a crusade, or a woman you loved), and not so much the modern version of it, the ecstatic merging with one’s “deep, true self”.
Follow Your Passion, They Said. It Will Be Fun, They Said
This importance we started to put on individuality, and the meaning we attached to it, started to manifest consistently only in the last century. And it became a dominant trait in the world only 20-30 years ago. That’s very, very recent.
So, why this happened?
Simply put: because we can. Because now it is possible to do something which satisfies your individual taste, if you really want, without too many consequences (at least in the beginning).
Truth to be told, humanity never experienced such amounts of freedom as we started to, in the last century. We have more resources, more time, better health and better technology than anyone in the known universe.
We can do (almost) whatever we want.
But in this ocean of possibilities we started to forget the fact that everything we enjoy right now – being it health, resources, technology – is the result of a collective effort. For every vaccine you took, there were many doctors working in different places of the Earth, for every computer you use, hundreds of thousands of people work separately, on all the continents, and for all the flights you take to Bali, as a digital nomad, there are dozens of thousands of people working, in the air and at the ground, every second.
We are better, as individuals, because we keep getting better as a group.
But, and here we are starting to touch on the article’s topic, this “passion” thing is fundamentally at odds with other people needs.
This is how is defined, anyways: there is something that you do “to pay rent”, to “put food on the table”, and then there is something “you love doing”. And the pressure is more and more towards “what you love doing, as an individual”, at the cost of “whatever it takes to grow the group”.
This pressure works in such a way that makes “follow your passion” feel positive, while diminishing the role of whatever we have to do as a required interaction.
There’s nothing intrinsically better about following your passion, than just doing your job inside a group, even if it’s boring, even if it’s difficult, even if you don’t feel like doing it today.
It’s just how we perceive it.
Because if we would look at the obvious facts, instead of the dominant train of thoughts, we will see without a doubt that each second of freedom we enjoy right now is the result of a collective, harmonious integration. You simply can’t function as an individual, alone. You are defined, in the same way I am defined, by the constant interaction with other consciousnesses.
So, back to more mundane things, what are some of the Do’s of “follow your passion”? Or to put it bluntly: is it really working?
The short answer: yeap, it might.
The (somehow longer) answer is: well, there are a few things required for this to work. Let’s look at them, one at a time.
Follow Your Passion: When Should I Do It?
I would say that you should follow your passion:
1. If It Doesn’t Harm You, In Any Way
If you have to take a significant beating, financially, in order to pursue your passion, I would say pass. Like, really, I know what I’m talking about. Being broke while following your dreams is not fun. It’s incredibly frustrating, as a matter of fact.
2. If It Doesn’t Harm Others, In Any Way
If it requires letting people down, or deceiving them in any way, it’s also a no-no. Sooner or later these costs will become visible in your books. It’s not really worth it.
3. If There Is A Real Need For It Outside Your Own Life
Like, is there a group of people benefiting consistently from it? Or it’s just satisfying your ego? Nothing wrong with satisfying your ego, every once in a while. For instance, learning to play the guitar is great, but if you’re concerting at 3AM in the middle of the street, ruining the sleep of your neighbors, well, I don’t know.
Follow Your Passion: When I Shouldn’t?
A part from the situations described above, I would also add these. You shouldn’t follow your passion if:
1. If This “Will Make You, You”
This is a very subtle, yet very dangerous – and I’m speaking from experience – approach. If you feel that you “just aren’t yourself” in what you do, then changing what you do will not magically help. Changing yourself will help, though, although this is a longer, more profound process. Linking your identity only to a certain activity is one of the most toxic things you can do. You’re not a “programmer”, or a “waiter”, these are just some things you do.
2. If This Will Prove Others “Who You Really Are”
This is from the same league as above, only it happens in relationship with other people. It’s when you choose to “follow your passion” by following a certain career, a specific social role, a public persona, that will “show the people what you’re really worth”. It’s very easy to let into our brains these types of messages and try to present ourselves in such a way that will generate acceptance or inclusion. This is not following your passion, this is self-deceit.
3. Because All The Cool People Are Doing It
Just because people are flying in droves to Bali, or Chiang May, or wherever is the cool destination of the moment, it doesn’t mean you should do it too. You really don’t have to quit the – allegedly, boring – job you have right now, take a course on Amazon online selling and “live the dream”. It’s not a dream. It’s a dead-end: as the fashionable thing to do, or the cool destination to go to, will inevitably change, you’ll feel once again trapped in a different rat race trap.
Follow Your Passion: Detours?
Life is never a straight line. It can’t be. It’s ups and down, lefts and rights, sprints and pauses. And in this mix, your passions, just like yourself, are bound to change.
Maybe it’s simply not the time to follow that passion right now, even if you really feel you’re doing it for all the right reasons above, and you’re not crossing off any of the “dont’s”.
Sometimes there’s simply no time for it, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any time for it, never, ever. If it’s really your passion, and if you know for sure your passion will leave a mark on this world, changing other people lives for the better, then wait.
You never know what the next detour will bring.