by Gregg Levoy
Passion is a concept that’s talked about a lot these days, in a lot of different arenas. Business and leadership experts talk about employee engagement. Coaching and career development folks talk about finding a calling. Educators talk about passion-based learning. And couples and relationship counselors talk about keeping the spark alive.
But passion is much bigger and deeper than what happens 9-5 Monday- Friday, or what happens between romantic partners. Ultimately, passion is a life skill— a stance—that helps bring vitality to all our engagements: from work, family and school life, to creative, social and spiritual life. And it’s a survival mechanism—critical to health and wellbeing— because your attachment to life depends on your interest in it.
It’s shockingly easy, though, to lose touch with our passion and vitality, to let them slide into disuse or be siphoned from us by all manner of downwardpulling forces—boredom, stress, fear, routine, a Great Recession and a Code Orange world.
In fact, it seems to me that life is so full of deterrents to passion, self-expression and authenticity that what we casually refer to as “normal” behavior is really a state of arrested development. It’s just so pervasive we often don’t notice it.
Here are five key things I’ve learned about the nature of passion, and how to mechanism—critical to health and wellbeing— because your attachment to life depends on your interest in it. It’s shockingly easy, though, to lose touch with our passion and vitality, to let them slide into disuse or be siphoned from us by all manner of downward-pulling forces—boredom, stress, fear, routine, a Great Recession and a Code Orange world. In fact, it seems to me that life is so full of deterrents to passion, self-expression and authenticity that what we casually refer to as “normal” behavior is really a state of arrested development. It’s just so pervasive we often don’t notice it.
Here are five key things I’ve learned about the nature of passion, and how to give our vitality a transfusion:
1. Passion can be cultivated. It can be turned on as well as turned off. Passion isn’t in the “either you’ve got it or you don’t” department. And this cultivation happens most readily at the level of the gesture and the moment, not the five-year plan or the extreme makeover. But even at this microlevel, action is required. Especially spontaneous action. The equation is: ready, fire, aim. The idea is to start with the subtlest manifestations of the impulse to express yourself and act on your passions, and build from there. To begin identifying little moments of choice that lead you either toward or away from a sense of aliveness.
2. If you want to live with passion, you have to confront whatever blocks its expression. Start by identifying where in your life you lose vitality, where it leaks out. Maybe it’s a job that sucks the life out of you. Maybe it’s a relationship where you feel like a ghost of your full self. Maybe it’s your eager and capable mind being put in dull circumstances. Maybe it’s the absence of life goals you feel any passion for. Maybe it’s work or other involvements that lack any sense of meaning or purpose.
3. Passion is in the risk. It is in the willingness to step from the sidelines onto the playing field. The act of courage itself, even a single bold step beyond the comfort zone, helps awaken passion. The horse-and-cart equation isn’t necessarily that we find our passions and then begin taking risks on their behalf, but that through the act of taking risks—making decisions, putting ourselves on the line—we begin to discover our passions and bring them to life. Abraham Maslow, who coined the term self-actualization, believed that self-actualizing types are those who make the growth choice instead of the fear choice—a dozen times a day.
4. Passion isn’t just exuberance, it’s endurance. It’s sometimes shoulder-to- the-wheel stamina and patience on the order of years. For instance, if our creative inspirations, or even our infatuations, aren’t balanced by good long hours at the workbench, they don’t really come to fruition. The author Malcolm Gladwell calculates that mastery in most endeavors requires at least 10,000 hours of dedicated practice. Here’s the math: 90 minutes a day for 20 years.
5. Passion breeds passion, and disinterest breeds disinterest. If we lack passion in our own lives, for our own lives, our other relationships will be denied that energy—our partnerships, our friendships, our communities, classrooms, corporations, congregations.
The mechanics of inspiration being what they are, one person’s passion for life can have a profound effect on the unfolding of other people’s passions; certainly this is true for anyone in a position of leadership or stewardship—especially relative to children and young adults. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, minister, mentor, manager, coach, counselor, politician, or CEO, this much is certain: your passion is critical to their engagement.
And this goes not just at the individual level, but the collective. If dispassion is contagious, passion is equally catching—though you have to catch it yourself first before you can spread it.
Gregg Levoy is the author of Vital Signs: The Nature and Nurture of Passion and Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life. Follow him at www.gregglevoy.com.
SEE GREGG LEVOY IN SAN ANTONIO!
Plan to Attend the Vital Signs Workshop with Gregg Levoy on Jan. 31
Best-selling author Gregg Levoy will be in San Antonio on Saturday, Jan. 31, to host a workshop based on his new book, Vital Signs: The Nature and Nurture of Passion. The workshop will take place from 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. at the Bishop Jones Conference Center, 111 Torcido Dr. in San Antonio. The event is part of the Mind Science Foundation’s Distinguished Speaker Series.
For more information, visit www.mindscience.org.