I’m looking up the dictionary definition of “passion”…
And oddly enough…
It originates from the Latin word “pati” which means “to suffer.”
And in Viktor Frankl’s best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he recalls his arrival to Auschwitz.
In his first moments there, everything is taken from him. His clothes, his hair, his dignity, and anything he brought with him including his life’s work:
The manuscript for his book.
And in rare, spare moments on scraps of paper using shorthand, he would often attempt to reconstruct from memory the work that was taken from him.
So that upon his hopeful liberation…
He could still share his message with the world.
And this message formed the basis for his Logotherapy, in which, when one’s life circumstances are given meaning — grief, anxiety and frustration begin to subside.
And in reflecting on his experience in the camps…
He believed that choosing to make meaning out of his experience is what allowed him to survive.
“Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”
And I think this is important because without further distinction…
“Follow your passions” can easily become a meaningless cliche.
Since suffering is an inevitable part of life, it’s in our best interest to find something compelling enough to work towards.
According to Jordan B. Peterson:
“In order to have any positive meaning in your life you have to have identified a goal. And you have to be working towards it.”
And there’s a neurological explanation for this as well. The circuitry responsible for the positive emotions we tend to enjoy are activated while in pursuit of a meaningful goal.
And the dopamine that’s released during the experience of meaningful engagement in goal oriented tasks is analgesic.
It eliminates pain.
Sadly, the same is true for opiates, psychomotor stimulants, and many behaviors of consumption — which explains addiction pretty well.
And possibly even points us in the direction of a possible antidote.
But the point is, the universe will test you.
And in pursuit of our goals we have two options: make meaning or modify the path.
And in my experience I think we’re constantly doing a bit of both.
Throughout life, our approach to meaning evolves. And along the path, there’s twists and turns and side-roads that take us in different directions. Growth is not linear. And each failure, mistake, and painful lesson carries essential teachings that will lead us toward our ultimate goals.
In my previous letter I wrote that knowing your passions requires lots of free time to play and explore.
In some ways it’s that simple.
I started my first business with my friend Ted.
One sunny afternoon, we loaded up my truck with coolers of ice, ziplock bags, knives, and small shovels.
I reached in my pocket and pulled out my smartphone to check the time.
Our goal was to be able to calculate some sort of “hourly rate” for our time so that we could check our assumptions.
“Do we have a viable business here or what?” His brow furrowed.
We were on a mission.
Over the past week we’d scoured the internet for local web soil surveys from the USDA, and compared them with satellite images of our favorite nature spots.
Combined with our knowledge of local plant species, we selected our destination.
There in the quiet open understory, we roamed barefoot through the wilderness.
Unencumbered by our lightweight selection of gear, we felt truly free.
Working in harmony with nature in search of our bounty.
Wild. Foraged. Edibles.
Some of the most delicious and nutritious food in the world grows easily and abundantly upon the Earth with very little human intervention.
“Screw gardening” I thought.
The restaurant industry in Detroit was booming at the time.
Every glory seeking chef in the city was looking for a way to make their menu stand out above the rest.
Most of them already proudly displayed their fresh, local “Grown in Detroit” greens. But our unique and unexpected ingredients gave them just the edge they were looking for. From forest to table, it was a delightful experience for cultivator, chef, and customer alike.
But as far as a viable business model, the results were obvious.
It was a dead-end.
It wasn’t scalable, and it wasn’t sustainable.
And when it’s clear something isn’t worth our time. It’s time to quit.
And it doesn’t matter that my first idea didn’t make the cut because it was a necessary step on the path to self-employment.
Looking back, it’s easy to see how our experiences fit into a meaningful plot progression for the story of our lives.
What’s often difficult is determining what’s next.
Here’s some ideas for practical implementation.
How To Find Your Passion
1. Just Start
As I said before, it can really be that simple.
As long as you start by exploring something you’re naturally interested in, take comfort in knowing you’re on the right path.
- Learn about it.
- Write about it.
- Put it to practice.
- Teach it to others.
- Become. Obsessed.
And along the way, new knowledge, new experiences, and new insights will naturally emerge to guide your path.
As you walk, the path will appear.
2. What’s your childhood play style?
“What did you do as a child that made the hours pass like minutes? Herein lies the key to your Earthly pursuits.”– Carl Jung
As children we were probably “nudged” towards certain goals by well meaning adults who were only looking out for our future. But if our own natural curiosity is diminished, things are likely to feel out of place for us later on as adults.
What are some of your favorite activities from childhood?
Personally I carried around a ridiculously large electric typewriter in a giant old suitcase and “traveled around, writing stories.”
How can you make more of your childhood dreams a reality?
3. Don’t chase happiness, chase grasshoppers
It turns out we’re not that great at predicting how future events will make us feel. Mostly because we have no idea how much we will have changed as a person by the time the future arrives.
As a result, it’s pretty tough to aim directly at happiness.
But with the process of feedback (taking shots) and calibration (making adjustments), we can improve our aim along the way.
In The Journey of Crazy Horse, Joseph M. Marshall III reveals the training methods used for the adolescent boys of the Oglala Lakota to sharpen their aim with a bow and arrow.
After learning to consistently fly their arrow through the center of a rolling hoop, they’re taught to lay still in a field, holding their arrow ready, and wait for a grasshopper to appear as it leaps through the air.
But if you really want to sharpen your aim…
4. Know when to quit
In his book, The Dip, Seth Godin encourages us to “quit fast, quit often and without guilt.”
To quit the things that keep us from being remarkable, and to save our energy for where we can commit to being the best in the world.
“You only have two options. Quit or be exceptional.”
“The dip” is the hard part of any journey where it’s tempting to quit. And the difficulty lies in distinguishing between quitting because it’s hard and quitting because we’re wasting our time.
If you’re thinking about quitting…
First, wait until you’re not panicking.
And second, trust your gut. Your gut has a mind of its own and is informed by a level of unconscious awareness that has your best interests at heart.
5. Dream big
“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles.”– Terrence McKenna
It’s easy enough for those of us who are highly creative to pursue professions that allow us to hide in the shadows.
We might be good at what we do, or even successful, but our natural gifts and talents seem perpetually out of alignment with our work.
If you’ve got something you’re obsessed with…
And it can’t be put to use on your current path…
Get out a piece of paper and answer the following question.
What would be an ideal outcome?
Until next time,