Instead of trying to find complete congruence between our passions and our livelihoods, it is perhaps more productive simply to believe in the possibility of finding opportunities for growth and satisfaction at work, even in the midst of difficulties. – Charlotte Lieberman
My friend Hugh makes an important distinction between calling, passions, and doing a job. Over and over we read articles that say “do what you love” and while that sounds nice, it is neither realistic nor reasonable. Why this is so is not hearkening back to parents telling people passionate about art to “get a real job” or “music is nice, but it doesn’t pay the bills.” Doing what you love is not reasonable is because we often do not know exactly what it is that we love.
Often we think we know what we want, but the truth is that we have not built up any competence in what we love to tell us whether or not we actually love it. While some people find what they love and then do it, it’s not a formula to make most of us happy. The worst thing is to wind up in an endless search for happiness in pursuit of some ideal that will never materialize. So I want to suggest a different direction to this formula.
Becoming competent in something creates passion. To be passionate about something sometimes requires a degree of competence and that means practice even if we aren’t confident about our abilities. So we do a job in order to become more competent and that is where we learn about our passions. The job that you have in order to pay the bills might in itself create competence in an area you were never aware of before and you can find a passion about the world there.
I am no longer a proponent of the idea that any of us was created for a special purpose. There is no evidence that this is true other than one’s own desire and yearning and what other people tell you is your purpose. I wasted many years seeking mine and have watched others do the same and very rarely have this quest produced something that looks like happiness. People have tended to end up miserable and disappointed. When one’s expectations are so high, it becomes impossible for reality to match the vision precisely enough to tell you that you have indeed “arrived.”
The reality is that we are born into or have selected roles in our lives with specific behaviors that we need to exhibit on a daily basis. Living a good life is the accumulation of the choices we make in these roles and performing what we need to do on a daily basis is mostly trial and error and practice. The more competent we become at certain behaviors and skills, the more confident we become and the happier we feel that our fitness with what we are doing is right. I have learned this with running and music. To feel better about running, I need to run more miles and work on methods to help me perform at a higher and healthier level. It means running hills, doing speedwork, and weight training among other things that can be painful in the short term, but have wonderful payoff over time. If I want to play a difficult piece of music I need to decompose it into specific rudiments and skills that take time to perform and then put all of that together. That means hours of messing up, repetition, and patience. Getting better at these things motivates me because I feel better doing them and also have more to offer in the long term.
The payoff is in the achievement of a goal, not in living inside of an idealized passion. The goal is what motivates me, not the achievement of an ideal state of being. Don’t do what you love because you might not even know what that is yet. Establish achievable goals in your life that you are living right now and through trial and error you will find small sets of behaviors that you want to continue to do. Some things you will want to do as an end in themselves and some for the sole purpose of achieving a goal. But a life lived without goals will not produce enough motivation to keep moving and you will never find out what your real passions are.
You can start right now. Write down one thing you want to complete today. Then work on longer term goals. Break them down into one thing you can do every day. Your passion is in there. But you need to practice these behaviors in your life and become more competent in them to find it.