June 12, 2017

A twenty-something friend of mine and I were recently talking about vocations and fulfillment. He said that he didn’t buy into the idea of “doing what you love” in the way he’d understood many people to mean it. He thought the word “passion” was being sadly misused to set people up to hate their lives and work. He said his credo for now is, “Don’t do what you hate, and stop looking for what you love.” I laughed with him at his statement.

At the same time, I realized that he was speaking wisely about the prevalent culture of demand for immediate results and the rejection of fully participating in work until one finds their “loved” career. He was talking about the confusion and mislabeling around passion and doing what you love.


Passion means fully participating in life—the one we are living wherever we are, and the one we hope to realize.


Passion means fully participating in life—the one we are living wherever we are, and the one we hope to realize. It is a willingness to be in pain for something that matters more than pain. Passion assumes that one accepts, even sadly or grudgingly, that doing what matters entails very, very hard days. Sometimes the days are full of confusion, doubt, failure, fear, struggle, and even at times, despair. Passion is the energy that allows one to carry on in the midst of the above-mentioned inevitabilities. It neither assumes success, nor ease in an endeavor.       

Contradictorily, loving what one does has begun to mean that things somehow magically fall into place because of the love of wishing things to do so. The word passion has become associated with magic instead of blistering hard work, sometimes doing things that we don’t associate with love. My friend told me that he realized that one can only stay in the love with something if one has passion. However, he said that passion is more a character reference than a quality that occurs when someone really likes something that they do.

He said that our culture had assumed that doing what you love would have an “ease” about it; if a person was struggling, it meant that maybe they weren’t doing what they loved. What we mean by love, he said, is actually more closely associated with fun than real love. He referred to the kind of fun/love that means we have servants to clean up after us, someone else to do the chores of daily living, and that if we are successful, the hard work of daily living is something that we outsource.  

My friend said that our culture of “doing what you love,” mislabeled as “following your passion,” can actually be a seduction to miss the life we have. It can cause us to spend our time pursuing a life we are told we “should” have to be significant, successful, or alive—instead of seeing the obvious, yet minimized, prosperity around us. We are being presented with a mountain of well-disguised “shoulds” that make us see our own lives as gray and the life of someone else as strobe light colorful. He said that we are trained like circus seals to find what we “love,” and only do that—instead of living well the lives we have.

We are trained to think of ourselves as worthless if we are simply living daily life well—that is, not seeing my life as the stage upon which I write, produce, direct, and star in my own play with others as my audience. Instead, he said that he saw his passion allowing him to live life in a series of choices that he gets to make within the context of life’s ultimate limits. That is some of what my friend meant when he said, “don’t do what you hate,” if you can change it, and “stop looking for what you love,” if doing so stops you from living the life you have.

The real stage is a lot more like Shakespeare’s description of life in As You Like It : “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and entrances,” and they live their lives in stages that are inevitable for us all—beginning, middle, and end. To that reality we bring passion. We bring the full participation of our hearts to all of it.

This unique friend of mine was saying, as I understood him, that a way to live our own lives well was not to become trapped in a pile of seductive “shoulds,” which make us an audience for other people’s lives instead of us attending to the lives we are actually living. That can mean to pursue life and love where we live, raising your child, loving your people who are around you, facing the limits of daily living, finding contentment in the day itself, appreciating reality while living a love that supersedes reality in the day we are living. We don’t wait on life and love; we live life now and love the ones we get to be with. This friend was talking about living life on life’s terms, while loving the life he has.


We don’t wait on life and love; we live life now and love the ones we get to be with.


The training ground for discontentment in our lives and the abuse of “living with passion,” is the technology that connects us to a perpetual pictorial show of a life the one seeing the show is missing—facebook, instagram, twitter, and whatever is next. The training ground is also immediate world media, presenting entertainers as having “greatness,” presenting their tragedies and victories in the extreme—again the life one seeing that they are missing. The training ground is even the people around us who spend their time dreaming and talking about a life they are “going to go have” and perpetually negative about the life they are living now—again suggesting that we need to be much less content. One is seduced into being in perpetual action around the ironic demand to copy other people to be unique.

I get that my friend is young, that he has lots to learn. I am twice his age, and yet I listened intently because I have lots to learn. He is not doing what he hates, and he is pursuing what he cares about. He surprises me about his wonder, thoughtfulness, and curiosity. He does not lack inspiration or ambition. He simply is dreaming, thinking, and doing his life, having become distrustful of the mob and trusting of the individuals he knows. If I could, I would hire him on the spot, do everything I could to help him become everything he had the passion to become. I would do so because he shows up for his life every day. That showing up is passion and loving living.