One of the most hackneyed pieces of advice you are likely to hear as a twenty-something involves the pursuit of your passion. Chase down this elusive entity, capture it, make it work for you and the key to happiness is yours—but is passion really a good thing? And how much is too much?
If you were to oblige the linguistics nerd within yourself (go on, dig deep) and research the etymology of the word “passion,” you’d find that in its earliest uses in the late 2nd century, passion is tied to suffering, ailments, rage and any strong, controlling or overpowering emotion. Not until the 17th century do we see the word evolve into its most common use today: intense desire or enthusiasm for something (Oxford English Dictionary).
As with everything in life, balance is important and operating in any extreme can be dangerous. Passion and obsession possess many similar qualities, and what you see as a deep interest may actually be an unhealthy fixation. In order to know on which side of the spectrum your pursuits fall, you have to answer: who is in command, you or your passions? Ask yourself this and the following questions to gauge where you stand:
1. Are you being realistic and are you satisfied with where your passion will take you?
If you’re in control of your passion, you should know what purpose it serves for you and where your interest will lead you. I enjoy writing. Chances are I won’t become a multimillionaire by the time I’m 25, but I’m okay with that because word craft in itself provides sufficient fulfillment without the added bonus of financial gain. Be honest with yourself about how your personal desires translate within the world around you and even more honest with whether or not the realistic outcomes of your pursuits align with your goals. If you are unwilling to face these things, you have likely entered a “blind leading the blind” relationship with your interests. You probably wouldn’t be comfortable riding blindfolded in a car, so don’t allow your passion to steer you in a direction you refuse to see coming.
2. Are you open to other perspectives?
We all ask our closest friends for advice on our greatest conflicts because we acknowledge that consulting others provides different perspectives and often useful opinions—whether they strengthen our stance or shift it. Anyone who possesses a healthy passion for something should want feedback and insights outside their own. After all, if you’re never exposed to ideas that challenge yours, how can you truly know that you are at your best? As Picasso is believed to have said, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” Glean information and inspiration from the world around you to enhance your own ideas. Being open to suggestions does not have to mean selling out or compromising yourself; it means being intelligent about yielding the greatest success from your greatest motivations.
3. Are you attending to other important things in your life?
In seriously pursuing any goal, there are things you may have to give up, but you must understand the difference between neglect and sacrifice. If you’re working on your magnum opus, you might forgo attending this week’s family dinner, but at the point when you haven’t seen or spoken to them in months, you aren’t focused, you’re self-absorbed. Keep in mind that responsibilities don’t have to be “serious” things. You are responsible for your overall happiness and if twiddling your thumbs for five minutes every day brings you peace of mind, then twiddle away. Don’t neglect the other things and individuals that are important to you because you are consumed by your passions. You would hate to look up and realize that there’s no one around but you to celebrate your achievements.
If you found yourself answering “no” to most of these questions, your healthy passion is probably bordering an unhealthy obsession. So how do you successfully walk the fine line between sheer enthusiasm and the all-consuming emotion that lie on opposing sides of passion? Moderation.
While that may sound like an oxymoron, think of it this way: Let’s say you really like sugar in your coffee. One spoon isn’t enough and two barely begins to get things going, but try heaping 10 spoons in and suddenly your beloved beverage is disgusting, your glass is overflowing and you’ve made quite a mess spilling your liquid caffeine as you shuffle back to your desk. Too much of a good thing is inevitably a bad thing, and passion is no exception to the rule.