Your “Passion” Probably Isn’t Your Passion

Image by Giancarlo Duarte from Unsplash

By: Aaryan Harshith

Aaryan Harshith was recently featured on the Getting Smart Podcast as an outstanding example of youth ambition and commitment to making a difference in the world. Getting Smart is excited to repost one of his recent Medium contributions on Passion.

“Passion.” It might be the most misunderstood word in history. I’d lose count if I had to list down all the times someone’s told me something along these lines:

“I am so passionate about robotics.”’

“My real passion is photography.”

“Aaryan, do you even know how passionate I am about creating this company?”

Believe me when I say they have no idea what it means. None. And yet, everyone expects everyone else to have their passion figured out.

But here’s the thing. In reality, the huge pressure to have it all figured out forces us to find anything that even resembles one. Decisions like choosing a passion literally determine where you end up in life. The better you choose, the further you’ll end up. This article’s a stepping stone to making those decisions in a smarter way.

With that, a good place to start would be here: “What is a passion, really?”

Spot The Difference

Actually, an even better place to start with would be what a passion isn’t. As a general rule of thumb, a passion can be many things, but it’s almost never an interest.

Why? Because interests are too weak and short-term to push you through the barriers behind success. It’s the same reason that most people who say: “I want to drop out of university to do [insert XYZ hobby]” don’t end up becoming the next Zuckerberg.

How to take a passion and boost it with skill and purpose.

An actionable step to training your “passion-identification muscles” is to see these patterns in others, where it’s more noticeable. To figure out if someone really cares about something, this is all I ask them. I’d encourage you to ask the people around you the same sort of thing:

Person A: “Aaryan, you have no idea how passionate I am about [XYZ].”

Me: “That’s great! How much time do you spend doing it?”

It works like a charm. Nine times out of ten, what people spend the majority of their time doing doesn’t have any correlation with what they want to be doing. Those are typical examples of interests—not passions:

“A passion gives you energy, while an interest eventually drains it away.”

A common assumption is that a passion is supposed to feel easy and the journey should be effortless. That’s not true.

Just like anything in life, passion comes with struggle—especially if most people don’t value what you do by default. Plus, nothing feels rewarding when it’s easy—even if it aligns with your passion. You can’t escape difficulty, but having a passion for something is what lets you get through it.

One of the best examples of passion is Pablo Picasso. You might’ve heard of him before.

The Art Of Passion

Still Life With Bull’s Skull, Pablo Picasso, 1939.

If anyone had a passion for something, it was this guy. At 16, Picasso was one of the youngest students in the best art school in his country. A few weeks later, he dropped out. Keep in mind that this happened back when dropping out wasn’t in style.

The young Picasso spent the next six years as the epitome of a starving artist. He made paintings nobody wanted and sold them for prices that could barely make ends meet.

But with every day, he eventually found himself putting a paintbrush to a canvas again—just for the fun of it. His passion never failed to pull him back in to art. Every day tempted him—giving him a new chance to work at the companies that offered him stable, well-paying jobs. But he never did, did he?

Picasso’s passion wasn’t just art. It was being an artist. Working for someone and sketching drawings wasn’t enough. It meant painting what he wanted, in the way he wanted to, and he didn’t settle for two decades. If Picasso wasn’t truly passionate about being an artist, I wouldn’t be talking about him today. A sufficiently advanced passion is indistinguishable from a superpower.

An interest is a feeling we hold much more loosely. As a result, it requires conscious effort to be maintained. Remember, passions create new energy for you, while interests eventually drain them out. You just can’t tell what does which instantly:

Interests have a way of disguising themselves. They make you feel like you could work on them for the rest of your life—at least for the first two weeks.

Don’t fall for that.

If your passion doesn’t weather the storms of challenges, it isn’t a passion.

Interests have their own place in life, just as much as passion does. But, this assumes that you can see the difference between the two and treat each one like it should be treated.

Nothing starts off as a passion. Time brings you there.

Think of a passion as a best friend, or a part of your family. No matter how many times you fall out, you inevitably end up talking like usual again. It’s part of what makes that connection real.

An interest is more like a stranger. The novelty a stranger brings into your life can make you feel great, but by definition, novelty can’t last very long. Of course, strangers can turn into friends, but you shouldn’t force it to happen. The best relationships don’t require effort.

Just like we don’t know who we’ll be friends with as soon as we’re born, a passion can never be known in advance. It can only ever be discovered.

If your passion isn’t just your interest, and isn’t apparent to you, then what is it? Where is it?

The short answer is that it’s already in you.

Back To The Future

If you don’t feel like Sherlock Holmes when you’re trying to find your passion, you’re not doing it right. When you look closely, there’s hints scattered all around you. It’s your job to investigate and think a few layers deeper about what they mean.

But, we all know that every detective story starts with a trail that leads us into a mystery. So, in classic detective style, let’s start our mystery off with a simple question:

“When was the last time you were so amazed and so motivated by something that you couldn’t stop thinking about it?”

Passion is just a nicer-sounding synonym for obsession. If you’re wondering where your obsession is hiding, it’s in your head. We just have the bad habit of stowing those obsessions away for the sake of reality.

That’s why I want you to stop reading, close your eyes, and warp back in time to when you were a kid—to a time when reality didn’t exist:

More realistically, a passion is a feeling you have.

Alright. You’re probably wondering what your six-year-old self was thinking when they wanted to become an astronaut or a rockstar. Although you might not care for waddling through space or destroying your vocal chords anymore, that’s not the point.

Don’t focus on what you wanted to do nearly as much as why you wanted to do it. Going back into your past mental state isn’t going to be easy, but try scraping together what you can, and it’ll all eventually come back to you.

Let’s say you reflected for some time and realized that you wanted to be a rockstar because you could do anything you wanted to. Great.

But if independence is what you really want, being a rockstar isn’t the only way to get it. Wouldn’t being an entrepreneur or YouTuber do the same thing? For all I care, you could even become a pirate that sails across oceans in search of treasure. Quite literally, it all comes down to whatever floats your boat.

Now, narrowing down this mile-long list of questionable activities into things the world wants should be your next focus, but that’s for another article. For now though, I hope you get the idea.

Facing Fear

But let’s take a step back there. If you don’t want to become a rockstar anymore, why? It’s one thing if you just don’t like singing, but if you look away from an option because it isn’t grounded in reality, that’s the wrong reason.

Very few things are impossible—especially when you want them to happen badly enough:

When you’re passionate about something, just the process of getting to your goal will make you feel better than becoming the best in the world at something you don’t like.

What if you’re “not good” at it? It’s the same story.

A passion doesn’t even have to correlate with anything you’re already good at. There’s usually some overlap, but don’t be afraid of choosing something you suck at. If your passions stays, you can learn anything given enough time. With that said though, it’s your decision. If you have more than one passion and you’re naturally talented in one of them, it can’t hurt to have a head start:

Image credit: Jack Millard @millarjb

There’s a lot ahead of you, but the worst thing you can do is stay still.

Oh, and if you are one of the few people who’s got a rainbow of choices that all sound great, don’t worry. You won’t just have to pick one and stick with it for the rest of your life. Variety’s the spice of life, isn’t it?

Like any good book, life happens in chapters. So, like any good author, don’t drag a chapter out for longer than you need to, but don’t cut it short, either.

There’s a balance to be struck here. If something keeps energizing you long after an interest normally would, you can be pretty sure you’re dealing with a passion. But if that same passion doesn’t give you energy ten years from now, it’s not the passion that’s changed. It’s you.

It just means you’re motivated by different things, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t be afraid to keep moving forward—even if it takes you in a direction you never expected.

There’s a new chapter ahead of you, and it’s time to start writing. As for me, it’s probably time to stop.

Have fun out there,

— Aaryan

For more, see:

Aaryan Harshith attends Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School in Ontario and is working to create a better, healthier world through the things he builds and the research he conducts. For the past two years, his primary focus has been building a medical device to enhance cancer diagnosis during surgery and he is currently in the process of running human trials for it. Follow him on Twitter at @AaryanHarshith

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