Follow your passion. Do what you love and never work another day in your life. Sounds nice. Is it possible? Kind of.

I’ve always been fascinated by book titles like the “4 Hour Work Week” and the idea that you should pursue your passions in life. “Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you,” says Oprah. It’s not that I don’t want that power – it sounds exhilarating. But I’ve never felt I was doing it right. I’ve been doing things that I love for a long time. Things that I would call passions. But doing what I love wasn’t showing up with easy work weeks, simple days, and nerf gun wars. To be clear, I’ve had a lot of fun doing the things that I love. But it’s not easy, and it does feel like work. What gives? Is following your passion supposed to mean endless joy? And if so – what’s wrong with me?

The meaning of passion

Let’s go back a few years. Maybe a few thousand years. To understand this whole idea of following your passion, we have to reset our understanding of the very word itself. The root of the word passion is the Latin word pati, which means suffering. Passion is a word that initially meant enduring or undergoing a challenging experience. You may be familiar with the Passion of the Christ, which was a way of describing the sufferings of Christ on the cross. For centuries, the term was attributed to religious martyrs who died for their beliefs. It wasn’t until the late 16th century that it took on a meaning associated with love or anything too positive. For a long time, the idea of passion was associated much more with struggle than freedom and energy.

Today we speak of passion very differently, defined as intense love, emotion, or desire. In doing so, I believe the word has lost its depth. We idolize the positive emotions, stripping away what we all know is true of the things we love most. For the things we love most, we sacrifice. Like a martyr who gives his life for a cause he is passionate about, we are willing to struggle and endure for things that have our affection. We dedicate ourselves to those things naturally because of their meaning, not merely because of how they make us feel.

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Success is…

James Clear has an excellent book called Atomic Habits. You should read it. He writes in that book, “the greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.” Success isn’t as much about finding your zen as it is about focus, discipline, and a willingness to endure. This is not to say that work has to suck. It doesn’t. But when you work your passion – your true passion – the fun is in success and achievement. 

Have you ever studied any great athletes’ training program? Ther are incredible. There is little margin. It was the great Muhammad Ali who said, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” At the peak of his career, Michael Phelps would train – hard training – 6 hours a day, six days a week. I guess that’s how you win 28 medals at the Olympics. “Even in high school, I’d tell my mom I was sick of swimming and wanted to try to play golf,” says Phelps. “She wasn’t too happy. She’d say, ‘Think about this.’ And I’d always end up getting back in the pool.”

If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.

Thomas Jefferson

Passion v hobbies

So passion isn’t merely about having fun and never working a day in your life. Those moments may happen, but that’s not the focus. Following your passion means suffering for the thing you love. Identifying your true passion in life is all about finding the stuff for which you’ll endure challenges and struggles. 

Don’t look for the fun thing – we call those hobbies. From time to time, your hobbies can make you money. Too often, though, we try to monetize our hobbies, and we end up hating them. It’s because we don’t want to suffer for our hobbies, we want to enjoy them. Your passions in life – those are the things for which you’ll endure the mundane and the low points. 

Build your endurance

Work on your endurance and the ability to stay committed when things get hard. Then find your true passion – the things you’re willing to fight for. Find the people, causes, and ideas for which you’re eager to put everything on the line.

The world needs your unwavering commitment.

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