Recently, I was making a 17-mile trek across Arvada when our guide brought us to a halt, stretched out his hand and presented us with a brown paper bag. Within this seemingly innocuous container was a collection of several pieces of paper each adorned with familiar type-written words; we were instructed to blindly choose one.
Heeding the instruction, I reached into the bag to extract my choice, held my breath the way one might do when cracking open a fortune cookie to reveal their future, and peered down at this small strip of paper imprinted with seven black letters.
It read, Passion.
Immediately, I felt my internal processes begin to kick and scream. I felt agitation percolating through my veins as the resistance around this very loaded word became activated. Here I was in a group of strangers, walking long-distance in 93 degree heat that practically had me hallucinating from dehydration and now we were being asked to self-reflect and share with a partner something very personal. On one hand, I appreciated the opportunity to be introspective and for intentional human connection. But, this word, Passion, was triggering me in an unexpected way, and with the oppressive heat, I wasn’t in the mood to illuminate what it meant to me.
But, I thought: What. Is. Passion?
Frankly, this word has always intimidated and frustrated me, because I have never been able to answer this question; well, maybe not until this brown bag exercise. Until then, this inability to articulate a response had made me feel inept, or as if I’m doomed to live a life of mediocrity devoid of purpose, meaning or aliveness. The opportunity to contemplate how I define Passion in my life became a gift when the guide, who is also my friend, mirrored back to me the possibility that passion doesn’t have to be something related to your calling, let alone a career path for which you’re passionate. Instead, he explained that for me, passion is embodied in the way I show up with deep curiosity for the human experience and the way I fill with enthusiasm and joy when bearing witness to the ever-unfolding beauty of life; the butterflies, the power and symbolism of the river, the old couple holding hands sitting shoulder-to-shoulder. I had never considered these aspects of my being to represent this nebulous term, and thus, something in me softened around this word and I was able to see myself in a new light.
We think passion has to be this fiery, intense response to something, whether a person, thing or idea; perhaps a cause that ignites us and motivates us to action; or that passion is what’s experienced when released through heated words when a boundary has been crossed; or that it’s a deep seeded interest that courses through our veins desperately in search of some outlet; or it’s simply being drawn to something with a one-pointed focus that is wildly intense and life affirming.
Whatever it is and however it’s defined, somehow, we’re acutely aware of its void and the nagging voice in our head that implores us to go out in mad pursuit of this passion until we find it; as if we’re not worth anything, or wasting precious time if we haven’t found, or aren’t living, our passions.
That’s quite a bit of pressure on the psyche!
So, what to do?
Well, it ain’t gonna just bop you on the head and say, here I am; I’m passion!
You’ve got to become an Observer of your World, an Observer of Yourself; you’ve got to start paying attention.
What is it that lights you up? Truly. What is it you’re doing when you feel joy? And, consider this question: what was it you most loved to do when you were a kid? Embedded in the answer is a clue to what may light you up now.
Here’s your Assignment:
- For the next 2-4 weeks, make a commitment to start tuning in to whatever it is that captures your attention, provokes a powerful, positive response, or brings you to a state of flow; that space where you are totally present, where you lose track of time and feel in the zone.
- Grab a pen, a notebook, or the notes section of your phone and start to jot those observations down! It’s time to become the anthropologist of your own life.
- And, if it helps, you can rally the troops and ask your friends, family or co-workers to reflect back what they observe in you; specifically, to identify what you’re doing when you are radiating joy, lighting up, or experiencing intense focus, or complete engagement with something.
- After you’ve collected some data on yourself, go back and take stock of any patterns, or themes you notice.
Let the answers be your guide in discovering and unearthing the parts of you that make your heart beat faster, the moments when you become laser-focused and totally engaged and engrossed with an experience.
What does this information tell you? How could you be integrating more of these things into your daily life that bring you joy?
- Are these passions needing outlet in a job, a hobby, or activity, or perhaps some other aspect of your life?
- Whatever the answer, find a way to get intentional about integrating these things into your daily, or weekly schedule.
- Are there people doing the very thing that brings you joy that you could possibly align with, or seek out as a mentor, or for an informational interview?
- As my awareness around my own passions increases, I am now carving out more time for connection to nature, gardening, and creativity.
And, in the words of Howard Thurman:
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”