Passion burns hot. It also burns out.
I’ve written on this before, in terms of relationships, but it applies to professional achievements as well. I just spent the weekend with a group of undeniably passionate people, spending hundreds of dollars to consume (quite excellent) advice from successful and kind-of-successful professionals in their industry. I love these people. There was passion everywhere you wanted to look.
There was also, in a few places, commitment. Purpose. Persistence. And a heaping pile of tenacity.
Without those things, all the passion in the world will get you precisely nothing.
I’m a working writer. I make consistent money turning out content, some of it okay, some of it good, occasionally something brilliant. The key is, though, I’m a factory. I make stories (among many other things, but that’s a post for another day). I sell those stories. I intend to make more and to sell more.
Prosaic? Why, yes, actually, although I also sell poetry. But writing is art! It’s supposed to be, I don’t know, where the Muses come and whisper genius in your ear. Newsflash: the Muses are more like Rosie the Riveter than they are like Madam Trelawney. If you show up with your lunch pail and put in a shift, they’ll help you more often than not. If you wait for them to get there, you’ll be like Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) in You’ve Got Mail, sitting at the table, waiting, while the love of your life sits opposite you, dismayed and incognito. You’ll never recognize him as opportunity, because he looks too much like work.
There’s some burgeoning discussion of this these days, and about time. Passion is a lovely thing. It’s entertaining. It makes movie plots and book deals. What it doesn’t do is write books or make movies, both of which are hard, long, complicated processes that require a lot of thankless, stultifying, often boring work.
I’m coming off a year and a half of such work, writing 50,000 words a month, every month, to where I’ve now written about 920,000 words of new fiction in that span (to say nothing of blog posts, letters, essays, and suchlike, none of which counts). I did that not because writing is my passion (though I am, often, passionate about it), but because I wanted to find out if I could make writing my purpose. Appears I can. Okay. On to the next phase of the career.
Writing with purpose, learning with purpose, marrying with purpose is far more likely to lead to successful outcomes than waiting for the white-hot blaze of passion to light up your life. And in my experience, purpose is far more likely to stack the wood so that when the heat of passion ignites, there’s fuel there to sustain the blaze.
I often say that my job as a teacher isn’t to teach; it’s to light kids on fire. Maybe I should add to that encouraging them to build a woodpile, so that the fire has something to burn.
Don’t look for your passion. It will find you. Instead, put your shoulder to the wheel, and push along. Then when opportunity sweeps by, you’ll have the muscles to catch it.