April 16, 2017

777 words 4 mins read

You Might Be Thinking About 'Passion' All Wrong

You hear people say “follow your passion.” It sounds nice.

Then you hear wildly successful people say “do NOT follow your passion.” Mark Cuban is in this camp. So is Dilbert creator Scott Adams.

So which is it? Do you follow your passion or not?

My answer might disappoint you. Because it’ll sound evasive. But I’ll give it a shot. I’ll need you to help out here, though. Think of this as an exercise. When I ask you to write down your answer, please do that. Write it down. Commit your answer to paper. Use a pen. Don’t erase.

What Do You Mean By “Passion?”

First, write down what you mean by “passion.”

Next, what do you think it means to “follow your passion?”

Have you written your answers? Good. Now, no matter your religious background or beliefs, you probably know that “the passion of Christ” refers to Jesus' betrayal, persecution, crucifiction, and death. Write down how that series of traumatic events fits with the definition of “passion” you wrote above. I’ll give you more time for this one, because a lot of people might have to fit the square peg of their definition into the round whole of crucifiction.

What Passion Really Means

Here’s what passion really means: suffering for love or purpose.

Notice that. It’s not about doing what makes you happy. Passion is doing what makes you miserable. For a higher purpose. Or for love.

Mark Manson has written one of the great books about following your passion: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. Mark doesn’t use the word “passion” a lot, but he’s talking here about the same thing:

Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who run triathlons and have chiseled abs and can bench-press a small house. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who fly to the top of it. People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainties of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it.

This is not about willpower or grit. This is not another admonishment of “no pain, no gain.” This is the most simple and basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes. Our problems birth our happiness, along with slightly better, slightly upgraded problems.

I like sitting in bars and drinking, having boisterous conversations filled with loads of uproarious laughter. I can do that without an ounce of struggle. And many people tell me I’m great at it. People love hanging out in bars with me.

But that’s not my passion. It’s not a struggle. If anything, the struggle and pain come as a result of that, not in the pursuit of it.

And that’s the key difference. Passion means you suffer through the process to achieve some greater good.

Happy hour heroism is the reverse of passion. It’s maximizing immediate happiness in pursuit of a less-satisfying future. It’s living on credit. It’s borrowing from your own future and from the future of the world.


Mark Cuban is wrong if Mark knows what “passion” means. But if he uses the popular meaning, which is something like “do whatever makes you happy while you’re doing it,” Mark is dead right. Scott Adams is right, too. They both think of “passion” the way popular culture thinks of passion: hitting all the happy hours you can.

Here’s the answer key.

*1. Passion means suffering for love or purpose, or both. It’s having the hangover first, then getting to drink because of it. *2. “Follow your passion” means suffering for a higher purpose. It’s doing things that are painful, boring, and even dangerous. But doing them makes you and the world better. Lifting heavy weights hurts, but the practice makes you stronger, healthier, and braver. Picking up dog dirt stinks, but it means little kids can run around barefoot without accidentally putting on a crap-sandal. *3. Christ’s Passion: He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hell. In other words, he suffered for love and purpose. We are his love and purpose.

Go ahead and follow your passion. We all should. But know this going in: if your passion is worthwhile, following your passion means going through hell in the process.

Happy Easter.

P.S. If you’re wondering why I’d choose such a profane book for an Easter post, there’s a reason. It’s called “pacing and leading.” In fact, Mark’s entire book practices pacing and leading. It’s one of the most effective tools of influence and persuasion you can use.