I recently came across the essay Screw Finding Your Passion, by Mark Manson, and it got me thinking about how screwed up we can be about pursuing happiness.
Half of our time is spent trying to avoid discomfort, to convince ourselves that we should always be at least happy(ish). This is the impulse that Manson refers to when we talks about people feeling “entitled to love every fucking second of their job.” It’s why many folks innately balk at the idea working out too hard or waking up too early. It’s also responsible for under-the-radar habits like compulsively checking your smartphone while standing in line at the grocery store or putting on music while doing housework– both in order to avoid awkwardness of just being with yourself for a few minutes.
The other half of the time, we convince ourselves that we can’t be happy– it’s not realistic, it wouldn’t work out, no one would love me/ pay me/ give me what I want if I just went for it. This is small thinking, and it’s not true.
A few years ago, I wrote something on this topic and I think it bears revisiting, so I’ve reposted it below.
First though, by way of introduction I want to mention that after years of actively living the “Kill the Thing You Love” policy that I was just beginning to articulate when I wrote that post, I can whole-heartedly say that I still endorse it.
And you know what? Living like I’m all-in on my dreams has actually killed a few of them– even some of the biggest ones. Who’s to say they wouldn’t have died anyway? You can kill a plant with overwatering AND underwatering. At least this way I got to really experience those dreams while I still had them.
Here’s the real crux of it though: when I decided I was willing to live my passions all day every day, things got really good for me. Killing something you love is not a big deal, because as long as you’re paying attention, you’ll never be without something to love.
As Manson writes, “The problem is not a lack of passion for something. The problem is productivity. The problem is perception. The problem is acceptance… The problem isn’t passion. It’s never passion.”
Even the death of your passion is important information. About you. About what you want to do, what you want from life, what you want your life to be. And about what you don’t want it to be.
And that’s why I would still say that if there is something you think you can’t get enough of, actually try to get enough of it and see what happens.
Many people worry that if they do what they love whole-heartedly, they will kill it.
It must be a slow death. No one has ever said that being handed that first paycheck for publishing their novel felt like getting shot. But perhaps they worry that turning in draft after draft of their second book, facing criticism and rejection and still having to pump out more pages would poison their love for writing. But so what if it does?
It’s likely that you’re not still dating your high school sweetheart or driving that first car you were so crazy about. You’ve gotten over a few books, movies, and albums that you could consume on repeat when you first discovered them. And I would bet you have some favorite foods you no longer order when you go out. Maybe overuse is what did them in, or it’s possible that you just moved on from them naturally.
I’ve found that for each love I manage to kill, new ones always spring up. Old passions walk out into the ocean to drown just as new ones are arriving over the horizon. Author and poet Oscar Wilde addresses the benign inevitability of this lifelong process. He writes, “Some do the deed with many tears/ And some without a sigh/ For each man kills the thing he loves/ Yet each man does not die.”
I’m sure you’ve heard others express concern for killing their love of something. The mantra goes like this: “I love photography (or dancing or cooking or coding!)– but I could never do it for a living because then it wouldn’t love it. I do it for me, but if I did it for work that would take all of the joy out of it.”
Oh, really? It appears that for some, indulging in his or her passion is less important than avoiding pain. But that just doesn’t seem balanced to me.
I can’t quite wrap my mind around the notion that work is a special category, an activity where one should spend half of their waking life doing something that he or she is willing to hate (or at best feel meh about).
Maybe they are concerned that doing something often, doing it for money, doing it under someone else’s scrutiny and advice, or doing it on a timeline will necessarily eek all the fun out of things.
I’m not convinced.
With the exception of doing something only for pay, all of those work-associated traits make you better at things. Frequent practice, constructive critique, and being accountable to a schedule are all factors that improve performance. Who wouldn’t want to improve at doing what they love, even if it’s just a hobby?
And this mentality applies to activities other than work too. It applies to every dog-lover who feels that actually having a pet would be too much hassle. It applies to every musician who practices incessantly, but refuses to play an at open mic night. It applies to all of the people who insist they train jiu jitsu “just for fun.”
So don’t get too hung up on aphorisms like everything in moderation, or worry that immersing yourself in your craft will necessarily result in poisoning it with too much of a good thing. Could it happen? Sure. But you’ll recover. And if things go well and you don’t manage to drown your affections, the positive outcome will be well worth the risk…