We talk a lot about doing what you love, and following your passions. What do these things mean?
One could answer, “I love making a lot of money,” or “I love having sex.”Does this mean that one can be following their passions by seeking after money and sex?
While these answers seem ridiculous, I have even seen professional bloggers and writers supporting these theories.
Plato, one of the greatest philosophers of Western civilization, believed that each human being is comprised of three basic elements: reason, spirit (passion), and appetite (desire). He believed that an individual’s character depends on development of these three elements and their keeping each other in check.
In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary there are several definitions for passion. The one I like best and which I feel is closest to what Plato was talking about is “Intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.” I like that word conviction. When we have strong convictions about something, when we really believe in something, we are passionate about it. Passion can also be a synonym for ’emotion.’ Whatever we have convictions about, we usually have strong emotions about as well. That’s why I blogged yesterday about a screenplay that I wrote and acted in about a personal experience that was very emotional for me.
Following your passions is not hedonism. It’s not pleasure-seeking. We seek something higher than mere pleasure. We seek fulfillment. We seek happiness. We seek for meaning. And we do what we do for the act itself, because we feel it is important in and of itself, regardless of reward. When we don’t need a reward to do something, we are acting from our passions.
We wouldn’t have sex or eat chocolate cake if those actions didn’t give us pleasure. Therefore, we are not doing those actions for the act themselves, but for their reward. This is the opposite of acting out our passions. When we are following our passions, we love what we are doing and need no reward. The activity itself is the reward. It is an activity we love doing, regardless of pleasure or pain. And it is usually something we have strong convictions about.
Conviction is an important word, because it means we believe in what we are doing. When a man sleeps with a prostitute, he may not believe in what he is doing, but he gets a reward (pleasure). When a woman helps feed starving people, she is doing something because it is right and she believes in it. Thus, although she may be given no external reward, her reward is in doing something that she believes in, and which is good. This is passion.
Appetites and desires are concerned with a reward, and passions are concerned with the act itself.
When an artist creates, he or she is seeking to make the world a better place, by creating something that is good, or that is beautiful, or that helps people in some way. It could even be by exploring some aspect of the artist’s life or emotions, and thus by creating, the artists brings healing to their own soul. True art should be something the artist believes in, just as much as the woman feeding the hungry in the previous example. If one doesn’t believe in what one is creating, but is instead seeking a reward, then he or she is acting from appetite, not from passion. This is not art.
And that brings us back to Plato’s threefold model of the human soul: reason, spirit, and appetite. Plato believed that excellence in each of these three areas constituted a particular virtue. Governing one’s soul with reason is what constitutes wisdom. Following one’s passions constitutes courage. And the rational regulation of one’s desires constitutes temperance.
It takes courage to follow one’s passions. At the same time, we must sometimes keep our passions in check with reason. Reason is what keeps me from deciding to just go and live on the streets and write, focusing only on my passions at the detriment of everything else in my life. Van Gogh was an extreme example of someone with both courage and passion. Though he never sold one painting during his lifetime, he was always true to his artistic vision (thus being the antithesis of corporate Hollywood). He also cut off his own ear, and shot himself in the stomach.
Now before you and I start celebrating and thinking we are off the hook and don’t need to follow our passions, I would say that about 99 percent of us have the opposite problem. For most of us, we hold our passions prisoner to reason for our entire life. Instead of doing what we believe in, doing what we always wanted to do but never had the courage to do, we use reason as excuse.
Most of us are in need a huge dose of courage.
However, courage is not something that you and I are every going to be perfect at anytime soon. In fact, courage is something that we must muster every day as we decide to follow our passions.
So how do we do that? How do we find the courage to follow our passions on a daily basis? That will be the focus of Part 2 of this three-part post on what it means to follow your passions.
Now…here’s the part where I beg and plead for your comments. So please, what does it mean to you to follow your passions?