This fast-paced, digital age is awash with motivational speakers, writers, and webinars advocating the pursuit of passion — the key ingredient, they say, to reaching the pinnacle of career success and overall satisfaction in life.
You know the slogans: “Follow your passion, and success will follow”, “Chase your passion”, “If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion.” All assuming that, once we dig deep enough, a raging furnace of desire will erupt and and a purpose-filled destiny will unfold with exquisite creativity and undreamed-of success.
Watch out world — here I come!
So here’s my question: What if, notwithstanding years of soulful mining, I’ve failed to find my passion. Or, worse still, I don’t feel that I have one, singular, burning passion? What then? Am I a loser? A drifter who has failed to make his mark on the canvas of life? An insignificant social misfit?
Or am I a searching, curious soul who was not born with a compelling urgency to live a “Purpose Driven Life”.
Not everyone is going to leave the earth plane having achieved significant fame and fortune in their current lifetime. Not everyone is consumed with the desire to succeed in one significant area of life. Not everyone has—nor desires—the talent, genius and wealth of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or Serena Williams.
What if, upon graduation with a degree in engineering, you decide to travel across the Himalayas followed by a two year stint volunteering at an elephant conservation center in Laos. And from there, having met the first love of your life, you end up in France married and teaching English as a foreign language to Syrian immigrants. Then, following the demise of your 7-year childless marriage, you end up back in the U.S. running a family business you haven’t the remotest interest in. But, duty calls when your parent passes and .. Surprise! Surprise!
While running this business, more successfully than you ever could have imagined, you stumble upon an artistic impulse you never knew you had and decide to go full-time into interior decorating. Eventually starting your own company, marrying the next love of your life at 45, and starting a small family.
Does this seemingly directionless, passion-less, cobblestone existence relegate you to the twilight zone of an unfulfilled life? And what will people remember you for? Your relentless pursuit of excellence and prosperity? Or, perhaps, the excitement and curiosity you invested in the sheer exuberance of living, wherever it took you on your journey.
Saint of the Slums
Many years ago on a late night chat show, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, known worldwide for her selfless and tireless work among Calcutta’s most destitute, was asked by the host: “Mother Teresa, would you say, looking back on your years of service in the slums of Calcutta, that you were successful? She paused for a moment, then responded: “When God called me to this humble work of service to the poorest of the poor, he didn’t ask me to be successful. He asked me to be faithful.”
And that’s the spiritual nub of it all: a purposeful life is about “showing up” through the daily grind and uncertainity of life to give what you have to give, and in the process to discover a little more of who you truly are.
Passion and productivity are overrated: It is who we are in the doing of what we do, that is pivotal to our spiritual growth. Therefore, it matters not whether we are a national celeb, president, or a benighted soul eking out a living in the barrios.
What matters is the disposition of awareness we bring to every experience we create.
Is it a disposition of presence, kindness, reverence and compassion? Or is it one of gratuitous self-aggrandizement? In the final analysis, it will not be our profession, fame, money or social standing that we will be remembered for, but the moral and spiritual legacy we leave behind.
Jack Hammer or Hummingbird?
Yes, there’s a place for the passion gurus, motivational speakers, leaders, and writers of our times who advocate passion in the pursuit of satisfaction and success in life. But there’s equally, I believe, a need to cultivate a spirituality of curiosity; a gentler, more playful and humane search for what delights and inspires us in life.
We can fall into the mold of jack hammer, relentlessly driven, go-getter success story; or we can take the scenic route of the light-winged hummingbird flitting from plant to gorgeous plant, pollinating beauty and possibility as she goes. Content and at peace with the thrill, enjoyment, adventure, and excitement of it all.
And then, magically one day, whilst exploring and absorbing the mystery of it all, we might just stumble upon what Buddhism calls our Dharmic purpose in life; that spiritual mission we came to discover and express fully in this lifetime. Even if it takes decades to gently discover it.
Allow me to conclude with a cheesy metaphor. Let’s compare life to a decadent, gourmet bar of chocolate. If, in our intense desire to maximize our gastronomical craving (passion), we attempt to wolf down the entire bar at one sitting, we’ll either choke or entirely miss the experience. Whereby, if we slowly and contemplatively savor one or perhaps two squares at a time (curiosity), an appreciation of the chocolate’s subtle flavors and textures will emerge, constituting a more meaningful and enduring experience.