“Find your passion.” I’ve been hearing those words for years on end, ever since I began the journey into Making Big Life Decisions—what to study in school, what career to pursue, what activities to get involved with. But I can hardly remember someone defining what that vague, nebulous word meant. Passion. Find it, and then dedicate your life to it, they say, implying we are each created for some unique purpose that must be discovered, pursued, and perfected. Some lifestyles and careers are immediately associated with the concept: social workers, missionaries, artists, doctors. If passion colored a circle around a set of occupations, these would be dead center, bright orange. Floating in the white space outside we might find janitors, fast food workers, and 9-to-5 office people. And so many of us are taught that chasing what we love is a prerequisite to a full life.
Yet, pragmatism finds a voice in our world too. Perhaps echoing in the concerned tone of a parent, or dropping on us like a hammer when the reality of jobless, penniless living sinks in like claws. When painting flowers and philosophy can’t attract any cash flow, the scales slide from passion to pragmatism. In one sense, it’s almost a rite of passage for entering adulthood. We see the few friends who defy that norm, traveling the world or starting a business and generally living the good life. But for most, it’s a passage into tiresome day jobs, driven by a need to make a living and put some semblance of food on the table. The first paycheck inspires a heady thrill of excitement and independence. A couple more, and we’re asking, Is this all? Is this the rest of life?
And passion begins to speak again. “Don’t spend your life just getting by.”
“We are all called to find and do our life’s work.”
But passion is a privilege, simply put. Few can afford to drop a steady job, an income to pay the bills, to undertake a risky venture for the sake of “doing what they love.” (Certainly, some can, and succeed, and some should. But by and large, it’s implausible for most, and often irresponsible.) Someone has to do the job you don’t want—someone has to drill the fences and scrub the toilets. Most of the world is living for survival, not for dreams. It is those who are blessed with abundance and don’t fear for providing the next meal that grow agitated and begin thinking of doing something greater, more impactful, and more transformative.
The desire is not wrong; in fact, I think it’s a good and beautiful thing. But we often channel it into the wrong objects and seek fulfillment in the wrong places. And we run up against the troubling tension between passion and pragmatism, the core of which stems from brokenness. The brokenness of our world, and the brokenness of the human race. Imagine work in a sinless world. For one, entire industries would collapse out of superfluity—law enforcement, security, and the like. There is our own, personal brokenness to contend with too. We are naturally lovers of self-glory, and the unglamorous, unseen jobs are found wanting. Even the pursuit of service to others can be a veil for selfish ambition and recognition.
How then, do we channel our thirst for chasing that undefined, glint of a dream on the horizon? The thing that we can’t put into clear words, and yet strikes a match beneath our hearts?
Passion is inconstant, because we are fickle and lazy people. One day it sets us on fire, and another, it’s been snuffed out by gray skies or a minor headache. Can we set our eyes and life on such a capricious concept? It seems a dangerous thing. This is not to throw my hat in the ring for fatalism, passively awaiting whatever comes down the pipe. Yet neither do I believe we should chase every whim, captained by our emotions. Again, it is a tension we must hold: to pursue, and to accept; to speak up, and to submit; to fight, and to surrender. There is a time for everything. But I think it is wisdom, not passion, who will speak best in how to do that.
We are made for a life of chasing loftier things, but that may be packaged in either prosperous or humble appearances.