"Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you." -- Oprah Winfrey
"You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you're not passionate enough from the start, you'll never stick it out." -- Steve Jobs
"Chase your passion, not your pension." -- Denis Waitley
People talk a lot about passion these days. I'm not sure it was something my agricultural labouring grandparents (and theirs) thought much about, but those days seem long, long ago. You gots to have it, this passion stuff. Follow your heart, your dreams, have love for what you do. It's "slow suicide" not to. Every self-help guru on the net exhorts you to find it, develop it, grow it. Passion like this comes to mean a special kind of excitement, a barely contained emotion, something intense. Passion is supposed to have the qualities that light you up from within, until you're busting with enthusiasm for this thing, this job, this project, whatever it is. Burning for it, as Steve Jobs said. Passion is a fire, a very strong feeling; life's great driving force. In some people, it's damn nearly a bomb. The power stroke of a combustion engine. It's supposed to get your blood up, your heart pumping. Supposed to.
This picture of passion gave me trouble for a long, long time. Oh sure, it's inspiring. Who doesn't want to think they have something out there for them that makes you feel that way?But here's the problem. I have never, in my adult life, felt anything like that. Ever. So I spent many years trying to find that thing that would give me the fire, feeling as though I was failing in having not found it. Even after I started writing, I knew didn't have the same quality of dedication I saw in other, "passionate" writers. I didn't wax lyrical about it. I don't feel it like some kind of emotion, especially an intense or powerful one. It doesn't feel like love. I'm not even sure I would say I love it or that it excites me, not in the way those quotes mean.
And yet, year after year, I keep doing it. And it keeps bringing me something inexorable, some slow satisfaction that nothing else brings. For a long time, I thought that because I failed to have a hot passion for it, because it didn't set me on fire, that I would inevitably run out of steam and stop, a la Steve Jobs' prediction. I haven't. Yet I can't** muster that out-of-the-box excitement, enthusiasm and love that ought to be the hallmark, if I was really passionate about what I'm doing. (**unless I fake it, which is sometimes required but is disingenuous and bothers me).
So, what's going on?
Only very recently I have realised that I do have a passion for writing. It's the idea of passion itself that's the problem. Passion can be, for some people, a combustion event. Fiery and hot and obvious. The type of passion from the pages of a romance novel, from famous quotes on the internet, the stuff you think a guru wants you to look for. But for me, and I suspect a good many other people, passion is something different. A slow current that pushes you forward to the next thing and the next. That persists despite rejection and exhaustion. That flows over obstacles, and wears them away, rather than consuming them. It's not burning and hot; it's cool, and constant. This is The River.
I feel it now, working in the dim outdoor cafe of a fast food restaurant. It pushes to keep going, this River, despite the circumstances. Despite sleep dep and upended plans. Despite how much something I just wrote might have disappointed me. Despite how it may have disappointed someone else. Maybe this is what fiery passion is like, too. Maybe that fire keeps you warm in the same way, against the same problems. I don't know. I don't have it. But I do have The River. I'm only a little disappointed it too me so long to realise that passion doesn't have to be outwardly expressed. It doesn't have to look like other people's idea of it; it doesn't have to be contagious, or hot, or consuming.
Maybe that makes this style of passion very similar to persistence. But persistence has a conscious quality about it - it's something you choose to do. Passion is much more subconscious (though the two make a good pairing). So if you too have been searching for The Fire, remember The River. Maybe it's your style, too.