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A Few Words On Passion

Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it

— Julia Child

Passion is a curious word. It can mean so many different things to so many different people. Some pooh-pooh it as an unattainable reality for the masses. Others eroticize it in magazines, movies and stories. Passion for people, things, activities — there’s a whole fucking spectrum.

But what does it mean to be “passionate” about something?

To truly care about something to the level that you’d call it your “passion”?

Can your “passion” and your “work” be the same? Is that possible? Over a long enough arc of time doesn’t anything you’re “passionate” about become “work” as well? After all, no one loves every minute and every second of the things they do — many times we grit our teeth and work through it because we believe in a future payoff.

I’ve always been a big proponent of passion.

“Don’t do anything you’re not deeply passionate about” I used to say whilst dispelling advice to those poor souls who asked or who cared enough to listen. But all the while I, like so many others, failed to ever define what it meant to be truly “passionate” in the first place.

So let’s take this back to first principles (which is a tough and dangerous place to go for as touchy feely a word as passion... but fuck it, let’s try).

According to Webster, passion is one long cluster-fuck of a word... here’s just a few highlights (yes, this is all one definition):

  • The suffering of Christ between the night of the Last Supper and his death
  • The state or capacity of being acted on by external agents of forces
  • Emotion — Intense, driving, or over mastering feeling or devotion
  • Love — Ardent affection; sexual desire

Well... shit.

The definition I find most interesting is the almost 3rd person depiction of a state of passion — “the state or capacity of being acted on by external agents or forces”. This places passion outside the human body and mind, personifying it almost.

Which oddly enough rings somewhat true.

For anyone who’s experienced a state of “flow” or state of intense focus and clarity, it almost feels as though there is something outside yourself driving you forward. “Forcing” you to do what you’re doing wouldn’t be too inaccurate a statement.

But this type of personification encounters one critical problem — it takes agency away from the individual experiencing passion. We’ve all seen/heard of this... “what inspiration strikes”, “I have to be in the moment”, “I’m not feeling it right now”, etc.

But how can that be? Is it not the same person acting prior to the “passion”?

Are the molecules, fibers, thoughts and ideas that make up their being not identical to the moment before this grip of passion? In which case, passion by definition, must be an internal force.

And if it is an internal force, then surely you can manufacture it.

The same way on a cold and rainy day there are some folks who will grit their teeth, slap on their shoes and head out for a run, there must be a way for us to “manufacture” passion within ourselves. Or at least tell ourselves a story of our own passions that, over time, becomes our experienced reality (who’s to say this isn’t actually the case today?)

Somehow, even as I write this, the statements rolling off my fingertips seem distasteful.

Manufacture passion? No way. Impossible.

It violates something core about the way we think about passion — as special, existing in these delicate moments or within particular individuals who emanate copious amounts of it. But by thinking of it this way, it seems we are cleaving feelings into 4 categories:

  1. Those which exist within us and which can be controlled by us directly
  2. Those which exist within us and which can be controlled by us indirectly
  3. Those which exist within us and which cannot be controlled by us
  4. Those which exist outside us entirely

Anyways, just an interesting idea that’s worth exploring deeper.

That’s enough metaphysics for the morning, it’s time for some physicality and my workout.

Till next time,
Abhi