Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Finding Your Passion

I find that many of my conversations with friends focus predominantly on two subjects, aging parents and finding one's passion in life. I don't think that pairing is coincidental. As parents age, we are reminded of our own shortening span. Weren't we supposed to do something that inspired passion along the way?

When I was a kid I used to wish I had an interest that inspired passion, something that fully engaged my energies. My brother had found that at an early age as a photographer. He used to take over our windowless bathroom as a darkroom as we anxiously called,"Are you dooooone yet?" I envied him that passion and I wanted one too, almost as much as I wanted our bathroom back.

But how does one acquire passion? I worried that I was a person of too much equanimity to fully experience it. Is it a temperament thing? Maybe I just didn't have the temperament for it and was doomed to a life of balance and calm. After all passion can tip the boat and my natural instinct was to right it.

In hindsight it seems like an odd thought for a kid to ponder, but I was kind of an odd kid, self contained and inward. I've been thinking of passions because recently I went to the university library archives to begin research for a possible book. As I was talking with the archivist I blurted out, " I can't wait! I love researching!" She quietly responded, "We all do". It dawned on me that I had found that passion I so longed for as a child. I am fortunate to have many passions; writing, painting, telling stories, researching...virtually all the things I devote my energy to are something about which I am passionate. When did that happen? Is passion something you grow into?

I remember that glimmer of passion in my first job. I was starting a new organization from a five page grant description. It was a new concept so I had to figure out how to build it. It drew every ounce of my creativity and I loved it. I still recall looking into my bathroom mirror one morning, that mirrored cabinet that had been scavenged and refinished by my then-husband. Odd the way such details anchor our memories. As I gazed at my image, I wondered if I would always find my work so engaging. I couldn't wait to go to work each morning. While I would love to report a career that paralleled that experience, it didn't remain at that pitch. When passion lulled, my equanimity kicked in and I found satisfaction in my work even if not at a fever pitch. But now I knew what it felt like and that I was capable of feeling it.

After that, passions built quietly before I even named them as such. Thirty years ago I took a life drawing class. Having previously drawn from photos fairly competently, I suddenly felt quite inept, like I was learning to draw anew. I still have my "ahah drawing", the one where I finally got it. For a long time I went to three drawing co-ops a week. When I spoke to people I would mentally draw their face. The way I saw the world had literally changed. It was the beginning of one of my early passions and led to a different kind of passion when I met my husband at a drawing co-op twelve years later.

When I discovered family history, I was quickly drawn in. It was the ultimate puzzle and it all tied back to me. Despite avowals to the contrary we are all still the center of our universe. I was captivated by learning the history of my ancestors and spent hours researching. My vacations became genealogy trips with a sweetener of Prague or Budapest thrown in to mollify my husband who gamely came along on many of these journeys. This certainly qualified as a passion.

People began to describe me in my work as intense. At first I didn't recognize myself in that description, but yes, I was focused and driven, all necessary prerequisites for passion. When I began to do public speaking about my artwork and story, people often commented that I was so passionate about my subject. I realized that indeed I was.

We often start with an interest, but as we devote time and energy it begins to blossom into something greater. The more energy we give to it, the more it begins to give back. You can't be non-committal and passionate, passion requires engagement. And I've seen a bit of a spillover effect. One passion feeds another until we discover we've found that ultimate passion, a passion for living and all the wonderful gifts it affords us.


1 comment:

  1. "After that, passions built quietly before I even named them as such"

    A really encouraging statement for someone who spends probably too much time on this question. I've felt a nagging pressure to figure this all out as soon as possible so I can point to something concrete and say "This right here. This is my passion." It's really encouraging to know that my passions are building, even if I can't name them. And it's also encouraging to know that my career may or may not follow them, and that's okay. For now, I'll simply say yes to my interests and enjoy the discovery.
    Thank you for the insight!