I spent a great deal of last Saturday night discussing “passion” with strangers. No, not “passion with strangers.” And no, I don’t mean on a blue website, deep in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep. So if your mind made a little foray into the gutter, you’d best take it out right now and put it on the right path! (wink, wink)
No, the topic of “passion” came up in the course of dinner conversation. I was at a surprise birthday-dinner party, given in honor of my husband’s boss. We sat at a round table with several of his co-workers. Nice people, all. Educated. I doubt there was one among us who didn’t have his or her MBA (except, of course, for me…I barely squeaked out of college. When they handed me my diploma I ran from the stage with it in my hot little hand, afraid they’d say, “Wait! We made a mistake! Get back here!”) In any event, the conversation was smooth and non-controversial, and a little dull. But such is the stuff of office parties. You are still, really, at “the office.”
But since it was not my office—or my co-workers—I had a little less to lose than my husband, who was intent on “polishing relationships” and “developing cohesion.” Yes, because that is a fine goal at any social occasion. In any event, I was a bit bored. But I was good. I nodded and smiled, I made small talk. I chipped in a bit of conversation here and there. And only once did I try to steer the discussion away from the “future of the semi-conductor market,” which is quite possibly the most boring conversational topic EVER (in my never to be humble opinion—and, conversely, I am sure there are those out there who think my passion for music is a dry-as-dust conversational topic too).
The conversation at last got interesting when one of the gentlemen at the table—a very nice man with a kind face and earnest way of speaking—talked about his son, a college student with plans to be a composer. The guy was incredibly proud of the boy, who apparently is some sort of genius musician. But he was worried that his son would never have a “real” job, or make any “money.” But, he added, with a wry shrug of his shoulders, the kid has passion, and hopefully it will all work out.
I was immediately at attention. I love the idea of someone having a true passion for something in his or her life, be it a career, a hobby or another person. I firmly believe that without passion, life—your home life, your work life, your romantic life— becomes a dull and rather sad place to be. To me, passion is more important than money, than recognition, than even a long life. Because who wants to live ‘till 99 if they’ve never experienced that particular thrill of true zeal, of true belief?
So I guess I said all this or something very like it to the man who was worried about his musically inclined son. And because I am me, I am sure I said it with, well, passion. And everyone seemed to have an opinion on the topic, ranging from passion being “overrated” (a rather bitter comment from one young man who looked like he had spent most of his life reading about adventures rather than actually having them) to passion being “essential” (in the words of the young wife of an account exec, who looked at her husband with such admiration that there was no question what kind of “passion” she was talking about.)
We all agreed on, however, that as you get older, finding and maintaining your passion is harder than ever. The conversation changed direction (to the passion of semiconductor sales, I think), but the essence of what we talked about stuck with me. In fact, I’ve been thinking about it all week.
I talk a good game about passion, but sadly the last couple years have taken their toll on my ability to actually feel it. I’m not talking physical/sexual passion—in the right mood, that’s a no brainer. I’m talking about the passion that keeps you going on a new project long after everyone else goes home for the night. The passion to rekindle a dream; take it out of the little box you’ve put it in, blow off the dust, and hold it up to the light.
So if the passion is lost, how do you find it again? That’s where I am right now. I think I may have an answer, and it’s pretty simple.
Huh? Yeah, that’s an answer. No, really. When you’re cooped up—in a house, an office, a mall—your attention is narrowly focused on your immediate surroundings. And your surroundings don’t change that much from day to day when you’re inside—the desk is in the same spot week after week, the couch is always in the living room (it may change angles every year, but it’s still essentially the same). And when you’re limited by your surroundings, uninspired by them, your passion begins to ebb away little by little. Such little ebbs that you hardly notice it’s gone until one say you go to draw upon your passion to help get you through something, and the passion account is empty.
Outside, though, is limitless. Just look up at the sky. Notice the color, the shape of any clouds drifting their way across. Look long enough and you’ll realize you can actually see the curve of the sky as it makes its way across the horizon. When you take a moment to look up, you may feel something surging back into your soul—passion.
Do something physical. The other day I went on a long bike ride with a girlfriend. At the end I felt incredibly regenerated—almost a new person. We talked endlessly as we rode along, and somehow talking while riding bikes was more productive than just sitting in the local Starbucks and chatting over coffee. The repetitive motion of the turning tires cleared my mind. I found myself talking about things I never expected to say out loud. It really helped me.
The years are gonna happen whether we want them to or not. It’s up to us if we live them fully—with passion—or just float along. I've become quite the little paper boat bobbing along in a stream the last few years. I don't want to be that little boat anymore. I want to be a captain! Okay, lame analogy. Whadda ya want? It's 2 am.
But passion doesn’t just magically appear. It’s something we have to work at, cultivate and maintain. And once you find it (or rediscover it) its essential to encourage it, to make it grow. Sounds like a plant, huh? I guess in a way it sort of is—a plant will obviously shrivel up and die without care; passion will do the same thing. And imagine—if we’ve got another 30 or 40 years of life in us (and statistical averages bear that out), wouldn’t it be great to live those years with meaning? With passion? I plan to.
To paraphrase a line from “Steel Magnola’s” (a movie I love despite its over-the-top corn factor): “I’d rather have five years of amazing than a life time of nothing special.”