From the years of classes I may or may not have slept through in high school, there are two lessons I distinctly remember: the largest tarantula species can grow to be a foot long, and how important it is to follow your passion.
The former likely stuck with me due to a crippling arachnophobia, but I actively chose to hold on to the latter. To a kid with a borderline obsessive interest in dance and music, being told that passion and a little elbow grease is all it takes for success is incredibly reassuring.
From where that wannabe dancer/musician sits now, hindsight reveals two things. Spiders are still terrifying, and following your passion is altogether terrible advice.
That’s not to say that following your passion isn’t a tempting path. The little gem of advice draws for its recipient a vivid fantasy of cheap and easy fulfillment in life, so long as they dare to take that first step. It forces you into a headspace of grand story arc, and you’re the protagonist whose bold risks lead to a happily ever after. To make it all that much worse, we’re often fed this farce in our gullible, misguided teen years.
The problem doesn’t come with what is being said, but instead, what is not. The most common victim of this deceitful paradigm is the person without a gripping passion. For those of us who don’t come out of the womb with an abundantly clear career path, being told to chase passion is wholly useless.
Even worse, it makes people think they’re broken in some way. If the road to happiness is paved with the pursuance of passion, those without strong enough interests are left in the dark.
A true passion is one forged over time. Everyone goes through a honeymoon period when they start practicing a craft, a time where novelty masks any problems. This can only last so long — eventually the flame that drove you to create will require sweat and effort to maintain. Sustainable passion is not born as soon as you first pick up that paintbrush, put on that jersey or put pen to paper.
Drive to continue work in any profession flourishes in an environment of dedication and discipline. The satisfaction that comes with tangible results of our own mastery is the best and only fuel for our creative fire.
I would be willing to bet my right arm that Picasso’s first creation was god-awful. I can confidently say the same for his next couple dozen paintings, at least. The reason why Picasso holds such a venerated position in the painting community is because those couple dozen terrible pieces comprise a tiny amount of his portfolio. His total body of work contains nearly 150,000 pieces, ranging from oil paintings to book illustrations to ceramics.
A legacy of that size wasn’t born solely from the definition of passion that we’re sold. To say that Picasso, or any prolific figure, managed to achieve what they did only thanks to passion would be insulting.
It’s no different than saying a company is driven by the pictures adorned with motivational buzzwords hanging in the boardrooms, not the employees grinding out 40 hours a week. Years need to be spent toiling away to even approach greatness, yet the instructions we’re given is tantamount to a fairy tale: just follow your passion and everything will be fine.
As pessimistic as this outlook is, I’m not advocating the abandonment of dreams. Teaching youth to pursue what interests them and fostering that engagement is undeniably vital to their future. The issue comes when we don’t give them the whole picture.
Passion, and ultimately success in any field, takes work. Sheltering aspiring creators from the negative aspects of this process is certainly easier, but inhibits any real growth long-term. Stop telling us to follow our passion, and start showing us what it takes to live out our passion.