Work v. Passion

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Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs on Discovery Channel and champion of the working class has a now famous quote from his TED Talk:

“Bring your passion along with you, but don’t follow it – be happy first!”

What?!?! Don’t follow your passion? Isn’t that counter to everything we’ve ever been taught. Perhaps, but I think he’s on to something.

Recently, I served as the Camp Director for the Jay Bilas Skills Camp, an ‘old school’ camp that is focused on teaching the fundamental skills of the game of basketball. Preparing for the camp and then the three, 18 hour days in the gym reminded me that my passion is teaching – teaching and leading coaches, teaching young people the game of basketball, and teaching life changing lessons through sports. I know it is my passion because not once did I think twice about putting in the long days; not once did I ask myself ‘what are you doing here?’; not once did I wish I was doing something else with my time; not once did I wonder how much I was going to get paid for the work. I was all in, all out, for the entire camp…because it is my passion.

But my passion isn’t my job. Does that make me a failure? Shouldn’t I have a job at 39 years old that allows me to make a living following my passion? I agree with Mike Rowe on this point and say NO! That doesn’t mean that I don’t love my job and it doesn’t mean that I don’t work hard at my job. It certainly doesn’t mean that I’m not happy. I have a great job working every day with sports teams to help make their facilities more beautiful and engaging. I earn a good living and have a balanced quality of life. I have time to spend with my family and friends. And  I still have time for my passion. I don’t work in my passion everyday, but I do bring it along with me to my job.

Here is what I have observed about people who follow their passion (including me in the early stages of my career). They eventually burn out, they destroy their relationships, and they become imbalanced and dependent. The reason for this is that when you are working at your passion you don’t ever want to stop. You believe so much in what you’re doing or love your work so much that you’ll do anything to keep doing it. No amount of hours is too many; no request from the boss is unreasonable; no sacrifice is too large. I know, I followed my passion for coaching for 10 years and I have countless friends who have done the same thing. The road I was going down, and the road I have seen many others go down leads you to ignore your health because there isn’t enough time for silly things like working out and eating right. It causes you to ignore relationships with your spouse and family and often leads to divorce and loneliness because your job takes priority whether you want to admit it or not. It creates an emotional roller coaster where your happiness is ONLY tied to success in your job, often leading to addiction in an effort to find some calming or numbing place. Following your passion can be very dangerous.

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t love what you do and be passionate about it. And I’m not suggesting you should abandon your passions. What I believe is that if you blindly follow your passion into a career, there are risks that you should be aware of and guard against. I also want to stress that I do believe that it is important to pursue your passions, even when they aren’t your job. If you love art, keep creating and sell or give away your art. If you love to travel, find a way to spend your available time and money out on the road. If you love music, keep playing as much as you can as long as you can. If you love sports, stay involved in youth sports or an adult league even if you can’t find the right job in the industry that makes you happy. And most importantly, whatever you end up doing for your JOB, bring your passion along with you, but be happy FIRST.

What’s Your Thing?

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“What IS your thing?”  This question was recently asked of my wife during a conversation with a good friend about some random social club activity.  It was preceded by my wife saying, “That’s not my thing.”  My wife’s friend is a wonderful person and she is generally busy.  Most of the time she is busy doing something good: organizing a food program for underprivileged kids at the school, taking a mission trip to Haiti, attending exercise class and church groups.  So, she was understandably puzzled by the appearance that my wife does not have a “thing.”  The discussion led my wife to conclude, “I guess I don’t really have a thing.”

This incident had me wondering, what is this question really asking?  It seems to me that most people want to know what the one thing is that makes you, you.  What are you most passionate about? What is that one thing that makes you fulfilled?  People have many “things.”  Exercise, religion, an occupation, food, drugs, sports, children, alcohol, appearance, possessions, money, sex…the list could go on forever.  Some “things” are good, some are bad, and some are both.  In many cases, the purpose of each “thing” seems to be to get us to a place of mental stillness where we do not feel the need to get anywhere else – true peace, joy, fulfillment.  But this intent is dysfunctional for many reasons.

First of all, “there” is never here. In the same way, needing, seeking and wanting are the antithesis of peace.  It is impossible to have a still mind while in a state of wanting, seeking or needing.  When peace is there (a place to get to), it is never here (the only place we ever are).

A “thing” is never enough.  According to the egoic, thinking mind, if some is good, more is better.  It always wants more.  Losing weight to improve health and appearance is good.  Having plenty of money and possessions is good.  Religion is good.  However, if a condition becomes a “thing,” we are then in danger of unconsciously subscribing to the “more is better” theory.  Anorexia then becomes the most common cause of death among women ages 15-24.  We end up with television shows about real housewives, hoarders and strange addictions.  Groups like ISIS and Westboro Baptist Church arise.  Of course these examples are extreme, but many of us are guilty of producing suffering, often in the form of a jaded spouse, a neglected child or financial hardship, because of a “thing.”  I certainly am.

In this world of opposites, everything runs in cycles.  Nothing can grow forever.  All things are impermanent.  Looks and athletic ability fade.  Possessions and money are lost.  Jobs come and go. Children grow up.  There will be times when the “thing” isn’t there.  Then what?  We all consciously realize this, but a “thing” can lead to unobserved thoughts and behaviors that say the opposite.

So, is the answer that we should give up our “thing?”  Possibly.  How do we follow my wife’s example of being passionate, achieving and accomplishing without having a “thing?”  Maybe what is needed is awareness: awareness of the ego’s incessant effort to make something “my thing;” awareness that a “thing” is at best providing false, temporary peace; awareness that expecting a “thing” to give something that it cannot give – true peace, true joy, true fulfillment – is dysfunctional.  True peace and joy are uncaused.  No “thing,” no effort, no condition gives rise to the Peace of God.  All too often, having a “thing” obscures it.

Written by Dr. Jason Pittser