“Follow your passion,” we are told. Do the work that excites you. Do what you love. It’s good advice.
But we know that the process of following your passion – the daily, nuts-and-bolts effort of the thing – is not always exciting. For most people, including me, it takes self-discipline. It means doing the work even on days when you don’t feel any passion for it at all.
We know this. This is what separates people who want a black belt from those who actually get one. Many, many days I didn’t feel like going to karate practice, but I did it anyway. That’s what the passion requires.
Yet this attitude, this desire to press on even when you don’t feel like it, can turn on you. It can become a creeping sort of thing, slowly transforming the work you loved into a box you have to check, just another item on your to-do list, something to feel guilty about if you neglect. A burden.
What do you do when this happens?
As with so many things, it’s a balance. Hard work can drag you down, but it also can (and often does) rekindle a dying flame of excitement. The trick is to find something where the times that feels like drudgery don’t overwhelm the exciting times. If you get to where you dislike something most of the time, give it up.
That’s the simple answer, the standard remedy. But balance is a difficult thing.
I’ve gotten very accustomed to this cycle of fossilization – this change from a living dream to something harder, and less alive. It’s something I constantly monitor, constantly fight.
I see it even in small things, like my new subscription to TIME magazine, where my love for learning about the world changes into a (quite irrational) guilt if I don’t make time to read it. I see it in my “research one new thing every week” project, when it begins to feel like unnecessary baggage even though the research is easy and informal, about topics I’ve chosen myself.
I see it in my writing.
With the exception of one short poem, I haven’t written any fiction or poetry in months. That is a strange thing to admit, a strange place to be. I started this blog because of my overwhelming love for writing, a love that had followed me for over a decade. I wanted to be a novelist – more than anything.
Maybe I still want that. Probably I still want that. I’m not sure.
But the work had fossilized, crossed the threshold from self-discipline into self-deception. I kept talking about how much I loved writing, but I didn’t really love it anymore. Not on a day-to-day basis, not in the way that would make it my life’s main work right now.
I’ve been taking a break from the novel, the stories. I’m working on artificial intelligence – which isn’t just a stopgap but really is another great passion. So far, even though it feels like work sometimes, it hasn’t fossilized. I still love doing it.
But I’m watching it closely. Because I recognize the signs.
Do you go through these cycles? How do you deal with them? What kind of balance have you found?