Do you control your passion or does your passion control you?
When we set out to write The Passion Paradox, our original intention was to explore the obsessiveness we saw in ourselves. Both of us are consummate pushers. We experience a deeply-felt need to have a project or a goal on the horizon. We struggle to be content.
We’ve observed this obsessive nature not only in our own lives but also in the athletes, entrepreneurs, and executives with whom we’ve worked. Is this kind of passion the secret to a good life full of accomplishment and meaning? Or, is it a destructive path leading to restlessness, exhaustion, and craving?
What we found is that this kind of passion can have both a beautiful and energizing side to it as well as a dark and negative side. Intensity and drive can be great. It is often the gateway to flow states, or those times when you are completely in the zone, fully absorbed in what you are doing. Intensity and drive can also lead to anxiety, burnout, and even cheating and fraud. This is especially true when you become more passionate about the external validation you get from doing something than the thing itself. Also: the more your identity gets tied up in something, the harder it is to move on from that thing. Put simple, passion can mean great highs and great lows—certainly over the course of a lifetime, and sometimes even in the same day.
Whether passion turns out to be a productive or destructive force is largely dependent on whether you have control over it or it has control over you. This is why passion is not a one time thing. It is an ongoing practice. Everyone says “find and follow” your passion but no one tells you how to do this. This is an enormous gap, and one we set out to fill in The Passion Paradox.
To explore more about where people fall on the good (harmonious) and bad (obsessive) varieties of passion, we’ve been running an ongoing survey. Here’s what we’ve learned so far from the hundreds of people who have taken it.
62% Predominantly Harmonious Passion
38% Predominantly Obsessive Passion
The first interesting thing to note is that everyone is on a spectrum. Not a single person who took the quiz was completely harmonious or obsessive. Everyone has at least some shades of both. The key, we’ve learned, is to keep your passion predominantly harmonious. Lots of passions start out harmonious and then shifts to obsessive. So much of what we uncovered and explore in the book is how to prevent this from happening.
For the almost 40 percent of individuals who demonstrate predominantly obsessive passion, this should be a call to action! Obsessive passion is linked to higher degrees of burnout, mood issues, and cheating. But it’s also highly flexible and changeable.
For the over 60 percent of people who demonstrate predominantly harmonious passion, it’s important to practice the skills that will keep your passion harmonious for the long-haul, and to become aware of the common pitfalls that can send you spiraling in the other direction so that you can avoid them.
Let’s explore some of the details.
Tying Your Identity to Your Passion
Whether your passion works for or against you is partially dependent on how much control you have over it. Can you stop doing the activity, or does it feel like an addiction where you need to get your fix or else horrible withdrawal symptoms surface? We often see this in runners and entrepreneurs, as restlessness and signs of anxiety and depression can occur during a break after their marathon or during a lull in start-up season. In that case, people become so dependent on their activity that it becomes incredibly difficult to step away. Many people have been here. The severity of that difficulty is everything. Is it just difficult to step away? Or is it earth shattering?
In our survey, we found that over 60 percent of people agreed that the activity they are passionate about defines who they are, with only 19 percent of people saying that it doesn’t. The remaining 21 percent were neutral.
If we dig a little deeper, things get more interesting. More individuals said that they couldn’t live without the activity they are passionate about versus those who said that they would be okay without being able to pursue their passion (44 percent vs. 32 percent, with 24 percent neutral).
Perhaps most enlightening was how people reacted to the statement “If I quit this activity, it would be as if part of me died.” 71 percent of people agreed that it would be as if part of them died if they no longer performed the activity they are passionate about. While this is cause for concern, it can also be okay. The real question is how big a part of you dies, and if you have the skills to cope with it.
Does Your Passion Control You?
In researching and writing The Passion Paradox, we came to find that the number one differentiator between good and bad passion is if you have control over your passion or if your passion has control over you. Here’s what our survey showed on that.
When we asked people to agree or disagree with the statement: “It’s a passion but I have control over it,” the vast majority of respondents (72 percent) agreed. They felt strongly that they had control over their passion.
However, when framed in a different way, whether they could step away from the activity they are passionate about or not, 58 percent said that they would have a difficult time stepping away. Meanwhile, 44 percent said they couldn’t live without their passion.
Looking even deeper into the potential control one’s passion has over them, a majority of people agreed that they would feel sad—even nearly depressed—if they couldn’t pursue their passion for just a few days. Over 40 percent of individuals said that they were dependent on their passion to make them feel happy in life. Does that sound like something you have control over?
The good news is that this is highly trainable. We may sound like a broken record but it’s really all about whether or not you just go with the whims of your passionate energy (trouble) or if you develop an ongoing practice around it (great). The other big thing is simple but not easy. You’ve got to keep what you are passionate about within your control. I can always write, but I can’t always write bestsellers. I can always run, but I can’t always win races, or even run fast. At the utmost extreme, I can always love, but I can’t always love this exact person in this exact way. This difference is everything.
Living Productively With Passion
We can all relate to the strong pull of the activities that interest us most. We all have activities that if they were ripped away from us, we’d feel as if part of us died. Again: it’s best to think of passion on a spectrum instead of the simple dichotomy we’ve shown above. The dichotomy is helpful, a wake up call to let you know where on that spectrum you tend to lean. But as we wrote earlier, no one is 100 percent harmonious or obsessive; we are all shades of each.
In The Passion Paradox, we explore how to stay in control of your passion when it matters most. We uncover and teach the practices that help support your passion over the long-haul, so it burns bright without burning out. We show you how to cultivate the ability to go all-in for the period of time you need to, but also how to pull yourself out of the obsessive hole when something else needs your focus and attention. Being passionate is a tricky thing. It’s not as simple as finding or following your passion, as we so often are told by motivational speakers. Like most things in life, it’s much more complicated. It’s a paradox.