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Practice Your Passion

Monday, October 8, 2012 by Marianne Elliott

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I’ve written about this before, the fact that your passion – alone – is not enough. Not enough for what? Not enough to shape your mission and your sense of purpose, and not enough to help you do your best work in the world.

Today I read this post, from my friend Chris Guillebeau, and discovered that the great Bob Dylan agrees with me. Here’s what Bob Dylan said:

Some people are called to be a good sailor. Some people have a calling to be a good tiller of the land. Some people are called to be a good friend. You have to be the best at whatever you are called at. Whatever you do. You ought to be the best at it—highly skilled.

And here’s what I said:

People are being sold the idea that all they need do is follow their passion, and never give up. And I don’t think that’s true. I think people are being sold short.

Their persistence is NOT translating into them making the changes they are passionate about. The things they want to say are not being heard by the people who they passionately want to communicate with. Why? Because they lack the skill to know the best way to translate their passion into effective action.

In short: to do good, passion & persistence have to be employed with skill.

This is an unpopular thing to say. People want to hear that following their passion is enough. They don’t want to hear that they might have to study, to apprentice themselves, to work hard in order to develop the level of skill that will enable them to be of real service in the world.

And yet if you ask anyone who has done truly great work in the world (whether in the form of art, parenting, philanthropy, scientific innovation or social justice) they’ll tell you that it took a lot of work, and a willing to study, to learn, to practice and to keep trying until they got better.

So I’m a believer in the passion + persistence + practice formula for doing your great work. But even that may not be enough.

More on that, and on the potential shadow to the pursuit of skillfulness, tomorrow!

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6 Responses to "Practice Your Passion"

  1. Yes! I so agree!

    I just watched a movie called ‘Jiro dreams of sushi’ about an 84 year old sushi chef who is the best sushi chef in the world and who has spent his whole life pursuing excellence. It probably sounds a bit dull, but it was more about his commitment and dedication to mastering one skill than about sushi and I found it fascinating.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently – how committing to ‘going deep’ with one thing: (yoga, buddhism, activism, writing….whatever the chosen thing is) has a real integrity in these 21st century times of dillentantism! (Is that a word? lol)…we are such commitment-phobes these days – afraid of missing out on something else or something better, not trusting that going deep can bring it’s own rewards.

    • Marianne Elliott says:

      You know Helen, I write about this often – see the evidence of the rewards of diving deep everywhere & still struggle to let go of one or more of my passions in order to master one. It’s hard, and not only because of the fear of missing out, partly because of a broad range of loves & passionate interests. And yet, all the evidence of the centuries is that diving deep brings rich rewards.

      If I had to pick, today, I would pick writing. Which probably says a lot. I think I could keep doing some of all the other things I love through writing, but I would dedicate myself to mastering the craft of writing.

      Maybe I’ve just answered my own question!

  2. Jackie says:

    This is a lovely post. I think there is a great deal of fear behind not wanting to dedicate one’s time (one’s life, even) to persist in acquiring a focused set of skills. I’m a graduate student, where life-long persistence and skill is the expectation. Passion counts for very little without years of training behind you. But, in a context of uncertainty about what kinds of skills will land jobs, money, flexibility, stability, or fame, ‘diving deep’ requires taking a leap of faith. Perhaps much more so than following passions. My friends and I daydream about what else we might do, what passions we might follow in lieu of life-long deep diving in academia. In fact, I dreamed up a blog about general things I’m interested in (mindfulness and fitness and motherhood) at the moment of taking my doctoral exams, the culmination of diving very deeply into a focused area of study. Your post has made me think about this as an act of aversion or maybe a fear of commitment to honing skills over time. What if these are the wrong skills? There is a certain nobility that comes with ‘diving deep’, about being skilled in intellectual pursuits or sushi preparation or writing. This may require much more courage than passion itself.

  3. You’re already a good writer! The good thing about writing, is that all the other stuff you do in your life becomes the ‘compost’…the raw material for your writing, and in reverse, writing helps you share your other passions with people eloquently and convincingly!

    I’m can’t commit to one thing, either — I would probably have more of a ‘career’ if I had managed to, but I’m happy in my own funny way!

    One thing I’d like to go much deeper with is Buddhism, because it offers me such solace and inspiration and I’d love to work out ways to share that with people…

  4. […] Yesterday I wrote about the need to practice your passion and hone your skills. […]

  5. Prime says:

    I always believed that passion will only get you so far. You need prepared to work hard, be persistent and willing to wait to make what you’re passionate about a part of your life and hopefully a source of livelihood.

    i always had a passion to write. but it took me many years of working, training, to actually make a real livelihood out of it.

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