I began my journey in personal development at age 18. I became obsessed with Tony Robbins’ seminars and audio programs. He ended each one by saying, “Live with passion.”
Many of us seek passion in our relationships, work, and life itself. Being passionate is a sign of “good living.”
The long-term effects of passion-seeking, however, aren’t impressive. Seeking passion in a relationship leads to divorce. Passion in work leads to burnout. And pursuing passion in life leads to a general sense of meaninglessness.
Why? Passion isn’t sustainable. And, as we’ll see, the root of our drive for passion is a mental imbalance.
Passion is close to excitement. We might, for example, expect to be excited about our work. While we often get excited when we start a new job or a new business venture, these emotions don’t last.
The same goes for relationships: we are passionate and excited about our partner in the early stages, but those emotions are short-lived. Depression often follows.
Programming for Passion
A belief running in our internal operating system tells us we’re supposed to live with passion and be excited about life.
This program isn’t running in everyone. Certain cultures have it more than others. Its most pervasive in our American culture obsessed with self-improvement.
Our parents install this program when we’re infants. They get us excited about eating certain foods or receiving presents on birthdays and holidays. Parents assume that when their children are excited, they’re doing a good job as parents.
If you believe you’re supposed to feel passion and excitement about your work and relationships, you will be unhappy when these emotions dwindle. You’ll think something’s wrong with you and your choices. You may try to rekindle your passion. It might even work temporarily, but then it’s gone again.
The problem, however, isn’t the loss of passion and excitement. The issue is we believe these emotions are desirable.
Peering Behind Passion and Excitement
The core reason we seek passion and excitement is fear. This fear lies beyond our awareness; we are unconscious of it. However, it influences our behavior, actions, and decisions.
Let’s examine this fear. By bringing this fear to our awareness, it no longer rules our behavior. The fear behind passion has three expressions:
Fear of Boredom
Our brains seem to crave stimulation. Thanks to technology we’re accustomed to a constant stream of stimulation. Instead of appeasing our desires, however stimulation increases our appetite for them. Without constant stimulation, we’re bored. And we have an aversion to boredom.
Fear of Laziness
We’re terrified of our lazy part. We know how easy it is to lose our motivation. If we don’t have passion or excitement, we fear our lazy part will dominate us. Then, we will lose our drive to work and be productive members of society.
Fear of Meaninglessness
This existential fear is deeply rooted. Some people can connect to this fear; others cannot. But because we fear that our lives have no meaning, a lack of passion and excitement can trigger a sense of inner angst and despair. We do anything to avoid these feelings.
These three fears drive us to seek passion and excitement — even happiness. Ultimately, if we’re honest, this drive brings us the opposite of what we’re looking for: anxiety and depression.
Overcoming the Drive for Passion
If passion isn’t the answer, what’s the alternative?
First, we need to accept these fears.
Is boredom so horrible? When was the last time you allowed yourself to be bored and dispassionate? If you go through the initial discomfort, you’ll discover a sense of peace and contentment few people experience.
We avoid laziness, too. Do you ever allow yourself to be lazy with no shame or guilt? If you’re committed to self-improvement, it’s not an easy task. Parents, teachers, and the entire self-improvement industry have shamed our lazy part. But it’s just a part of us. If you welcome laziness, it will let go.
Our fear of meaninglessness is rooted in a reality that existential philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche articulated over a century ago. To summarize: there is no grand universal meaning. You create your meaning. We all make it up. Meaninglessness is only a problem if you perceive it to be one. For further guidance, read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.