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Is everyone meant to have a “singular passion-in-life”, or is it also O.K to live life doing a bit of this and a bit of that?

One of the common elements of all the wonderful speakers I have viewed on TED Talks is that they have a very clear “passion-in-life” which is the focus of their inspirational talks. I applaud them all. Indeed without that passion, it is clear that they would never have been motivated and focussed enough and persevered enough to bring their wonderful ideas to fruition.

Sometimes their passion (or vocation) is discovered by “chance” (eg: Abigail Washburn), sometimes by an unexpected health challenge (eg: Simon Lewis, May El-Khalil, Eleanor Longden), sometimes by natural talent (eg: The Sleep Man Banjo Boys, Derek Paravicini, and other musicians), sometimes by an unusual deep-seated desire that wouldn’t go away (eg: Black, the yo–yo maestro), sometimes a vocation is generated by a creative approach to life (eg: Tania Luna) and most often I guess by the more mundane process of increasing clarity during one’s upbringing (Hello Mum-Dad, I’ve decided at last I’m going to be a brain surgeon, entrepreneur, monk, statistician, banker, New Age hippy, … etc, etc).

As someone who has sought consistently for a singular passion-driven focus in life, and failed to find “it”, I am very glad that at least all the TED-talkers seem to have. Although I am having an interesting time and have had several “careers”, I am beginning to wonder if it is a simple fact of life that not everyone’s journey in life is to be shaped by a singular passion. However, it’s like an addiction – I can’t give up the search.
I am really intrigued to know if I am flogging a dead horse, or should I keep going on the heroic journey and eventually (I trust) have the satisfaction of being labelled a “late-starter”?

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    Sep 19 2013: Joshua, I absolutely believe that some people will have a singular passion in life and others will not have their lives shaped by a singular passion. Leonardo Da Vinci did not. Benjamin Franklin did not. Lisa Randall is famous as a theoretical physicist but I believe is an avid mountain climber and writes opera.

    Many popular actors seem also to be passionately committed to humanitarian projects, fashion design, or food.

    You don't need to find one box in which you will fit for a lifetime.
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      Sep 20 2013: Hello Fritzie,
      Thanks for your comment, which I found uplifting when I first read it. Then I thought, "Woah, these guys are/were able to multi-task simultaneously MORE than one passion in life", which was both a challenge as well as an inspiration. At the moment I am slowly accepting that my several diverse career hops may or may not add up eventually to a sum which will be greater than its sequential parts.
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        Sep 20 2013: For some people, they pursue passions simultaneously and for others sequentially.
  • Sep 19 2013: I haven't had much of a chance to live much of my career life due to my age, but as a child my parents moved me around the globe a bit more than most people my age, who generally speaking have lived in the same house or at least the same area their entire lives. Personally, I've never come across a particular career or job that I've thought yes, I want to do this for the rest of my life! I applaude people who have, and hope they really do enjoy doing what they have chosen to do, but for me, I always wanted my life to be (what I consider to be) more exciting, I'd love to travel, and see the world and do lots of weird jobs that no one has ever heard of and even jobs considered to meanial such as waiting tables or bar tending, but I also imagine that at some point I'll settle down 'grow-up' and do a 'proper' job and have 4 kids a marriage and a mazda. I can't really know what my life is going to be, but for me that is half the fun and is not a bad thing at all.
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      Sep 20 2013: Hello Pippa,
      Thank you for your comment. If you want to travel as part of your searching, check out the WWOOF and Workaway schemes.
  • Sep 23 2013: Joshua, While reading the comments and your response to them, I kept coming back to a sense that you struggle with the result of your passion of lack there of. This is an area I have had conversations within myself. I have a passion for planning and learning something new. For all the drive it provides it has lead to little external impact on the world. So I struggle more with seeing others, such as the ones you and other mention as "successful" versus what I have "accomplished" in my life. I wonder if your concern about passion has to do with passion itself or the impact of your accomplishments.

    For me in many areas of my life I have a passion for not doing much at all. I can sit and ponder for extended periods of time. I can watch TV for an entire evening. The passion is there for such things, but it is the possible lack of accomplishment that drives me to conflict.

    Over my life I have seen my passions ebb and flow. Sometimes like a season other times like the weather. So my sense of wonder and excitement about life is always present, but my accomplishments or lack there of tend to cause dissonance. It is not my passion or serial passions that causes my concern, but the impact of my activites on "success".

    I'm not saying your concern is the same as mine, but I wonder if your feelings about passion are more tied to success, however you define it, then a singluar passion.

    Last thoughts. When great passion meets great talent, this is the combination we see in great persons. Great passion can be both constructive and destructive. A workaholic will cause great disstress for those he ignores at home. Some great atheletes fail at many of lifes other great moments due to their passion. While they may be thought of as successful, a well rounded and enjoyable life may not co-exist with their passion. Again, how do we define success.

    My definition of success is still being 'discovered", but I wonder less about my passion and more about my "success".
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      Sep 23 2013: Hello Milo,
      Thank you for your insightful comments.
      You write "I wonder if your concern about passion has to do with passion itself or the impact of your accomplishments."
      The answer is both, and I jump between which is the more important. They are both related to one's experience of life. As I say further down in this conversation, what I am after is an experience of bouncing out of bed each day looking forward to life (as I did as a child) - and that's more the experience of passion pure and simple, independent of results.

      However, we live in a very action-oriented success=results culture, (not least as exemplified by the many wonderful people giving TED Talks). This pushes the button "have a singular passion-focus in life" and one can achieve great things. Having had a couple of action-focus phases in my life, I know I am perfectly capable, but my natural default-position is always the quiet contemplative being-in-wonder approach to life.

      I think it's the Buddhists who define success more as asking oneself "What manner of person have I become?" rather than "what material achievements have I accomplished?" Perhaps accepting that becoming a more compassionate person IS changing the world is the way forward here (change yourself, change the world).

      I agree with you though, that arguing to oneself that the Buddhist kind of approach is "sufficient" could be a clever cover-up for feeling guilty about not changing the world enough through external western-style action.

      Another approach I like is from the Trappist monk Thomas Merton in his book "Contemplative Prayer" where he notes that our sense of insecurity and lostness springs from "a sense that one has somehow been untrue not so much to abstract moral or social norms but to one's own inmost truth". This provides a way forward to live contentedly with oneself without looking over one's shoulder to see how one's life compares with what others are doing.
      • Sep 23 2013: Joshua,

        It was through journaling and looking at my life and the truths that I have come to use to guide my life that I have come to consciencously redetermine what success means for me. Your question and the responses to it have provided me some additional thoughts to consider. Thanks for that.

        My journey of over a decade has revealed some truths that drove my thoughts and actions. Many came through less than noble means. After collecting my journal entries into groups of truths, I have come to wonder how those of us that have not become famous, rich, or influencial come to the principles and passions we use to guide our lives. Specifically if my less than noble means of acquiring (through songs or fear) my less than noble truths is common to most others. They are significantlly different than what I read about in biographies and autoboigraphies of "successful" people. Are my truths what lead to my mediocre life or are there other more significant influences?

        These questions have lead me to start writing my "truths" into chapters and wondering if a book about my truths would be insightful to others. I have a full chapter on passion so your question caught my attention and fit well into the conversation I have with myself about this topic.

        Again thanks and good luck with your coming to a place of harmony with your passion(s).
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          Sep 23 2013: Hello again Milo,
          I think that grouping 'truths' from a decade or more of journalling sounds a great idea. I'm always interested in the inner journey, because if the inner drives the outer, then I'm assuming the more we can be 'awake' and pro-active in our inner world, the more we will experience our outer world as authentic and true. To me, a "variable truth" that matures with us as we grow and mature is more valuable than a "one fixed truth out there" that we can aspire to, but probably never reach. That's why I like the Thomas Merton quote - being true to one's inmost truth at any one moment or phase in life.
          There is a current vogue for automatically connecting money-fame-success with authentic/true action - (eg: "Do what you love doing, and the money will follow", etc)..., well ... maybe yes, maybe no. Sounds like a spiritualised version of the American Dream to me. The truth is probably more "Do what you love doing, and your experience of life will be more authentic-true" no matter what happens financially as a result.
          Of course 'culture' is a powerful force and energy field, and wants to adopt everyone into its value-system. It says success = money+influence, and it's hard sometimes to resist that definition and feel o.k about our lives regardless. The only way I can see out of this cultural pull, is to strengthen our inner connection to our deeper selves - which it seems is the tack you are on anyway. Good luck with your project.
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    Sep 23 2013: Not all who wander...............................are lost..

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      Sep 23 2013: Hello Craig,
      That's a great quote for me this Monday morning. Thank you.
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    Sep 19 2013: More experiences is good.I think passion is very important. You can find your passion in different fields and on different things. Passion will also change when you change.For instance, your age changes, your surroundings change.....
    Just enjoy seeking.... it's the journey of life.
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      Sep 19 2013: Hello Yoka,
      Thank you for your comment: "just enjoy the seeking". It reminds me that it is just as important to view our life achievement in terms of the type of person we have become (have I become more compassionate, more joyful, etc) as well as the more obviously measurable achievements of changing the world for the better.
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        Sep 20 2013: If you have confused about your passion, you could ask what your real goal is, compare the pros and cons and make the best choice.
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          Sep 20 2013: Hello Yoka,
          In a nutshell, my real goal in life is an experience, rather than a material achievement; that's what makes it harder to weigh up the pros and cons (in a purely rational way, at least). But an interesting question you have asked, thank you.
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        Sep 20 2013: Always good to evaluate our progress, and it sometimes serves to direct us to the next path/passion:>)
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        Sep 20 2013: Joshua,
        Regarding your statement..."my real goal in life is an experience, rather than a material achievement"

        Why can't an experience and achievement be one and the same?
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        Sep 20 2013: Yes, so what kind of experience do you want?I think mine is joyful and peaceful ,yours is compassionate and joyful? How about trying to help other people in some social organizations to get this satisfaction? Colleen made a good point, why not combine the mental experience with some visible achievements and work? Not everyone needs to set a goal as big as to change the world. After you have done your work ,you may find you actually changed the world unconsciously.
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          Sep 20 2013: Hello Yoka
          The experience I am looking for is to bounce out of bed in the morning excited about the day ahead, like I used to when a child. I guess this is easier when the inner and the outer are in alignment, but peace and contentment are ultimately not dependent on external circumstances.
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        Sep 23 2013: Joshua,
        I think curiosity about life and learning is the secret to bouncing out of bed in the morning excited about the day ahead, like you did when you were a child:>)

        I happens when the inner "self", and outer experiences you create, are in alignment.....balance:>)
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      Sep 20 2013: I totally agree Yoka....enjoy the seeking. People often seek an end result, and forget to pay attention to the journey, which is where we discover so much about ourselves, other people, and our world. It is by truly paying attention to the journey with curiosity that we sometimes discover new passions:>)

      I also agree that our focus/passion may change, as it did for me throughout the life adventure. When I was the wife and mom, that was my focus/passion, and although I had other interests, being a wife/mom was the primary focus/passion. At one point in my life, because of a dis-ease in the body, I focused on physically strengthening the body with sports, so that was my focus/passion. I have, at times focused on different careers with passionate interest and curiosity. I have, at times focused on spiritual, emotional, mental development....etc. etc. I faced (and continue to face) all parts of the human life adventure with interest and curiosity, and from that I have learned more about living life with passion, which can be part of every moment.
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        Sep 20 2013: Thank you dear Colleen~, every time talking with you is a pleasure to me. I always dream of my English expressing could be as good as yours one day. :)
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          Sep 23 2013: Thank you too Yoka, because every time talking with you is a pleasure for me as well. You express yourself very well Yoka, and I wish I could speak/write in your language even a tiny little bit. I am always honored and humbled with the number of people in our world who use my first language so well.....thank you:>)
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        Sep 23 2013: Thank you. Your words warmed my heart.
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    Sep 20 2013: Hi Joshua,
    I'm wondering if you have checked out other conversations on TED about passion......there are quite a few.

    As defined, passion means......
    "suffering; the state or capacity of being acted on by external agents or forces; emotions as distinguished from reason; intense, driving, or overmastering feeling; outbreak of anger; ardent affection; love; a strong liking for or devotion to some activity, object or concept; an object of desire..."

    The definition seems contradictory, so it is not surprising that there are questions about "passion". In your introduction, you mention a "creative approach to life", and that seems to be the foundation for my passion. I do not believe that passion is "acted on by external agents or forces". I believe external forces can influence passion, and I believe passion is something that we have in our heart. To me, passion embraces curiosity, enthusiasm, intent to learn.

    That being said, I am passionate about everything in the life adventure. I am focused, interested and passionate in every moment, to the best of my ability. If you have "failed to find “it”", as you say, perhaps you are looking externally for something you may find internally? Everyone's life journey is different.....some folks focus on one passion/interest their entire lives, and some of us have many different focuses, interests and passions.
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      Sep 20 2013: Hello Colleen,
      Thank you for your various comments, and the clarity you bring. I agree with you that passion is an internal state, and internally generated. From that slowly emerging inner passion I have been looking for a way of expressing that tentative passion externally (that's the "it" part in my introduction) for the betterment of humankind. I'm not expecting an external "it" to give me an internal state (of passion), that's the wrong way round (Viz: "Money can't buy you love", the Beatles) but of course it might trigger a spark of recognition that "it" is the field in which one is going to express one's already pre-existing passion for life in general.
      And thank you for reminding me too about the role of a "creative approach to life"; there's so much in that.
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        Sep 23 2013: Hello again Joshua:>)
        I believe that when we genuinely follow our heart, it often leads to activities that benefit us as individuals with an opportunity to learn and grow, as well as benefiting humankind.

        My life adventures have often started out with curiosity and a desire to learn, and have moved into a lot of working relationships and volunteer activities which also benefit the whole.

        Thank you for your kind words Joshua:>)
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          Sep 23 2013: Hello Colleen,
          I couldn't agree more with your theme of "genuinely follow our heart"; it's something I say to my children (well, they are in their 20s, also searching to live a meaningful life). One genuine 'heart-step' leads to the next, and the next... and even if some heart-steps put an unexpected challenge in front of us, it's easier to accept it as part of our journey of growing into maturity when we know we did our best - and hence no regrets.
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    Sep 20 2013: two observations.

    1. it is not really a choice. you either have one passion or multiple. would you abandon something you love because having one passion is better?

    2. imagine dropping some people in the middle of a forest. then after a while, take a snapshot where they are. the people you find on the edge, farther away from the starting point will always be the ones that picked a direction, and walked without turning. but that does not mean this is a superior strategy. you will find other proponents of this strategy deep inside a chasm dead. it also does not necessarily the strategy that makes you happy or satisfied. you might find some people changing directions to examine an interesting tree or pick some mushrooms. we need the forerunners to explore the unknown for us. meanwhile we sit back, and enjoy some mushrooms.
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      Sep 20 2013: Hello Krisztián,
      Thank you for your comment. I am definitely more of the contemplative type, so in your analogy I'd be one of the ones picking and enjoying some mushrooms ... I'd be sitting there accepting the fact that my natural talent is not to be a gung-ho mover and shaker making a bee-line for the edge of the forest, but someone who takes things very slowly and likes to examine them in depth and find their meaning, and then move on. Nice analogy to think about; thank you.
  • Sep 19 2013: I here you Josh, I too have been searching for that one thing that will keep me glued to it. Maybe I don't stay with it long enough to become passionate, or We have a balanced view. Someone has to be the Ted talkers audience .
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      Sep 19 2013: Hello Kathy,
      Thank you for your comment about staying with something "long enough to become passionate". It's an interesting question. When do we know if a current dissatisfaction is a sign to move on, or a sign to stick with it and discover a new level of living? At one level perhaps it does not matter; we can always learn whatever we choose. Putting pressure on oneself the find the one right way can be very stressful.
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    Lejan .

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    Sep 19 2013: Life is variety.

    So to me it is ok to 'live life doing a bit of this and a bit of that' or to have a 'singular passion-in-life' as long as those who life it doesn't harm themselves and others in doing so and enjoy what they are doing.
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      Sep 19 2013: Hello Lejan,
      Thank you for your comment. It points towards accepting ourselves unconditionally - perhaps a key starting point for changing he world.
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        Sep 19 2013: Hi Joshua,

        generally spoken, yes, it points that way, yet this is no excuse not to work on our imperfections ... :o)

        Regarding the world and the 'Law of the lever', Archimedes is assumed to have once said:

        'Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the Earth with it'

        Fortunately, he never got this sort of place and never found a lever of that size.

        Yet for all the rest of us to move the world around us, this our very acceptance will be the only place for us to stand on, to get it changed for a better ... :o)

        As usual, simple mechanics just always works ... mostly ... ;o)
  • Sep 30 2013: Everyone has a purpose in life, and thus everyone has a passion. However, I believe that defining your passion in life is unnecessary. I have similar thoughts as yours quite often, thinking that I "spread myself too thin", and I try a lot of different things, but I am not particularly outstanding in any of them. It is a stressful inner conflict to have, especially when surrounded by friends and family who are exceptionally talented in specific areas of life. But an all-over-the-place kind of life is to be celebrated just as much as a dominant-talent- life. In fact, it is my belief that no one can finitely define their existential passion. Even a world class musician, for example, could have other passions or purposes such as caring for their family or understanding mathematics. Finding one's "passion" in life is not worth taking the chance of shutting out another possible path. As long as you are living your life according to how YOU want to exist and contribute to society, then I would say you actually do have a passion in life; it may just be undefined. Inexplicable. Even though it may be frustrating to have an undefined passion or purpose in life, its definition exists subconsciously. Indeed it may be so grand and profound that there is no way to define it.
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      Oct 1 2013: Hello Sam,
      Wonderful comment; thank you. You have articulated an important point for me really well. I have just about come to the truth of your comment that: "Finding one's "passion" in life is not worth taking the chance of shutting out another possible path". At one level, my path to date has included being an engineer, gardner, university lecturer, small-time inventor, teacher of the Alexander Technique, and small-holding "self-sufficiency" farmer. When I look back on these times, I realise increasingly that, at another level, each phase could have been more enjoyably experienced if I had not hung an "is this 'IT' ?" Sword-of-Damocles over them.
      Now I try much more live each day fully (as you say too) with the passion-purpose undefined in the back-ground, and yet still there and motivating life just as powerfully as any up-front clearly visible passion. Indeed, the fact that it fits no neat definable box, I see more and more as a blessing because it helps keeps me moving with greater openness and humility to what surprises and blessings each day can bring - especially when I don't interfere, with "This is it" type thinking.
  • Sep 29 2013: Have you ever heard of The Passion Test? It's a test you can never fail. It helps people get into their hearts to discover what is most important to them, and then and use tools and a system to create their best possible life. Among other things, I teach The Passion Test as a certified facilitator. Find me on fb to learn more if you are interested. I am on a mission to help our most-stressed generation, Millennials (18-33) get in alignment with what they really want their journey to be about. This mission came about when one of my young adult children lost his life because he was lost about his life. I saw what was different about my other two children: They each had a passion! Thus, my journey with The Passion Test began.
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      Sep 30 2013: Hello Margie,
      I haven't heard of The Passion Test until now. I had a brief look at the website, and will return to it when this conversation closes in a couple of days. I have 5 children/step-children from mid-20s to mid 30s and three of them have found a career that satisfies their passion needs at the moment; the two younger and more artistic ones are passionate about each of the steps along the way, but are searching for a more focussed and 'permanent' way to express their deeper meaning - hence another reason why I started this conversation to get some further ideas. I wish you well in your work to further that spark of recognition in young adults.
  • Sep 29 2013: Dear Mr. Bond,
    The most important thing is to be happy with who you are and what you do. Never seek to find your fulfilment in the way others seem to have it.
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      Sep 29 2013: Hello Babatunde,
      Thank you for your comment, and I agree with you. It's always better to work on becoming a first-rate version of yourself, rather than a second-rate version of someone else.
  • Sep 21 2013: Joshua,
    I couldn't agree more. As long as your attitude is good only good things will happen
  • Sep 21 2013: Joshua,
    Thats great I wish you the best of luck with your writing and am sure you will find your passion one day!
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      Sep 21 2013: Hi Jacob,
      Thanks for that encouragement. The main thing I guess is to "turn up" for life each day, and let its surprises unfold.
  • Sep 20 2013: Most people have their profession and their hobbies -all require a certain amount of passion. Some people combine their hobby and their profession and some do quite well. Unfortunately, when one does this, the passion overrides the business sense and this can lead to trouble and bad decisions.
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      Sep 21 2013: Hi Wayne,
      Thank you for your comment. I remember my experience of "the passion overrides the business sense" as an inventor-designer-maker of a specialist hand-weaving loom - but at least it was fun for a time.
      • Sep 22 2013: i know exactly what you mean - passion/ego can truly cloud ones decision making.
  • Sep 20 2013: I believe life is not about finding one passion but exploring all of your options until you feel like the most recent one you explored can not be beaten by anything else and that is when you have found your passion. If you have not yet found your passion don't worry you will everybody does. I know I'm still looking.
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      Sep 20 2013: Hello Jacob,
      Thank you for your comment. I've moved from engineer, to academic, to small-time inventor of a specialist hand-weaving loom, to teacher of the Alexander Technique, to back-to-the-land life-style retreating away from it all in central rural Portugal, having "given up" for a time that I would ever find a way to engage with society and make my contribution. However, after 5 years of farming living simply, it's not really my thing either!
      But, you are right in saying that each step one explores brings more clarity on the journey towards the best one can find in any one lifetime. I'm currently developing my poetry and writing, whilst continuing to look after 15 acres of land, and trying not to worry about it all.