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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 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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