5 Keys to a Passionate Life

How to give your vitality a transfusion

Posted Feb 04, 2015

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Passion is a concept that's talked about a lot these days. Business and leadership experts talk about employee engagement. Coaching and career development folks talk about finding a calling. Educators talk about passion-based learning. And couples talk about keeping the spark alive.

But passion is much bigger and deeper than what happens Monday through Friday from 9 to 5, or what happens between partners.

Ultimately, passion is a life skill—a stance—that helps bring vitality to all your engagements, from work, family and school life, to creative, social and spiritual life. And it's a survival mechanism—critical to health and well-being—because your attachment to life depends on your interest in it.

But it's easy to let passion and vitality slide into disuse or be siphoned away by boredom, stress, fear, routine, a Great Recession or a Code Orange world. 

Life, in fact, is so full of deterrents to passion and self-expression that “normal” behavior is really a state of arrested development.

Here are 5 key things I've learned about the nature of passion, and how to give your vitality a transfusion:

1. Passion can be cultivated and turned-on as well as off. And this cultivation happens best at the level of the moment and the gesture, not the five-year plan. But action is required, especially spontaneous action. The equation is: ready, fire, aim.

I was sitting around with some friends recently when one of them said, “You know what the problem is? We're not outrageous enough.” When I asked him how he’d be more outrageous, he reached up and swept his hair from middle-parted and slicked-back to side-parted with a cowlick dangling over his forehead—instantly transforming from Richard to Ricardo. “I'd come into work like this,” he said.

Start with the subtlest impulses to express yourself and act on your passions. Then build from there. Identify little moments of choice that lead you either toward or away from aliveness.

2. To live with passion, confront whatever blocks its expression. Identify where in your life you lose vitality. 

Maybe it's a job that sucks the life out of you, or a relationship where you feel like a ghost of your full self. Maybe it's your eager and capable mind being put in dull circumstances, or the absence of goals you feel any passion for, or having them but doing nothing about them.

3. Passion is in the risk. In the willingness to step from the sidelines onto the playing field.

You don’t necessarily find your passions and then begin taking risks. Rather, through risk-taking—making decisions, putting yourself on the line—you discover and ignite your passions. 

Risk, though, is utterly relative. It's whatever scares you. Start with what’s closest to home: take your poems or jokes to open-mike night, be the first to make up after a quarrel, when someone asks how you are, tell them how you really are.

4. Passion isn't just exuberance, it's endurance. If your creative inspirations, or even infatuations, aren't supported by diligence, they don't blossom. Author Malcolm Gladwell calculates that mastery requires at least 10,000 hours of dedicated practice. That’s 90 minutes a day for 20 years.

5. Passion breeds passion, and disinterest breeds disinterest. If you lack passion in your own life, your other relationships will be denied that energy—your partnerships, friendships, family, community, company. And this goes not just for the individual, but also for the collective.

Novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of a man trying to solve the world's problems, when his young son comes into the room and asks if he can help. Touched by the boy's concern, but impatient to get on with his work, he takes a map of the world, rips it into little pieces, and gives it to the boy, telling him he can help by piecing the world back together. The boy doesn't have a clue what the world looks like, but takes the pile of paper off to his room.

Two days later he rushes into his father's study. “Father. Father,” he says, “I've put the world back together.” And indeed the shreds have been meticulously taped together. His father asks how he did it. The boy turns the map over. “On the back was a picture of a person,” he said. “I put the person back together and then turned it over and the world was back together.”

For more about Passion, see www.gregglevoy.com

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