How to Find Lasting Enthusiasm for Your Passions
Abandon narrow self-interest to experience life as a sacred expression of love.
Posted March 25, 2019
Countless people are seeking their life's passion—maybe you're one of them. It can be a challenging process, and one that involves trial and error. As grit researcher Angela Duckworth describes, discovering your passion requires "sampling" different areas that interest you, and seeing what draws you in.
But sometimes when you think you've found your life's passion, your interest in it quickly fades. Author Gregg Krech says it's easy to be a "hero at the beginning," when people, "take up a job with fanfare of trumpets but soon find that their enthusiasm has tiptoed down the back stairs." What started out as inspiring begins to feel like a slog, and it's hard to commit to it day after day. Were you mistaken about having found your passion and purpose?
Maybe. Or perhaps, as writer and meditation teacher Jonni Pollard describes, the problem wasn't the passion itself but what was motivating it. I recently spoke with Jonni on the Think Act Be podcast, and he offered his insights on finding lasting enthusiasm for your passions.
What Fuels Your Passion?
"The big question," according to Jonni, is, "What are we hoping our passions will deliver us? Because whenever our passions are fueled by self-gain, without consideration for how it might serve and benefit others, it will always burn out."
This perspective aligns with other writers like Duckworth, who emphasizes that a persistent sense of purpose comes from “the intention to contribute to the well-being of others [emphasis added].” Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, concurs, writing that "the self is a very poor site for finding meaning."
What's the alternative? "If you shift your primary focus to the benefit of others (with a residual benefit for yourself)," Jonni said, "then pursuing that passion becomes fueled by something greater than your own needs." This fuel is "far more potent and sustainable than the cheap, dirty fuel of narrow self-interest, because our deepest nature is to be of service to the greater good."
Changing Your Focus
Preoccupation with ourselves just isn't that interesting for very long. It's like staring at a smartphone screen—no matter what sounds and images are coming from it, the scenery never really changes. Ultimately it's just a screen. Accordingly, we're going to get bored by primarily serving our own self-interests, no matter what the specific activity might be.
The antidote in both cases is to expand our awareness—away from the screen and away from ourselves. We can move beyond self-gain as our overarching motivation and focus instead on the unmet needs around us.
Where does habitual self-focus come from if it's inherently disappointing? According to Jonni Pollard, constant self-focus "is a symptom of survival mode. When we're in flight-or-flight, all we're thinking about is self-preservation." That sense of danger comes from "being exposed to a hostile, competitive, intensely disconnected environment."
Jonni's book The Golden Sequence offers practices for moving out of survival mode, and "upgrading the hardware of our nervous systems." These practices are intended to allow us "to reestablish connection to the truth of who we are, and to be able to detect the sacredness of life amidst the noise and haste."
When we remember that life is sacred and that it is our nature to love, we "connect with our deeper nature to want to serve." Jonni describes this state as "a sense of knowingness" as we feel "a certainty within ourselves, and a deep sense of purpose."
What about Your Own Needs?
Does this approach mean ignoring our own well-being, or denying our needs? Thankfully not. "Truly serving the greater good includes your own needs," Jonni explained. "It's one whole thing—a cohesive model of service. We don't compartmentalize the benefit to others from the benefit to ourselves."
And for good reason—only by attending to our own needs are we in a position to be of service to others. For example, if we ignore our health, we're going to struggle to help those around us.
However, we may need less than we think, as Jonni pointed out. "Sometimes we believe we need a certain level of accolades, recognition, and validation to feel a sense of worthiness and to have the power to do something of value in the world," he said. "But when we really ask ourselves what's required to get this job done, we're always surprised at how little we actually need—how simple things can be in order to be extremely effective in the world."
The simpler we keep our lives, the better we can focus on what's important. As Jonni explained, "The more we require, the more complicated life becomes, and the more easily we become distracted from the very thing we want to achieve in the first place: having impact, elevating, serving."
The full interview with Jonni Pollard is available here: How to Experience Life as a Sacred Expression of Love.
Krech, G. (2014). The art of taking action: Lessons from Japanese psychology. Monkton, VT: ToDo Institute.
Pollard, J. (2018). The golden sequence. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.
Seligman, M. E. P. (1988, October). Boomer blues. Psychology Today, 50, 55.