Passion is Overrated (On Surviving v. Thriving)

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  The inspirational pin I hate the most today is,

“Life is too short not to do what you love.”

Or something.

I KNOW, I KNOW. I know what they’re getting at.   They’re getting at living intentionally, taking risks, investing in a preferred future.  They’re getting at tapping into passions, and living a life of courage and adventure.  I believe in all that with my whole heart - so much.

But until the larger population is capable of not applying a cliché that is true sometimes, ALL THE TIME, we have to be careful about the sweeping advice we’re peddling.  “Life is too short not to do what you love” is confusing and hurtful to people who just aren’t there yet.

Here's a litmus test:  would I tell this to someone living in the third world?  Would I give this advice to a young man living in a Calcutta slum?  What exactly is he supposed to do with that pearl?  I think (having never personally lived that reality) that if he even entertained such a notion, he’d probably think, “You're telling ME that life is short?”  He might say, “You know what I love?  My family.  School.  The stray dog that lives around here.  Eating.”

We spend all this time telling people that fulfillment doesn’t come from their jobs.  “Stop trying to climb the corporate ladder,” we say.  Then we turn around and in the same breath tell them that if they turned their passions into jobs and lifestyles, they would be happy.

But satisfaction isn’t in your passion-oriented job either.  It’s not in a creative-career.  It’s not in a ministry-career, a giving-career, or a family/parenting-career.  It’s not in any career at all.

We look through a Humans of New York feed, and applaud the blue-collar workers who are sorting linens and scouring industrial kitchens.  We say that they are providing for their families, doing a noble and honorable thing.  Then we turn around and tell people in the same position that they should consider what they’re passionate about.

I am confident that if someone suggested to a migrant worker that he consider what he’s passionate about, they might get an earful.  So here is my new personal rule of thumb, if I wouldn’t say it to a boy in a slum in India, I think twice before saying it to a single mom, or a dad working at Starbucks.

Their lives are very, very different, but the underlying struggle is the same:  they are surviving.

The truth is, must-have-them-to-eat jobs often keep us from doing things we’d rather be doing.  I’m not talking about golf or Netflix.  I’m talking about spending time with your spouse, or attending church.  Things like writing, drawing, and dreaming.  Sometimes jobs take up mental and emotional energy, leaving you unable to spend that limited resource in other, “passion-y” places.

Sometimes parenting takes up that energy.  Sometimes poverty does.  Sometimes divorce does.  Sometimes grief does.

Our privileged culture is guilty of telling people that if this is true for them, they’re doing something wrong.  We are guilty of telling people that if they just TAPPED INTO THEIR PASSION, everything would be better.

Listen – it’s easy for me to say, right?  I mean, writing is my job.  That happened last year.  For the first time ever, I got paid to write something.  I started blogging, and after a few years of hard work for free, Jesus intervened and made everyone very exasperated with TEENAGERS and very interested in what I had to say to them (which, as it turns out, is the same stuff I would say to everyone).

But I am not “doing what I love,” in the way that a lot of people think about “doing what they love.”

I am doing some things I love, sometimes.

The reason I often write about finding joy in rituals - in small, daily ways - is because that is the way that I experience joy.  The way that I experience God.  I get to write, that’s true.  But I get to write at midnight when my kids go to sleep, and I drink a probably-unhealthy amount of coffee, and I almost never do laundry.  I find JOY in my writing.  I am PASSIONATE about it, gifted to do it, and I am among the privileged, no doubt.  But most days, I also find joy in unnecessarily indulgent hand soap.  Joy in morning walks, joy in my (third) jade plant that I have not yet killed.

I am not joyful because of my writing career.  I am not joyful because of my beautiful kids.  I feel blessed and flattened and astonished at those things often, but I am not living in joy because I’m “doing what I love.”

I am joyful because I am thankful. I am joyful because I am at peace. I am joyful because of Christ.

Here is what I have to say to those among us that are not “doing what they love.”

If you aren’t to the “thriving” place yet, that’s okay.  If you are just “surviving,” that’s okay.  You aren’t doing anything wrong.  You have not missed your boat.  You are not less inspirational, less mature, less “together.”  You are not less-than.  You have as much wisdom to offer.  As much life in you.  As much story to tell.

You are muscling through.  You are doing the hard work of living.  You know something of grit and self-discipline, and what it means to be sustained through something that is NOT WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE CHOSEN.

If you are just surviving, take away the “just.”  You are SURVIVING.  You are being carried.  You are being sustained.  You have arms to carry you, wings to cover you.  You are hemmed in, behind and before.

You are complete and whole and significant.

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And I would change those inspirational pins to say,

“Life is too short not to find one little something that you love.”

Thriving isn’t about finding passion, it’s about finding joy.

The two are related – passion brings divine joy, no doubt.  But so does gratitude.  So does nature.  So does peace.  (Anne Lamott says, “Peace is joy at rest.”  I love that.)

Dear one that is surviving, I hope that you find one little something that you love.  A ritual.  Something that marks your day.  Your made-bed.  Your little plant.  The game you play with your son on the way to school.  Your evening tea.  Your church.

I hope that, as you practice finding joy there, in that thing, you will come to laugh easier.  That gratitude will increase, slowly, steadily, blooming like a flower in your chest.  I pray that after many months, years, or decades of SURVIVING, one day you will pick up your head and gasp!  I pray that you will see a life peppered with laughter, and gratitude, and peace.  And that you will see that you transitioned to thriving after all.  Maybe without even knowing it.


Are you surviving or thriving or both?

Do you ever feel less-than because you are “just surviving?”

What does “thriving” look like to you?

How do you balance pursuing your passions and still doing things you don’t love?


The Survivor Series giveaway is still live!  Share a #survivorseries post for a chance to win $150+ in coffee, music, books, and other survival essentials.  Click here for details.

You guys, I wrote some books!  They’re really good and if you buy them and read them I will bake you cookies.*  You can get it on Amazon, from Barnes & Noble, and in bookstores August 1.  


*and eat them myself because you live too far away.