What is your passion? A leadership training professional asked the question in a seminar I attended several years ago. We could not say family or job (and this discussion was definitely not about love interests . . .). I was stumped. I sat there for a few seconds, looking blankly at the woman. Then I glanced around my table to see how others were responding. A couple of them had the same blanched expressions on their faces as I did. Others were completely at ease and ready to share, having had no apparent struggle identifying that thing that really got their engines going. I stumbled through the exercise, coming up with something, anything, so that I could finish and the next person could share his love of restoring cars or throwing pottery.
That question haunted me. Why didn’t I have a passion? Did this confirm my insecurities that I really am just a boring person? Or, had I neglected some inner, art-loving child who was now a shriveled lump? There are a lot of things I like to do, I told myself. I enjoy reading, hiking, skiing and going to the beach, to name a few. But, I couldn’t say that I am passionate about any of them. Being passionate about something is to pursue the subject of the passion with a sustained, heightened level of intensity and interest, similar to the way a third grader anxiously awaits recess.
I’ve since been an observer of people who have a passion, the “Passionates,” to see what makes them tick. This is really easy to do in the Vail Valley, which is full of people with passions for skiing, biking, fishing, kayaking, golfing, hiking, hunting and backcountry activities, to name just a few. I listen to their stories with interest and curiosity about all the time and energy they lovingly put into their interests.
I also live with two Passionates. My husband is an ardent fan of Wolverine football and basketball. Very few can match his level of enthusiasm and the depth of his knowledge of every player, coach, game, opponent, type of turf, or size of the stadium. He also loves to cook, especially for a group of people. With great intensity and pure joy, he will get out cook books and go online searching for recipes, make the shopping list, prepare the food, cook and serve it to us fortunate souls who get to eat it. My son is an alpine ski racer, who every day works to improve his mind and body to be better at his sport. Passion.
A passion isn’t necessarily a life-long thing. For example, I don’t recall my mother having a consuming interest or even a hobby until she retired, when she became an avid quilter. She found a niche that suited her active mind and outgoing nature. She now wins awards for her beautiful work and has filled her life with interesting people who enjoy and appreciate the same things she does. I love to see what she has created when we get together, and to hear her stories of finding the perfect fabric for her latest project.
On reflection, I realize that those of us who don’t have capital “P” passion are the yin to the Passionates’ yang. Our more balanced, or perhaps less intense, approach to life gives the Passionates room to jump in and splash around. We are their audience, cheering section and sometimes the happy beneficiaries of what they do. Just because we don’t have a passion today doesn’t mean we won’t someday be consumed by one. To keep an active body and mind, to continue to grow and to be open to new adventures are elements of a life well lived. Passionates, go forth and embrace your love, and share it with those around you. As for the rest of us, let’s continue to live our relatively restrained lives with a healthy curiosity about those Passionates with whom we share this world. But be prepared — we just may become one some day.
A version of this was originally published in The Vail Daily on February 19, 2014.