If you are like me, then your mind probably moves at time from one tangential thought to the next.
And when you come to your current thought you can look back at the preceding thoughts that got you to where you are currently at.
Does that above sentence even make sense?
Because here we go.
Pursuing Our Passion
Yesterday while perusing 99U’s newsletter I came across their article Insights from Brene Brown, Cal Newport, Gretchen Rubin & More at the 2013 99 U Conference.
In the article, they highlight thoughts from the talk of author, computer scientist and professor, Cal Newport. One thought that had me thinking a lot was his comments on pursuing our passions:
Chasing a passion can lead to frustration and unhappiness. American culture is obsessed with the idea that the only way to end up happy is to follow your passion, but this assumes that you have a pre-existing passion to follow. The world is filled with passionate amateur photographers and passionate amateur bakers who end up unhappy and often unsuccessful.
How many times has someone asked you what you are passionate about?
How many times have you been told to pursue your passion?
Seems like a great idea, right?
As I thought about this idea more, I went to Newport’s blog, Study Hacks, where I read a post quoting the comic C.K. Lewis:
There’s people that say: “It’s not fair. You have all that stuff.” I wasn’t born with it. It was a horrible process to get to this. It took me my whole life. If you’re new at this — and by “new at it,” I mean 15 years in, or even 20 — you’re just starting to get traction. Young musicians believe they should be able to throw a band together and be famous, and anything that’s in their way is unfair and evil. What are you, in your 20s, you picked up a guitar? Give it a minute.
Newport in the post follows up Lewis’s quote with with this statement:
Notice his use of the phrase “horrible process” in describing his rise. This is exactly what is wrong with telling people: “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” — you’re providing them a flawed description of reality.
Careers you love require a lot of work. Sometimes even “horrible” work.
You can’t escape the necessity of career capital…
So all this talk on following your passions and career capital is an interesting one.
After all, how are we supposed to view our work?
How are we to think about our vocation?
Connecting Passion and Vocation
In the final chapter of my new book, What it Means to be a Man, I explore this idea of vocation:
God worked and cared for His creation as He created life out of darkness. He made man (Hebrew “adam” in His image, forming him from the ground (Hebrew “adamah”) and naming him Adam (an act of sovereign care). Then He commanded him to work and care for the land from which he’d been taken (Gen. 2:15) and to care for His creatures by naming them (Gen. 2:19). In the words used and the commands given, we see a deep connection between our identity as men and our responsibility to imitate God in working and caring….
….it’s worth noting the word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocatio, meaning “summons.” In other words, our vocation is a summons calling out to us. That means listening to the same person who said to Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (pp.89-91).
Passion and Limits
Two things then emerge for me when we talk about pursuing our passion and the vocations we enter into.
- There is a deep connection between our identity and our work. When our identity connects to our work, we are in our vocation…we are pursuing our passion.
- Acknowledging our limits helps us find our true vocation. Too many people pursue things that they are passionate about, but they don’t acknowledge their limits. Limits, rather than be limiting, can actually create freedom, forcing/moving us towards where our true passion…our true vocation is. I’ve written about this before and I like how Parker Palmer says it:
“Everything in the universe has a nature, which means limits as well as potentials, a truth well known by people who work daily with the things of the world. Making pottery, for example, involves more than telling the clay what to become. The clay presses back on the potter’s hands, telling her what it can and cannot do–and if she fails to listen, the outcome will be both frail and ungainly. Engineering involves more than telling materials what they must do. If the engineer does not honor the nature of the steel or the wood or the stone, his failure will go beyond aesthetics: the bridge or the building will collapse and put human life in peril.
The human self also has a nature, limits as well as potentials. If you seek vocation without understanding the material you are working with, what you build with your life will be ungainly and may well put lives in peril, your own and some of those around you. “Faking it” in the service of high values is no virtue and has nothing to do with vocation. It is an ignorant, sometimes arrogant, attempt to override one’s nature, and it will always fail.
Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as ‘the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.’” (Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer, pp. 15-16)