August 12, 2012

Whatever You Do, Don't Follow Your Passion!

What??? Have we lost our marbles? Have we given up on the creative path? Have we been abducted and replaced by drones from the Machine?

Well, not exactly. This week I read an interesting little piece in Alyson B. Stanfield's ArtBizBlog with the scandalous title, "Why I Never Advise You To Follow Your Passion." I was a bit incensed, but read it anyway.


Alyson's article is a frank look at the difficult path that we all think of as "following your passion." She points out three glaring realities that confront us all.

  • Something changes deep inside many people when they start asking for money for what they’re passionate about.

    For many of us, the magic is tarnished when we try to convert what we love the most into a business. The daily grind and tension of making ends meet, of pushing on when ignored by the very people that our passion is meant to benefit, of pushing through the dry spells, and just not giving up when things are discouraging and the shine has worn off can be brutal to the fantasy that spurred us into going for it in the first place.

  • Most of us have multiple passions.

    This is definitely true for me. There are more than a dozen things I am truly passionate about. Maybe several dozen, actually. Passion is the palette that colors my choices and decisions about how to live. But it also can be a fragmenting and complicating influence when you are trying to channel your energies to make a business happen. I often am torn between my passions, which if equally pursued, would pull me in too many directions and leave me accomplishing very little.

  • You can’t make a living from passion alone.

    The cold hard reality is that there is a lot of drudgery and plain hard work in making your passion into a successful and rewarding career. Following your passion can be done, but passion alone does not promise you a fulfilling and rewarding life. Passion alone can leave you very frustrated in a lonely path.

Alyson also suggests that passion is not always something that leads, but often follows commitment and hard work. People often fall into their passion, not even knowing what it is in advance. I like this idea, because passion that is derived from a successful commitment to something is rock solid. It is not generally caught in the quagmire of demolished fantasies, because it grows along with the success of the work that it is derived from.

This is not to suggest however, that passion must be derived from the work you find yourself doing. Not at all. But when passion leads, the path is more difficult, and one should never glibly assume that if you love what you are doing, that's enough. What I have found is that passion is essential, but not enough. Without passion, I lose interest quickly. But the role of passion is to inspire, not to lead. You must in fact, lead your passion, rather than following it. Put on the business hat that passion doesn't care much to wear. Work your butt off to take your passion where it wants you to go. Make practical and sometime difficult choices to achieve your objectives. Your passion is like the flag at the top of the mountain. It provides you with an objective worthy of your effort. But you must make your own path to the top of that mountain, and the work required to get there often doesn't feel the least bit like passion.

Further Thoughts About the Tribe

On July 22 we discussed an article by Aletta de Wal about finding and understanding your tribe. I've been thinking a lot about tribes since then. Tribe is a fundamental aspect of human nature. since our earliest days on the planet, we have bonded together in roving bands for our mutual benefit and protection. That's why we have gotten on so well with dogs over the millenia—we function socially in very similar ways, and tend to invite each other into our packs. Since the dawn of time, humans have lived, worked, and migrated in tight-knit groups. This powerful urge toward inclusion in and exclusion from the group has informed the best and worst instincts of our species. It's the driving energy behind family, religion, politics, spectator sports fandom, motorcycle clubs, street gangs, wars, and genocide. Humans need to belong and to exclude.

Siberian Shaman

This basic need sometimes feels alien to us as creative entrepreneurs, since we tend to be outliers. Loners. We are generally not joiners, and the very concept of designing your own creative path outside the lines appears to fly in the face of tribal sociology. But really, it is not. Tribes are not, by nature, populated by adventurers. Tribes rely on adventurers though. LA Dodger fans are a tribe. They rely on the Dodgers to give them the order, purpose, and adventure that the tribe needs for coherence. The actual LA Dodgers could be seen as the shamans of the tribe. It seems to me that every tribe must have a shamanic class that functions just outside the realm of allowable tribal norms. Shamans are a special class of outsiders who understand the tribe better than it understands itself. The reason creatives tend to feel like they are on the outside looking in is that they function socially as shamans to their tribe.

You are the shaman of your tribe. As such, you will always be off on the perimeter and a little uneasy with your own tribe. Sometimes you will find yourself in territory where the tribe has not gone, and does not wish to go. Sales are a tribal response that comes in due time. This is why artists must never compromise the vision for a sale. Artmaking is a shamanic practice that cannot be understood by the tribe without the familiarity of time and exposure.

This uneasy relationship between shaman and tribe might explain why we tend to want to immerse ourselves in the work, and avoid interaction with, and analysis of the players, roles, and needs of the tribe. I'm still thinking about this, and would welcome your thoughts. If you like, we can share some of them here.

One might think of what we are doing here at Outside the Lines is a tribe of shamans. As such, we do not have shamans who are outliers, since we are all in that role. We are more of a support group for shamans. Hmmmmm...


Still Further Thoughts About the Tribe

Right after The article about Aletta's discussion of the tribe was posted, I had a conversation with one of our subscribers and past interviewees, Nicole Rushin. Nicole is also writing for her tribe of shamans and we talk from time to time about challenges and ideas. In that conversation a few weeks ago, Nicole and I came to the conclusion that the work we are doing, with Outside the lines and with her Dream-Speak group, would be improved if we could find better ways to expand the interaction with our readers.

There are different ways to do this, such as adding a dynamic comment submission feature to the web site, or as Nicole has done, creating a private Facebook page for the group members. Of course the best way, would be for you all to come and hang out at the Windhook retreat center that we have not yet built. But in the mean time, we are thinking about ways to encourage you all to communicate with us and with each other. Right now the communication is mostly from us to you, through these emails, and to a lesser degree, back from you to us in individual notes. But we envision expanding the role of Outside the Lines to include more open dialog between us and you and between you directly. We envision a space where you can meet and interact directly if you wish. We envision this being a platform on which we can all dance. We have not yet sorted out the best ways to make this tribal space a reality. We would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, and if you wish, we can share them here in future notes.

A Remarkable Story From Sicilia

In the spirit of the tribe, we want to share a a story from one of our subscribers, Lynn Rodolico. Lynn is a novelist and olive farmer who shares her time between Sicily and Florence, Italy. Lynn is a wonderful example of the spirit that drives Outside the lines, and someday we are hoping to visit her to do an interview among her olive trees.

The story is on her blog. It is a story about a man who, with only months to live, realized that it was now or never if he wanted to make his passion a reality. We will not retell the story here, because Lynn has done a beautiful job already. So we send you now to Lynn's blog for the story, entitled "On the Road to Kathmandu." We're pretty sure you will love it!

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Peggy Sonoda

Michael Reddell
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Cambria, CA 93428

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