Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite.
“Moderation is everything.” It’s oft-repeated, “tried and true” wisdom. Yet, because a radical adherence to moderation is anything but moderate, it’s also self-contradictory.
As Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness point out in their book, The Passion Paradox, many of us could benefit from more passion and better passions.
Moderation has been the pinnacle of virtue since Aristotle invented the golden mean. A good life, the wisdom goes, stems from “finding balance.” Balance your outer life, and your inner life will balance itself, which results in an even more balanced outer life. This feedback loop supposedly yields a well-lived life.
Stulberg and Magness dismantle this ancient wisdom — with a sledgehammer. They don’t argue that you throw caution to the wind and go all out on everything. (After all, that’s exactly why they dismiss the vacuous conception of balance that says you should do it all: If you do everything, you accomplish nothing.) Instead, the thrust of their argument (reminiscent of the psychological concept of flow) is that you cannot become truly good at something — you cannot derive true pleasure from something — unless you dive in. All in.
Here’s how they put it:
Balance. Balance. Balance. But … have you ever met an interesting person — let alone a deeply passionate one — who is balanced?
Indeed. All that’s necessary to prove passion’s value is a moment’s reflection on our pasts. As the authors write:
Think about your own experiences. During the times when you’ve felt most alive, have you also felt balanced? For us personally, the answer is a resounding no. Whether it’s falling in love, trekking in the Himalayas, writing a book, or training to go as fast as we can in a sport, during these bouts of full-on living, we were completely consumed by our activities. Trying to be balanced — devoting equal portions of time and energy to other areas of our lives — would have detracted from the formative experiences.
Again, a passion for everything — “balanced passion” — defeats the point. The authors aren’t arguing for boundless passion, but bounded passion. The point is simply that, when deciding what you give your time to, passion should be a foremost consideration.
Success and happiness spring from passion more easily than from other motives like obligation precisely because we are passionate about things we’re interested in, and interested in things we’re passionate about.
And in the same way that it’s easier to fall in love with partners we’re intrigued by, it’s easier to fall in love with lives — and careers — that we are interested in.
Passion is our best guidepost when it comes to finding worthwhile endeavors. As Khalil Gibran put it, passion and reason operate together. Symbiotically. We need reason—perhaps even moderation—in order to navigate life’s challenges. But to figure out where to go in the first place?
That’s where passion comes in. The Passion Paradox is a good reminder that we cannot separate emotion from a well-lived life.
For though reason may be a handy rudder, passion is the sail … of your seafaring soul.
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