How should we define ourselves? What describes our self-worth?
When I was young, the answers to these questions were external. It was the culture of the time. A person’s worth – their success – was defined by their job, their ability to provide for their family, their skill at raising children that fit easily into society, and how well you fit into the category of “Citizen”. Are you a contributor? Do you create and raise other contributors?
Yes, you could have diversions like art or music or reading or games, but you were strongly encouraged to keep them where they belonged — behind closed doors. During that time, to place a diversion above the “important things in life” would shine a spotlight on you, and not in a good way. It would easily label you as abnormal, as odd, and might even repel others from interacting with you because they didn’t want to catch your abnormality (as if it were a flu bug).
So, to be obviously passionate about work or family or church or (depending on the city you live in) the local sports team, these were acceptable. Anything else was a risk.
Of course, time has severely changed this mindset. But… for the better?
Instead of writing a long thesis on the topic, I’m just going to cut to the chase and tell you what I believe – what I’ve always believed.
I strongly believe that every person needs at least one thing to be passionate about; something that occupies much of their waking hours, and perhaps even their sleeping hours as well. The passion for this ‘thing’ must be strong enough to get you out of bed on most mornings, and it should be something that you constantly want to improve. As an old instructor once told me, “It should be something that takes a lifetime and a day to perfect.”
I strongly suggest, though, that we have more than one passion. From experience, the strength of a person’s passion can ebb and surge – often unpredictably. For example: When I was young, my passion for music was all-consuming. I wanted to learn to play every instrument possible. I wanted to write a million songs. I wanted to learn how to use all of the recording equipment at the time and use them in ways never thought of before. But complications of life, of love, stripped me of that passion for many years. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just happened. Suddenly, my love of music was gone. (A story for another time.)
Fortunately, at that time, I had other passions: my love of martial arts, my interest in drawing, my overwhelming need to improve and refine my body; my growing passion for history. Although I severely felt the initial void left by the disappearance of my passion for music, that emptiness was quickly filled by other passions.
We live in a world that constantly tries to take away our passions. It regularly tries to dump the weight of cultural norms of today onto us to crush our personal passions. It tests us and rejects us and judges us, but those things only work if we let them. I choose not to take life’s tests. I reject the rejection of others. I refuse to be judged by those whose opinions mean nothing to me.
Today is a world where everyone has the ability to express their opinions – their beliefs – so forcefully, that it’s easy to feel moved by them. Today is an era of entitlement. People believe their views about you and others truly matter. If they twist you into accepting their beliefs or if you are damaged by their criticisms, they feel they’ve won. If they strip you of your passion, they celebrate loud enough for the world to hear.
Please… identify your passions. Then… protect them. Chase them. Embrace them tightly. They make life worth living.