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How To Live Your Passion: Stop Confusing Hobbies with Passions

I admit I once grew tired of people telling me:  “live your passion.”   Of all the vague, dime-store psychology directives, that is possibly the least useful.  What does it mean to ‘live your passion’?  What is a passion?  What would it look like to ‘live’ one?  Cut the fluff.  I need concrete steps, not poster-speak.

Passions are often confused with hobbies, but there is a critical difference.  A hobby is “a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.”

Passions, on the other hand, are not relaxing.  Passions don’t leave you alone.  Passions insert themselves into your life whether you have time for them or not.   Passions soothe you and drive you crazy at the same time.

We think of a passion as something we love, an overwhelming feeling of devotion and obsession.  But in older English, ‘passion’ also meant ‘suffering‘.  And even now, passions will exact a high price from us – but one we never seem to mind paying.

So the question of finding your passion is not discovering what you like, but what you would be willing to suffer for to keep doing.

Yes, hobbies can turn into passions, but a mere hobby won’t provide the drive and determination and fight necessary to do something for a living.  A hobbyist photographer will love the click of the shutter and the magic of a great image.  A passionate photographer will continue to pursue that magic despite bad days, early mornings, tough clients, expensive equipment, depleted savings, hours of editing, workflow minutiae, business headaches, and all other things that would stop a hobbyist in their tracks.

You know you’ve found your passion when you will continue to pursue it despite what it may cost you.

Passions are powerful, so you think they’d be easy to identify.  They are not.  We may live and breathe them, but we may give no thought to them the way we give no thought to the air around us.  You can’t see a passion just like you can’t see wind – you have to search for what it moves you to do.

For a long time I thought that because I was a whiz at studying, school must be my passion.  Psychology interested me, so I thought I should become a psychology professor.  I was wrong on both counts.

Why didn’t I notice that I had to cram for exams sophomore year because I’d spent all semester documenting Yale with my camera rather than studying?  Why didn’t I notice that I’d race home from my psychology internship in Germany and spend hours – HOURS – uploading my latest travel photos to a blog via dial-up connection?  Why didn’t I notice that I’d write a research paper as quickly as humanly possible – then stay up into the night perfecting a blog post with excruciating care?  Why wasn’t it obvious what I was and was not willing to endure sleep deprivation for?

But you don’t notice – you just DO. 

And that’s the critical part.  So, what do you spend hours doing?  What are you willing to sacrifice time, money, sleep, and vacation for?  What can’t you stay away from?  That is your passion.  If your work is not your passion, then your passion is what makes you late for work.  It’s what makes you rush through everything so you can get back to your passion.

Passions grip you.  You’re going to live them anyway, so you might as well do them for a living.

We’ll talk more about how to put that into action this week.

Heather - Just about everything you post has me scurrying to Facebook to spread a quote from you. Thank you so much for sharing all this with us!!
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Jenika - Thanks Heather! You’re so kind. :-) I wish you a happy and successful New Year!

Kelli - Love this post! I have never stopped to think about it, but now this makes perfect sense why it took me so many tries to find the right career…I kept thinking about what I was good at instead of what I was passionate about.

I can’t remember where I read this, but recently I read somewhere that to succeed in this business you have to love photography so much you cannot NOT do it. And that’s how I see my passion- to not photograph is more painful than all the nights staying up late, the worrying, the stress, and all put together.
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Jenika - Yeah!! Your comment has me grinning.

And you bring up a good issue – these things take TIME. It’s totally okay if you don’t get it right the first career try. Most people don’t! (I was down the road 7 years on one path when I made a switch toward my passion.)

What’s important is that you don’t let inertia take over and stay there if you’re not happy. Congratulations on finding what you love to do. :-)

Beryl - Yes yes yes! I found myself nodding along with this entire post. I’ve been struggling with this process for about 2 years now. I thought I had passion, but I was chasing it in a completely wrong direction. I FINALLY figured that out last spring and now I feel such a sense of clarity, drive, determination, and excitement that wasn’t there before. Passion is certainly a sneaky little beast too. Because like you have alluded to, once it grips you, it doesn’t let go!
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Jenika - I’m thrilled for you, Beryl, that you found what you want to do. It’s a GREAT feeling! Best wishes for a successful 2012 and beyond!

Sarah Irani - YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! I keep telling people that sculpture is not fun. Fun is sitting around watching the Big Bang Theory, XC skiing, or out at a party with friends. I HAVE to make sculptures or else they pursue me.

Jenika - Sculpture? COOL! :-) That’s awesome. And so great to meet another person who feels the same way. Happy new year, Sarah!

michelle carrillo - wow wow wow. thank you soooo much. There are days when I struggle, and even more days when I ask myself WHAT-THE-HECK-AM-I-DOING?! And I ask myself if I should continue to do what I do. And the answer is always a resounding YES! Through blood (yes, I’ve bled for my craft), sweat and lots & lots of tears… I’ve struggled and celebrated and done more than my share of happy dances. I’m not near where I actually want to be with my business, but I can tell you it definitely IS a business (and not a hobby), and the whole EXPERIENCE is a passion of mine. I love the feeling of leaving a photoshoot even more inspired than when I started. And rushing home knowing I SHOULD relax, but unable to. And tearing up when I see the moments I captured. I barely sleep, I work two jobs, but THIS is what I want to do. And I won’t give it up.

Jenika - What an overwhelmingly awesome note – thanks Michelle. It’s so amazing to watch someone come alive when they talk about something they LOVE. We should all aspire to find something we love as much as you love your work. Thanks for the inspiration! :-)

Gabrielle Bass - You are my new favorite blog to read! So inspirational and filled with good information. If you haven’t written a book, you should.

Jenika - Thank you Gabrielle! Your comment made me grin :-) Keep your eye out in 2012, there’s goodies coming….

Concrete Girl: Positive Rejections - How To Write A Book Proposal | How To Write A Book Proposal - […] friend of mine posted an article from this website –> and in reading this I realized that writing is not my hobby, it is my […]

Jean Huang Photography - Awww… Jenika, I so love the post and especially these two sentences: “If your work is not your passion, then your passion is what makes you late for work. It’s what makes you rush through everything so you can get back to your passion.”

In my past life, I complained about working long hours and late in my (seemingly successful) corporate life. And I’m only finding myself staying into later hours at times and still get up the next morning all energetic. :-)

I’m also juggling my photography business with another gig. And you are so right, I’m rushing through this other gig to make time for photography.

What can I say? I’ve subscribed to your posts and loved your website as well.
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Jenika - Hi Jean! Thank you for the kind comment :-D I’m so happy that you found something that your’e so passionate about. It makes life so much more fulfilling – crazy, and perhaps sleep deprived – but fulfilling. ;-) Keep up the awesome work! Thanks for reading!! High fives!

Anna - Thank you so much for such fantastic and inspiring posts! As I was reading through this post, I had a little chuckle to myself because I was actually trying to stay awake to read and research more about my passion! I know I’ll be tired at work tomorrow but it’s all worth it! :)

Rach - You have an incredible way of words …you speak with such clarity. You hit it on the nose with EVERYTHING you wrote here and it really opened my eyes

Jenika - Thanks Rach! I appreciate your comment. I’m so glad you found it clear and useful. :-) Thanks for making me smile!

Peter Dressler - I appreciate and understand the difference between passion and hobbies. I’m convinced you’re right about passions being difficult to identify. A big reason for the difficulty is that popular wisdom and our educational systems don’t seem to understand or cultivate the mindset required to find ones passion. Thus the unfulfilled individual is left to find his calling on his (or her) own. Thanks for sharing the precious insight you gained through your struggle.

Kiprop Kiprotich - Finally, I now know the difference. Thanks so much for your guide.
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Sara - But… what if I don’t have a passion? Or, what if my “passion” is just playing around on the internet? Ever since I got sort of addicted to the internet, I guess my hobbies and passions kind of faded and got replaced… In my case, my passions and hobbies (yes, they happened to be both) were drawing and reading. Now, I can only say they are possible hobbies.. But, I’m at that time in my life where I have to decide what path I’m going to take in life (college, university) and I don’t know if the decision I’ve made is the right one. I applied to several art school (because that is what I do best). But, over the past few years, I’ve slowly stopped doing art (HOWEVER! I still like it and get sucked into it when I do it, it’s just that I never know what to draw, what to drop everything and just do it, etc…). I’m so confused and worried, and… ARRRGGHH!

*sob* I need HEEEELLLP! *sob* :-(

Sorry for the super long rant. By the way, awesome post. It actually helped be a bit (though it made me even more uncertain and worried…).

Ben - I’m so glad I found this, I’m really struggling with my passion right now. You describe it perfectly. Thank you

Suzanne - Lovely Jenika,

I think this is my favorite post to date.


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yanex - I totally agree. I really appreciate this. But can I add something? Passion is not just what you really love doing but it also needs your talent or skills otherwise; it is a hobby. For example if a person really loves music but does not have the talent, this would mean that music is not his passion but his hobby. If you believe that you have what it takes to succeed in that field of passion, (talent or skills, time and energy) then you are in the right path. Am I right? Because I honestly am afraid that I don’t have enough talent for my passion.

Jenika - Hi Yanex – I’m not totally sure I understand what you’re getting at, so help me out here. Are you saying that for your passion you need to already possess skill necessary to succeed? Because skill develops anytime you spend a good deal of time doing something, which is what passion drives you to do. For example, if I spend 10 hours a week taking photos of fire hydrants, I will inevitably get better at taking photos of fire hydrants. Same for virtually anything – sewing, cooking, engineering, sales – if you spend enough time doing something you get used to it and almost inevitably get better/faster at it. I think that there are relatively few things where lack of natural talent is a barrier (perhaps in singing, or certain kinds of athletics – without a certain level of biological advantage maybe you will never reach the upper echelons, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get better at it). Most of the time “I don’t have the talent” is an excuse not to spend time improving. I don’t think you typically need innate skill or talent to succeed, though it certainly helps. I should also add that I don’t think you need to be the best in the world at something to “succeed.” I am not the best writer in the world, nor the most innately talented – and yet here I am, writing. It’s one of the foundational things my career is built on. And that came from just spending a lot of time reading and writing.

Bubs - Hey Jenika, i came across your post and loved it. It’s 200% true. You live your passions. The difficult part (for me) is being able to find a way to live on my passion financially. I’m actually struggling with that and that’s how I came across your post. I’m glad you have succeeded to do what you love and it’s a treat to do that!

Have a good weekend!

Ararya - Thank you! A sincere one, from the heart. You made things really clear.

Conner MacDonald - You perfectly described the difference. I’m a cartoonist, at least its my passion. Last night my girlfriend called it a hobby, and its the only time shes ever insulted me. She didn’t understand why.

She compared it to playing video games. Its something done to pass time for enjoyment. When I pointed out that I don’t do it for enjoyment, I do it because I feel the NEED to, she revised it as, its a hobby as long as you aren’t making money off it.

So I brought up the example of musicians who spend nights going form open mike to open mike, not making a dime. She called this a hobby.

She calls the countless hours of hard work, that I have to push myself to do despite myself, despite WANTING time for my hobbies. Just another hobby.

Shirley Brittenum - Hi Jenika,
Great for you. It is important to pursue the talent that comes natural to you. It can be a career for you. I did not learn this until later in life.

I love photography. I have taken pictures since I was a child. However, I never understood the value of my creative art. Many years later, I see that my art is important. I am pursuing writing and photography. Those talents are natural to me. Be Blessed, Shirley

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