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Jennifer Howard, Ph.D. Headshot

The Secret to Sustainable Passion

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SUSTAINING PASSION

Author, philosopher and teacher Joseph Campbell said, "Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls." I often hear that passion and enthusiasm are the fuel for success, in life and in business.

Although passion can be a gateway to success and knowing our higher purpose, it seems that many people today talk as if passion will ensure one's success. It sounds as if they they've put passion on a pedestal and want passion alone to sustain them.

I can agree with Carmine Gallo in his article in Business Week called "Why Your Business Should Be Your Passion," when he says that "all the successful business stars are passionate about their product, service, company, or cause." And yes, "they went with the feeling in their gut -- and made a business out of the one thing that consumed their thoughts." That is very important, but is it all they needed?

The American Heritage Dictionary tells us that passion is a powerful emotion or appetite, such as anger, greed, love, joy or hatred. Like fervor, passion can imply an overwhelming, highly intense emotion that denotes boundless enthusiasm.

Recently, on a blog here on The Huffington Post, author Les McKeown addressed the role of passion in business as a fickle companion to success. Passion, he said, is "largely fiction," "gets in the way," and "doesn't get the job done." He asked the question, "Have you ever actually worked with somebody who is driven, night and day, by raw passion? It's tiresome in the extreme and highly ineffective." Seen only in that light, passion seems almost a frantic mania. It implies a loss of control. When using this passion as our single driving force, people find themselves burned out.

McKeown went on to tell us that highly successful people are that way because "they're brilliantly competent, not because they're passionate." He makes an excellent point. Passion by itself does not ensure success. But I believe there's more to passion than pedestals, fiction or drama, and I'd like to address that missing piece.

Passion can be a tool, a way of indicating whether we're aligned with our higher goal or purpose. We can ask ourselves if we feel excitement and congruence with this idea or that project. It can be motivational and inspiring, and it's a great launching point. When we're excited and enthused about an idea, we're more likely to put that idea into action. Reconnecting with our "why" or the reason that we started doing this in the first place can reignite us when inertia and/or doubt gets a grip on us.

Here's the problem I see: we can't rely upon raw passion by itself to sustain our efforts over time, because like all emotions, it will come and go. Can passion effectively fuel our desire? Absolutely. Is it sustainable? I don't think so.

Professor James Womack, biologist and author, says, "Commitment unlocks the doors of imagination, allows vision, and gives us the 'right stuff' to turn our dreams into reality."

While passion can point us in the right direction and keep the heart fires burning, it's commitment that underlies all successful endeavors. Without it, we just can't get much done. It's the commitment to ourselves, our businesses, our families, our communities, our higher good, our word, our learning and growing that keeps us steady in times of difficulties. This steady course paves the road to competency. Our commitment to being our best propels the drive to be proficient.

Commitment doesn't always feel good; in fact, it's not a feeling at all but a state of being. It's our pledge to ourselves. When resistance rears up (and of course it will), it's "being" committed to our work that propels us toward meeting our goals. It has us put one foot in front of the other when we're feeling tired or discouraged. We're far more productive when our actions aren't strictly dictated by our transient feelings or emotions. It's our determination and stick-to-it-ness that fuels our success.

Football Coach Vince Lombardi said, "The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor."

McKeown writes that passion isn't necessary. "But my muffler replacement guy, no thanks. I just want him to be competent." Sure, I want my muffler guy to be competent, but I also want him to enjoy his job. If he has no enthusiasm for his work, he could be distracted by his own dissatisfaction.

Passion helps us accelerate. We can work with the energy passion gives us and move ourselves into position while infusing our goals with vitality. It's our commitment that sustains us over time so that we steadily build the skill and competency that will ultimately bring us success.

With commitment as its companion, passion can wax and wane in its intensity yet, at the same time, always hold a flicker of our fire and deeper purpose. This is the secret to sustainable passion.

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