While downing coffee and carrot juice (I know, odd combo) and finishing Dave Eggers’ The Circle, a modern-day 1984 of the harrowing account of what-could-be in an information age gone overboard, I began to think about one of its core topics: the behavioral allowances that people often make when they sense the presence of external eyes.
While Eggers’ novel explores the double-edged sword of the changes we enforce when our actions are transparent to others, I want to explore a derivative of this: the choice of action we are willing to take and repeat when we are not in any physical or technological spotlight.
Growing up, we develop a lot of self-delusions, including but hardly limited to:
Other people’s actions have all to do with us (when we actually play small roles in others’ movies)
Marriage and children and other life milestones will solve our problems (when they actually amplify them)
We are entitled to permanent security and pleasure (when everything is actually impermanent)
When younger, I pitied those around me looking to romantic interludes to mitigate an inner emptiness that stemmed primarily from lack of self-understanding and self-love. Unknowingly, I myself was doing the same, albeit not with the domain of romance but with that of career/passion.
If I were to express my distorted fantasies of finding/living a calling, it would sound very much like the romantic clichés I long lamented, with projections of “meant-to-be”, expectations of “and then I’ll finally be complete”, and promises of “to which I’ll dedicate everything”.
It wasn’t until these recent couple years that I became aware of my being the pot (calling the kettle…you get the idea).
I still believe in the importance of finding something that you love to do, that gives you a state of “flow”. I agree with the “PERMA” definition of happiness, created by positive psychology founder Martin Seligman, which extends happiness far beyond pleasure and immediate relief. The “E” in PERMA represents “engagement” or “flow” and denotes it as a critical factor of long-term fulfillment.
When I hear of or meet people who have found and are living their passion, I find myself distorting their relationship with their passion based on what I witnessed in the spotlight. You see, when you watch a beloved musician perform his/her chart-topper on the Grammy stage, of course it seems glorious to pursue the risks of music; when you hear a respected professor prove the importance of meaning at work on the TED stage, of course it seems glorious to pursue research; when you give a standing ovation to a photographer who reveals the outer edges of the world to convey interconnectedness at Wisdom 2.0, of course it seems glorious to explore worlds unknown.
When we hear about people’s lifelong passions, we often do so in a setting where they are being recognized, where they have something to show that they’re proud of; thus, it is too easy to romanticize that this is what living a passion looks like. In contrast, when we observe our own pursuits, we are often impatient with the rate of progress, the absence of broad recognition, the dominance of ordinary drudgery.
But what isn’t highlighted on stage is the inevitable repetition, the tornadic doubt, the creativity lulls, the social undermines, that anyone and everyone who works towards something has and will continue to encounter. In the career of the best dancer in the world, 95% is still practice.
“Living one’s dream” is rooted not on summits and pinnacles but in those ordinary moments of creating, revising, waiting, disappointing, regrouping, failing, persevering. It is rooted in the work that one chooses to do, the work that one loves to do, even when no one is bothering to watch.
It’s easy to want to love something in the spotlight, but it will never sustain, because the spotlight can never be monogamous with its subject. Genuine passion for something is being able to enjoy it as much in the spotlight as when the curtains drop.
And you know what happens when the curtains drop?