The coauthors of the bestselling Peak Performance dive into the fascinating science behind passion, showing how it can lead to a rich and meaningful life while also illuminating the ways in which it is a double-edged sword. Here’s how to cultivate a passion that will take you to great heights—while minimizing the risk of an equally great fall.
Common advice is to find and follow your passion. A life of passion is a good life, or so we are told. But it's not that simple. Rarely is passion something that you just stumble upon, and the same drive that fuels breakthroughs—whether they're athletic, scientific, entrepreneurial, or artistic—can be every bit as destructive as it is productive. Yes, passion can be a wonderful gift, but only if you know how to channel it. If you're not careful, passion can become an awful curse, leading to endless seeking, suffering, and burnout.
Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness once again team up, this time to demystify passion, showing readers how they can find and cultivate their passion, sustainably harness its power, and avoid its dangers. They ultimately argue that passion and balancethat other virtue touted by our cultureare incompatible, and that to find your passion, you must lose balance. And that's not always a bad thing. They show readers how to develop the right kind of passion, the kind that lets you achieve great things without ruining your life. Swift, compact, and powerful, this thought-provoking book combines captivating stories of extraordinarily passionate individuals with the latest science on the biological and psychological factors that give rise to—and every bit as important, sustain—passion.
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About the Author
BRAD STULBERG researches, writes, speaks, and coaches on health and human performance. His coaching practice includes working with athletes, entrepreneurs, and executives on their mental skills and overall wellbeing. He is a columnist at Outside Magazine and has written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Wired, Forbes and The Los Angeles Times. Previously, Stulberg worked as a consultant for McKinsey and Company, where he counseled some of the world's top executives on a broad range of issues. An avid athlete and outdoor enthusiast, Stulberg lives in Northern California with his wife, son, and two cats. Follow him on Twitter @Bstulberg.
STEVE MAGNESS is a coach to some of the top distance runners in the world, having coached numerous athletes to Olympic trials, world championship teams, and the Olympics. Known widely for his integration of science and practice, Steve has been on the forefront of innovation in sport. He has been a featured expert in Runner’s World, the New York Times, the New Yorker, BBC, the Wall Street Journal, and ESPN The Magazine. His first book, The Science of Running, was published in 2014. He lives in Houston, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @SteveMagness.
Read an Excerpt
Passion Must Be Handled with Care
“Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate. The world doesn’t need any more gray. On the other hand, we can’t get enough color. Mediocrity is nobody’s goal, and perfection shouldn’t be either. We’ll never be perfect. But remember these three P’s: Passion plus persistence equals possibility.”
—Jon Bon Jovi, 2001 commencement address, Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey1
Odds are, the passion described by Bon Jovi—the wholehearted pursuit of an activity with enthusiasm, fire, and zeal—is the kind with which you’re familiar. It’s celebrated widely and encouraged in nearly all settings, from the classroom to the workplace to the playing field. If you could just discover your passion and pursue it, the story goes, everything else will fall into place. But in reality, it doesn’t always work like that. Even if you find a passion to pursue, you’re probably not given much, if any, guidance on what happens next. While there are plenty of voices telling you to find your passion, there are hardly any telling you how to be passionate.
The seemingly straight line to success, happiness, and fulfillment that passion promises is almost always a more complicated route littered with potential wrong turns. In the words of Elon Musk, Silicon Valley mogul and founder of Tesla and SpaceX, “The reality is great highs, terrible lows, and unrelenting stress.”2 Consider just a few of the negative paths that passion can lead you down:
• You become a slave to external results and validation. Following early success, the desire for more—more money, more fame, more followers—can easily take over. Your initial passion for doing an activity turns into a passion for achievement and results. You tie your self-worth to external validation, and the experience of a failure, or even just a plateau of moderate success, becomes devastating, rattling you to the core. Your enjoyment decreases (at best) and you become anxious, depressed, and unethical (at worst).
• You become blind to everything but your passion. You throw yourself so fully into a pursuit that you neglect everything outside it. Your marriage falls apart. Your children grow up without you realizing it. You ignore your health. You may feel good in the moment—after all, you are consumed by something you love—but years pass and you look back with regret on how you spent your time.
• You burn out. Surrendering completely to passion may work for a day, a month, or even a year. But if left unchecked, most passions burn bright and burn short. It’s not that you don’t want to pace yourself, but simply that you can’t. You’re far too overwhelmed by the acute pull of passion to realize the emotional and physical effort you are putting forth may be unsustainable. Before you know it, you run out of energy. What could have been a lifetime of passion and meaningful work instead looks more like a short bout of reckless excitement.
• You lose joy. There is also a risk that your passion’s spark will dim slowly over time. A familiar story goes like this: You turn what started off as a wonderful hobby into a job (Blessed!); then you realize that what once was a wonderful hobby soon starts to feel like a job (This isn’t what I thought it would be like); and it’s not long before you start to question how something you once loved can seem like a chore (How on earth did this happen?). Though you never thought such a turn was possible, you come to dread your passion.
There is, of course, a different—and far better—kind of passion. It emerges when you become wrapped up in an activity primarily for the joy of doing the activity itself. When you experience success with humility and failure with temperate resolve. When your goal becomes your path and your path becomes your goal. When your passion is fueled by deep purpose and is in harmony with the rest of your life. When you practice mindful self-awareness to pierce through the tidal inertia that passion can create, giving you control over your passion so your passion doesn’t control you. When you feel alive not just for a few months or years but for an entire career or lifetime. This is the passion we all crave. This is the best kind of passion.
Almost all passions begin as enthusiastic pursuits. No one wants to burn out, throw their lives out of balance, or lose joy. Passion’s positive and negative paths—the good and bad kind of passion—arise from the same place; it’s just that if you don’t proactively prevent passion from veering off course, it’s likely to do so, oftentimes without you even realizing it. Put differently, passion is fragile, and it must be handled with care. This is why research shows that passion isn’t just linked to happiness, health, performance, and life satisfaction, but also to anxiety, depression, burnout, and unethical behavior.
Though lots has been written on how to find your passion, much of it is misguided, rife with clichés while short on evidence. And, as you’re starting to see, finding your passion is only half the battle anyway. Knowing how to sustain and channel it in a productive and healthy manner is the other—and equally important—half. Unfortunately, that half is rarely, if ever, discussed. As a result, far too often passion goes awry and people suffer from some version of the negative repercussions described above. This book aims to change that. To show you how you can find and cultivate passion and how you can manage its immense power for good. We’ll show you that what direction your passion takes is a choice, not a predetermined destiny. We’ll give you practical tools to ensure that your passion burns bright, long, and in harmony with the rest of your life. And we’ll do this without using trite clichés that dominate so many other books about this topic. We’ll be authentic and honest, bringing to bear not only the latest scientific evidence but also the thinking of some of the world’s most considerate poets and philosophers.
In order to achieve this goal, we’ll undergo a thorough exploration of passion. We’ll examine both the biological and psychological drivers that give rise to passion, as well as the stories of extraordinarily passionate individuals. Some of these stories will be positive, like those of Olympic swimming star Katie Ledecky and investor Warren Buffett; others will be cautionary tales, like those of the fraudulent businessman Jeffrey Skilling of Enron and baseball cheat Barry Bonds. We’ll question the merits of living a “balanced” life, explore how self-awareness prevents future regret, and discuss the importance of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. We’ll learn that passion is not an emotion that should be left to its own devices but rather one that should be harnessed with deliberate intention. But before we do any of that, in order to lay the groundwork for how we can live with the best kind of passion, we must first gain an understanding of its roots. We’ll start by traveling back in time to a distant yesterday, when the notion of passion first emerged.
• Everyone tells us to find our passion but no one tells us how to find it, let alone how to live with it.
• While most passions start off as positive endeavors, they often take turns for the worse.
• If you don’t proactively manage your passion, you put yourself at risk for:
− Becoming a slave to external validation and results.
− Loss of joy.
• If you do proactively manage your passion, however, living with passion leads to improved health, happiness, and overall life-satisfaction.
• In other words, there is both good passion and bad passion. And what direction your passion takes is largely up to you.
1. C. Jordan, “Gown Alert: Bon Jovi to Address Rutgers-Camden Commencement,” app., April 3, 2015, http://www.app.com/story/entertainment/2015/04/03/gown-alert-bon-jovi-to-address-rutgers-camden-commencement/70873794/.
2. Elon Musk (@elonmusk), “The reality is great highs, terrible lows, and unrelenting stress. Don’t think people want to hear about the last two,” Twitter, July 30, 2017, 1:23 p.m.,https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/891710778205626368.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Why A Book about Passion? 9
1 Passion Must Be Handled With Care 13
2 The Origins of Passion: A Brief History of Suffering and Love 18
3 Find and Grow Your Passion 35
4 When Passion Goes Awry 57
6 The Illusion of Balance 107
7 Self-Awareness and the Power to Choose 122
8 Moving On: How to Transition from a Passion with Grace and Grit 144
Conclusion: Living Productively With Passion 162