What are you passionate about?
It is a loaded question. The first implication being that passion is missing. It implies disapproval. That the passion is misguided or unacceptable. It says, maybe you think it’s passion, but it’s not. It says, you won’t go anywhere in life without passion. It says, you don’t seem to love anything.
My parents asked me this question when I was 15 or 16. I don’t fully remember the context. I would guess that in my adolescence I lacked…direction. Discipline. Focus. This is a common, albeit frustrating, quality of most teenagers. My parents clearly felt that I needed to think about what I was doing. Where I was going. And maybe, why I was.
It worked. 25 years later and the question still echoes in my memory. It drives me. It haunts me.
We all have stories that we tell ourselves about childhood. Some are good. Comforting stories, recalled frequently and with laughter. Some are ugly. Those stories are stamped quietly on our world, shading it with depth. Scars that remind us how to survive. And then, some are just details. Stories that are neither good nor bad. They just are. They live between the boundaries, giving us a backdrop. They are the canvas upon which we paint.
Over two decades ago, this memory provided me with a canvas. One that I thought remained blank. A question I couldn’t answer back then. One that I still can’t answer, even after all these years. This memory– this question that I constantly ask myself — it makes me feel unsettled. Unfinished. It makes me feel incomplete. As if I am still missing something. I’m still not getting it. Passion is the mark against which I measure everything I do and most of the time I worry that I’m missing the mark.
What are you afraid of?
Second question. I’m suddenly right back at that big wooden dining table. Staring blankly at my parents’ concerned faces. Impatient. Defensive. Insecure. The answer hits me like a truck. I’m afraid that I will never know what I’m passionate about. I’m scared that I am not passionate about anything. That I haven’t the capacity for passion. That fear stops me dead in my tracks. It blocks me. It is a prison. Down, down it takes me into the chasm of self-doubt.
What if you tell a different story?
Third question. It has taken me many years and much self-reflection to get to this question. Call it maturity or experience. Or maybe exhaustion. Exhaustion from telling these stories the way I tell them. Exhaustion from believing the stories and being trapped by them. What if I tell a different story? Paint a different picture? If I let it be neither good nor bad. If I let it be background. Just let it be. Let it be.
Then I see that the canvas isn’t blank at all. It never was. It is rich with color. There are highlights and low lights. Vibrant greens, striking reds and deep velvety blacks. Not a single hue, but many. I am alive with color in this version of the story. And I am choosing this version.
I posted a quote recently that my dad had taped to his desk in his office for many years.
“I do not know what is right, all I know is whom I love and how far I have to go before there is no one left whom I do not love.” (Barbara Brown Taylor Christian Century)
I do not know what the right answer to the first question is. Or if there is one. But I know what I love. I know there is so much in this world to love. I love my tribe. I love words. I love music. I love gardens and growth and life. I love learning and listening and talking. I love stories.
This list goes on. I hope that I never get to the end of it. I hope that I never answer the question “what are you passionate about?” My passion extends to every moment. And it is boundless.
So, I ask you a question…What if you tell a different story?