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Passion Must Be Actively Pursued, Not Passively Waited On — Welcome Zen Habits Readers

August 31st, 2010 · 20 comments

Passion and Minimalism

For those interested in the deep contentment of a minimalist lifestyle, few strategies work better than using a passionate pursuit to focus your attention beyond the clutter and distraction of modern life. But where do such pursuits come from? This is the topic of my recent guest post on Zen Habits, one of my favorite blogs (and the original inspiration behind my Zen Valedictorian philosophy).

The post is based off Part 1 of my new book about finding a Zen path through the college admissions process. Specifically, it details the research I discovered about how deep interests are formed. (Preview: you can’t forcefully identify them with self reflection or personality tests; you must instead expose yourself to bulk positive randomness and see what sticks.)

For Zen Habits Readers: This blog is dedicated to strategies for building a remarkable life, which I define to be one that is both remarkably accomplished and remarkably enjoyable to live. Though the site started out focused on achieving this goal as a student, I have since broadened its scope to cover all walks of life.

Here are a few highlighted articles to give you a taste of what Study Hacks has to offer. If you like what you see, consider subscribing to my feed.

Articles on Building a Remarkable Life

Articles for Students

20 thoughts on “Passion Must Be Actively Pursued, Not Passively Waited On — Welcome Zen Habits Readers

  1. Cal,

    I’ve noticed you doing a lot of guest posts. Tim Ferriss’ blog and now on Zen Habits.

    Do you accept guest posts for study hacks? I would potentially like to submit something for you.

    Cameron P.

  2. Stanley Lee says:

    I enjoyed your guest post on Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits. It’s been a long time coming for this collaboration.

  3. Stanley Lee says:

    Btw, I also saw Cameron Plommer’s question. I would also love to submit something for you (either relating the tradeoffs between grad school and entrepreneurship, or handling/dissecting clubs from my personal experience in leadership roles matching those people you dissed in your past posts and books, including a video blog presentation).

  4. Majda says:

    Geart article as always !
    I found it to be a follow-up to your very interesting article “Are Passions Serendipitously Discovered or Painstakingly Constructed?“. You seem to be a big fan of Steve Martin philosophy which you translate in powerful sentences we can take as mantras.

  5. Camila says:

    Hi Cal. I read your post “The Minimalist Guide to Cultivating Passion” in the Zen Habits newsletter and was very interested in what you had to say. Could I ask something? You started that post with a quote from Steve Martin, about how long it took him to achieve what he wanted with his passion, but the post in itself was about how to find one’s passion. Have you ever written something maybe on that point, how to deal with the time that it takes for some passions to develop (like Steve Martin’s), and how not to let one’s focus fall to the sides by everyday needs, and bills etc whilst still pursuing it?
    I’ve found my Passion. I knew what it was when I was 14 years old, I know what it’s like to have given up on it once and the price I’ve paid in my life for having give up on it (I went into depression, my life fell apart) and how I “came back from the dead” when Life itself forced me back into my Passion, but now I’m in Steve Martin’s shoes: my Passion usually takes years to be perfected and refined, and in the meantime I must pay my bills and rent, I had to move to another continent and all the issues that arise because of that (in my home country I couldn’t have a living through my Passion as its field is almost inexistent). I’m a great fan of Zen Habits as it’s been helping go through many things – at least one certainty I have: I cannot give up on my Passion again, as I know what happened to me when I tried it once, but at the same time it’s not easy to keep going, and I’ve been assaulted by thoughts that maybe I should give it up.
    Anyway, it was just something that crossed my mind. If you have already written something on it, could you please send me the link, so I can read and see if it’s good for me and my situation?
    Thanks. I’ve been going through your blog and it’s fantastic, amazing job!
    Cheers.

  6. WA says:

    I found this a rather shallow post. I do not believe that Steve Martin did nothing else than practicing standup comedy for 14 years. It’s easy to say:”Well, it took a lot of diligence to accomplish this” AFTERWARDS, but I bet that he didn’t think about that during his learnings. I can’t imagine that he never had any doubts about his path on every single morning. I mean, we talk about a timespan of fourteen years here!

    “Passion breeds simplicity” – might be true, but it is simply not a good advice for someone who has the path in front of him/her. This sounds rather like a reflection of the path taken. It’s easy to agree on it, if you experienced it the same way and I guess everybody of us has had comparable experiences. Becoming good at anything requires time, nevertheless everybody strays now and then. I think it is even important to stray, to become cluttered, distracted and unfocused. If you stay focused on one single most important thing for 14 years, you might become a master, but you also end up having a very small horizon. True art is always inspired by times of despair and doubt.

    You talk about passion at THE single thing that must be discovered ONCE and then you can hold on it for 14 years. How does that combine with the idea of being dedicated to unstructured exploration? How can you know if your initial passion is truly what you want to follow for many years? Many people discover a passion and then over time, the passion transforms to something else.

    I can’t tell what distracts me most about your post and neither can I tell what I would do differently. I just have the feeling that I didn’t like it that much.

  7. jld says:

    Off-topic for tis post but, I guess, spot on for the audience of this blog.
    A “student special” free issue of the The Psychologist magazine.
    Interestingly the advices given closely match what has appeared at StudyHacks.

  8. Sam Jackson says:

    Just swallowed my annoyance and bruised pride at your anti-Business student diatribe and bought both your college-friendly books, Straight-A Student and How to Win at College.

    Fantastic work. I read through both of them and consider it the best $20.00 I ever spent. While I wish I’d picked these up in first year, I’m still looking forward to applying all your strategies in my fourth – I’m almost tempted to go back so I can do it right. Thanks!

  9. Study Hacks says:
    Do you accept guest posts for study hacks? I would potentially like to submit something for you.

    I haven’t thought much about this, but I guess I follow the same policy as Tim and Leo: if I know you and have been linking to your work and you have an idea that seems like a great fit, then I’m happy to discuss.

    You seem to be a big fan of Steve Martin philosophy which you translate in powerful sentences we can take as mantras.

    Something about him keeps hitting me just right.

    Have you ever written something maybe on that point, how to deal with the time that it takes for some passions to develop (like Steve Martin’s), and how not to let one’s focus fall to the sides by everyday needs, and bills etc whilst still pursuing it?

    The first half of my new book is more or less on this topic: how do deep interests develop, what is it like in practice, what to expect, etc.

    I can’t imagine that he never had any doubts about his path on every single morning. I mean, we talk about a timespan of fourteen years here!

    He did have doubts — not to mention crippling anxiety attacks. But on the whole, his life was undeniably minimalist, and this came from his dedication to a single pursuit.

    How does that combine with the idea of being dedicated to unstructured exploration? How can you know if your initial passion is truly what you want to follow for many years?

    Am not a fan of the idea that there’s some “right” pursuit out there that you have to discover (and worry about missing). If something catches your attention enough to stick around and develop into a deep interest, that’s as good as anything else for building a focused, remarkable life. I think we put way too much emphasis on the what, and not nearly enough on the how, when it comes to our advocation.

    Fantastic work. I read through both of them and consider it the best $20.00 I ever spent.

    Thanks Sam! And thanks for putting up with my inexplicable anti-business major sentiments…

  10. Majda says:

    A “student special” free issue of the The Psychologist magazine.
    Interestingly the advices given closely match what has appeared at StudyHacks.

    Thanks a lot jld ! Truly intresting…

  11. Shawn Frey says:

    Great post. I found you over at Leo’s site. This is pretty much how I’ve lived my entire life as a 21-year outside sales professional. I would be interested in having a conversation with you over Skype sometime regarding the sales profession and college students.

    I think we share some common characteristics.

    All the best,
    Shawn

  12. Josh says:

    It’s unclear to me how you can say that you can disagree with “the idea that there’s some ‘right’ pursuit out there that you have to discover.”
    For instance, what if you become really passionate about the hokum that is the so-called “2012 phenomenon?” Maybe you become a huge contributor on message boards, or perhaps maintain a first-result webpage on google or somesuch. But, after the year 2012 goes by without a hitch (and I assure you, it will), what will be left of your “deep interest”?
    Or say you start a business, invest thousands of dollars and months (or even years) of effort–only to watch it collapse in the face of today’s volatile market? What then?
    Or maybe you invest decades in finding the cure for cancer, only to be beaten by some competing researcher, snatching away years of effort and making all of your work meaningless?
    Or from the time you were a little tyke you trained to join the olympic track team, only to never make it past qualifying because you got sick with malaria (cue Wilson Kipketer)?
    Or maybe you, like Maneesh, get a contract to write a book, only to have it shut down at the last minute due to a lack of funding on the part of the editor–through no fault of your own?
    Or…
    Do you see where I’m going?

    Is it really enough to invest wholeheartedly in a passionate pursuit? Obviously, without that wholeheartedness, you have no chance of success–but does it not not necessarily follow (woah, double negative there) that sufficient passion directly leads to success, as you apparently suggest? I bet there are dozens of Steve Martins (or Usain Bolts or David Villas or Steve Jobses or what have you) out there that invested years to their respective pursuits, without ever striking it rich: is the distinction between his success and their failure simply that he worked harder? Surely not. To say that would be to devalue his success. I’m not advocating for the existence of genius, but rather for the highly nebulous, multidimentional nature of success. Luck plays a bigger part than we like to believe: this is called the just world fallacy.

    Maybe there is no way to determine what will work and what will flop in terms of choosing a pursuit, but it’s a little disconcerting for you to say that such a distinction is nonexistent or irrelevant.

  13. Study Hacks says:
    “the idea that there’s some ‘right’ pursuit out there that you have to discover.”

    I think you’re misreading my statement. When I say there’s not a “right” pursuit out there for you, this doesn’t mean that any pursuit is fine. There are obviously stupid pursuits. What I mean is that there is no single “best” pursuit for you that has to be discovered. Any *reasonable* pursuit, of which there are many, is probably fine.

  14. This was a great article and I think that it addressed a feeling that many people have. It’s the feeling that everyone else seems to know exactly who he or she is. There is nothing wrong with searching. In fact I think there are many advantages to it. First of all a person trying different things and gaining exposure is not only getting in the habit of taking risk, but will have to deal with little doubt about what their passion is once they find it since they have tried so many things. This is a great way to meet people to, and this develops great skills even if a perused endeavor does not work out. Overall, much is gained from the act of doing a little searching through exposure.

  15. Jason says:

    I have a question for you:

    Every article I can think of (here and elsewhere) on life passions talks as if there is one and only one life passion (not necessarily the “best”, but the chosen) for each person, and that life with more than one seems incomprehensible. Let me tell you about myself: I have two passions. First, I have been reading and writing stories since elementary school, and now I’m working on revising my first novel. Second, after a few years of fooling around earlier, I had my first piano lesson at eight years old, and now I’m a junior in college in pursuit of a music degree. Now, I can hardly conceive of a life where I continue to pursue and succeed in both, but I can’t conceive of a life where I give up one or the other either. I know that making a choice like that would leave me feeling unfulfilled and disappointed in myself, and that I would be living with regrets for the rest of my life. But I don’t understand how to do it. I need to practice three to four hours a day on piano, and of course I have classes, homework, and one would like to think a social life too. At the moment, I’m trying to make the same commitment to writing that I do to piano and set aside daily time for writing and only writing, and I think I might be able to do it, but then will it be enough? So, I need a little help sorting things out…

  16. Mindful Mimi says:

    Hello there,
    I love your article. Passion is the secret to life.
    I have made it into a global art project where I collect people’s passions.
    I would love for your passion to be part of the project.
    Please visit
    http://www.theartofpassions.com
    for more information and participation.
    Thank you.
    Mimi

  17. Justin King says:

    @Desmond
    I’ve noticed a lot of Gen Y are…well, pretending that they know who they are and what they want. The old concept of face.

    I’m really not sure if that’s representative though. You have any thoughts?

  18. Josh says:

    I think you’re misreading my statement. When I say there’s not a “right” pursuit out there for you, this doesn’t mean that any pursuit is fine. There are obviously stupid pursuits. What I mean is that there is no single “best” pursuit for you that has to be discovered. Any *reasonable* pursuit, of which there are many, is probably fine.

    And what I was saying was that even reasonable pursuits, followed passionately and single-mindedly, do not always yield results. The 2012 example was a bad example, but the others were more what I was getting at. It seemed to me (like WA said) that you may have been taking successes and trying to generalize, without considering the nuances in each specific case.

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