Every passion comes with a degree of obsession.
It’s a mythical presumption we take for granted when we talk about Tesla, Einstein, Jobs, and Curie. It’s an aura that follows their portfolios like a facet of their personality inseparable from the work they’ve done. The association between a near obsessive pursuit of perfection and footsteps that change the world is so commonplace in the stories we tell about the people and the events through history. We tell ourselves, the crazy ones, the ones who think they can change the world, are the ones who do. We tell ourselves, the world is so saturated with mediocrity, it takes an extraordinary idea and pursuit of excellence to break through the mundane. We tell ourselves, to do something great, and to make it count, it takes something superhuman. It’s the legend of the divine genius. Just being good at it won’t do.
At least, that’s the legend.
But for nearly everyone else in the world, being pushed through life by the superhuman drive to perfection and a passion for ideological excellence is just a fairy tale. Most of us aren’t gifted with a Jobsian ability to lead, nor are we born with a natural knack for programming or a Mozart-esque musical faculty. Most of us walk through the labyrinth of circadian cycles because that’s the status quo. And that’s fine.
But even for us mere mortals, there are the few moments when an idea hooks us. Once in a while, we’ll have an idea so tempting that the thought of it seemingly consumes us every spare moment of every day. I’d bet that you’ve had quite a few of those – an idea or an experience that consumes your every moment with the thought of it. It’s not a rational behavior, but it’s an emotional one, to be consumed by an idea or an activity. These unremarkable obsessions are what gives runners the final rush to finish a race with nothing else left on their minds, programmers the ability to code for half a dozen hours to finish a project without a visible end to their problems, or musicians the perseverance to perform with every ounce of their passion through an exhaustingly long performance. For the least creative and the least gifted of us, there are times when we’re taken with an idea.
These bursts of obsession we find once in a while, whether from deadlines, anxiety, or from some mysterious primal part of us within, aren’t normal motivation.
Normal, everyday motivation is what we summon to wake up in the morning for work we don’t quite love. It’s what we call on to finish a resume or a college application. It’s what keeps us practicing our drills or our etudes every day. It’s what keeps us going. It’s ordinary, and it’s helpful, but it doesn’t do much beyond that.
Ordinary motivation will help you get to work on time, but it won’t put you on the front page of TIME. It’ll help you go to college, but it won’t make you a Fortune 500 CEO. It’ll get you a good life. But it won’t make it an exceptional one.
If you’re okay with the comfort of the average, alright. You do you. But I find it quite boring.
We can’t live straight-up without the normal kind of motivation. We can’t pick-and-choose the experiences we get in our lives to our ideal images of them like your perfectly filtered and ideally angled Instagram pictures. Motivation is good. They’re good at getting things done and getting you to bed and waking up right every day. But when you want to really push things forward, when you want to shape the world around you to your ideas, you need something more.
Before we were asked to bend our expectations of reality to reality, before we were forced to see that there was nothing beyond or outside of the boring every-day-ness of the world, we had this idea of a “dream”. “What’s your dream?” we asked each other. Some wanted to be astronauts, others wanted to cure cancer, and others, to change the world. They were grand, unrealistic, and fantastic, in every sense of the word. But grab a typical 17-year old from the street corner and ask the same question, and the question usually leads to a talk of college choices and potential career options. Nobody wants to change the world, nobody wants to be a firefighter, nobody wants to live on Mars. What a shame.
What a shame. Why do we give up those unrealistic dreams so easily? Why don’t we follow them up with unprecedented enthusiasm and great ideas? Say what you will, I think those dreams are still worth pursuing. Call them unrealistic; call them a waste of time. If I dream higher, I’ll still end up better than your dreams. Literally.
But to work towards those dreams, we can’t just be motivated. For those insane goals, we need the same kind of drive that pushes athletes and artists along. We need that obsessive passion.
And don’t tell me only the top 1% of the best in the world can have that drive, because it doesn’t work that way, and we’ve already been over this. How does the saying go? The only thing keeping you from being better is your belief that you can’t be. Something like that.
There’s motivation, and then there’s passion. The drive that doesn’t just motivate you, but takes you and consumes your self with the idea of your dreams. Our expectations of who we’re going to be in a few years, or tomorrow, is limited far more than anything else by our decision of whether or not we trust our lives in the hands of the ideas and things that we’re passionate and enthusiastic about.
Let your ideas take you, as if you mind is intoxicated with the idea of a better future than you think possible. I, for one, do.
If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy my next post, Taking a break.
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