Do a quick YouTube search for graduation speeches and enjoy your endless supply of messaging that revolves around “following your passion”. Maybe an alum who has made it big time or the ultimate celebrity that speaks only gospel truth is more than happy to tell us the key to success is passion.
Lewis Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) won three national championships playing basketball for UCLA and legendary coach, John Wooden (who won 11 out of 13 championships). In college, famously, Alcindor always summarized his coach with one word: dispassionate.
Author on Stoicism, Ryan Holiday, frequently uses the above example to explain the detriment of passion.
Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, eluded to something similar in his journal, Meditations:
“…to be free of passion and yet full of love.”
The Aurelius reference is what interests me the most and is endlessly applicable to many areas of our lives – which are full of paradoxes, predicaments, and places where we straddle the line. That’s the game, after all. How do we separate ‘love’ and ‘passion’, Marcus? Aren’t they in the same family?
Interestingly, I think living a life ‘full of love’ lends itself to being ‘dispassionate’ – which may seem counter intuitive.
If we define love as something unconditional, committed, and without contingency – it becomes very dispassionate. We aren’t attached to outcomes. “I love you if…” goes away. And, it’s simply, “I love”. With this definition of love, we’re freed from our temporary positive and negative emotions. There’s no roller coaster, nothing to react to. It just is.
This isn’t about not caring and being emotionless. This is about selflessly doing the work and not expecting an outcome. This is what Marcus Aurelius and Coach Wooden had down. Doing things the right way would inevitably serve others and make lives better. Worrying about outcomes was pointless to them.
Curiously, in this domain, we end up caring even more since we’re free from distractions – as our attention shifts to our discipline and away from the result. We become liberated to care about what’s important: the way we conduct ourselves, not what we achieve or acquire.
Praise from followers and winning national championships were nice little by-products in the feedback loop. These were affirmation, but not the purpose. Aurelius and Wooden were dispassionate towards their goals and in love with the manner in which they served.
So what about our wealth?
It’s likely better advice to a young person to spend time identifying their skills that allow them to best serve, more so than identifying their passion. Passions are short lived, and you’ll never develop the fortitude necessary if constantly chasing a passion. What is not short lived is teaching a young person how to develop a service attitude. That long-term outlook yields joy in infinite ways.
It’s also likely that a successful entrepreneur or high-ranking employee should distance themselves from outcomes (i.e. sales goals, revenue numbers, making a boss happy). Neem Karoli Baba always told his followers, “Spend less time seeking water and work on acquiring thirst. Then, water will rush from above and below.” Or: focus on the purpose and less on the accomplishment.
And, it’s also likely that pre-retirees and retirees should be dispassionate about their rate of return (an outcome). The focus is on asset allocation, the purpose of our money, living within our means, and our willingness to accept risk. Beyond that, our passions of fear and greed guide the way.
This is not an excuse to not know your numbers, not an advocacy to care less, or to be some stick in the mud.
This is urging to care even more by making room and creating bandwidth to do so. This is also encouragement to consider what is temporary – like our feelings of excitement, happiness, sadness, fear, and anger.
This is a plea “to be free from passion and yet full of love”.
Stay calm. Stay invested.
Thanks for reading,