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There’s a fascinating discussion about the most recent Michael Hyatt episode of Mac Power Users over in the MPU forum where a couple fo listeners started responding to what Michael Hyatt calls his Freedom Compass. Michael talks about it in his new book, Free to Focus, but the TL;DR from the podcast episode is this:

Everything you do can be broken down into one of four quadrants:

  1. The Desire Zone – Things that you are passionate about and proficient in
  2. The Distraction Zone – Things that you are passionate about but not proficient in
  3. The Disinterest Zone – Thing that you are proficient in but not passionate about
  4. The Drudgery Zone – Things that you are neither passionate about or proficient in

It’s an interesting mental model, and I mostly agree with Michael’s argument that if you are able to align the things you care deeply about with the things that you are good at, that is where the magic happens. The one thing I would nitpick here is the use of the word passion.

This was the thing that got a few listeners hung up as well. The response from some people was, “that’s great for Michael, but I have a day job that I can’t stand. I don’t have the privilege of choosing to work on things that I’m passionate about.”

I completely understand this response, but I believe that both Michael Hyatt when explaining his Freedom Compass and the listener stuck in a soul-sucking day job don’t quite do the word justice.

While doing research for my course, I discovered that the root of the word passion is the Latin word pati, which literally means, “to suffer.”

This flies in the face of what most people think of when they hear the word passion. Anybody who has been stuck at a job they didn’t enjoy has probably wished that they could just “follow their passion.” They view passion as something they love doing. They wish they could find something that they could do for fun and have people pay them good money for it.

But most of know that’s not likely to happen.

“You don’t get what you want. You get what you argue for.”

Kary Oberbrunner

Real passion means something else entirely. Since passion implies suffering, I argue that the real question is not, “what do I love to do?” Rather, the correct question is, “what do I care so much about that I’m willing to suffer to see it come to pass?”

If you think everything will be easy when you “follow your passion,” you’d be wrong. True passion will require more of you than you’ve ever given before. It will cost you something, but it will bring fulfillment. Real passion is at the intersection of things that are important and things that suck.

Passion may be painful – but it will be worth it. Real passion is believing in something so much that you’re willing to show up every day – even if it hurts. The pain of doing the thing you’re passionate about is nothing compared to the thought of not being able to do it. You feel compelled to follow through – even if it isn’t enjoyable. The things that are really worth doing aren’t going to be fun.

Joy in the Process

This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the thing that you’re passionate about. It just means it’s not always going to be fun. There will be times when you question whether it’s worth it and you feel like quitting. But when you are really passionate about something, the act of doing it consistently will change your perspective of the work and will bring you considerable joy. Let me illustrate with a personal example.

When I was writing my book, I was getting up at 5am every day to write for an hour before I went in to the office. I’ve had several people tell me, “well that’s great for you Mike, but I’m just not a morning person.” But here’s a secret:

Neither am I!

I’m naturally more of a night owl than an early bird, but in that season of my life I had to work with whatever time I could find. And the only time I could find was early in the morning.

You see, for someone with real passion, the thought of not doing the thing hurts more than the pain of putting in the effort. For me, the thought of going through a day without being able to write was more painful than setting my alarm earlier than I would have otherwise wanted to.

The trick is connect your joy to the process, not the outcome. It’s difficult at first, but it is possible. I’ve seen it myself, because after awhile, I actually looked forward to my alarm going off. Responding to my alarm gave me one more opportunity to show that I was the type of person who could follow through on my commitments. In his phenomenal book Atomic Habits, James Clear says that every time you show up you are casting a vote for the type of person you want to become. That means every time I showed and wrote, I was casting a vote saying, “I’m a writer.” I really like this mental picture because it means the outcome is completely in your control. Simply cast enough votes and eventually you’ll want the election. Whether you’re casting your vote for becoming a morning person, a writer, or something else, real passion is the thing that can get you through – even when everything inside you doesn’t feel like showing up.

Anybody who has successfully created an exercise habit knows for a fact that your preferences can change. When you’re just getting started, you go to the gym because you’re unhappy with your current situation and you want to do something about it. The first couple weeks (or even months) you may put in good workout and even feel good about the effort you put in, but when you look in the mirror it’s easy to be discouraged by your apparent lack of results.

This is when many people give up because the changes they see don’t seem to justify the level of discomfort they are experiencing. But like a lot of things in life, the power is in your consistency. Showing up every day, even when you don’t fee like, activates the compound effect. And while it may not seem like you’re making much progress at first, if you stick with it long enough the compound effect kicks in and the score takes care of itself. And once you start seeing the results that you’re looking for, the process gets a lot more fun. Instead of dreading your workout, you start looking forward to it. Putting in the work becomes enjoyable, and you start to find joy in the process.

The key to getting to the finish line is making it through the middle. Everyone questions their decision when they don’t see results as fast as they think they should. Everyone has felt the urge to skip “just this once.” The problem is that when you skip once, it’s easier to skip again. And again. And again. Pretty soon, you’re missing more than you’re making and before long you’ve given up completely. But if you change your preferences and train yourself to enjoy the process instead of dreading it, it’s easy to stick with it.

Bringing Your Passion to a “Dirty” Job

Mike Rowe is probably best known for starring in the hit TV show Dirty Jobs, but he also delivered some of the best career advice I’ve ever heard:

“Don’t follow your passion, but always bring it with you.”

Mike Rowe

I really like this advice because it puts the the impetus on the presence of passion in your work completely on you. You may not be satisfied with your current situation. But that doesn’t mean you can’t bring passion to what you do. In fact, often it’s the application of passion even when you don’t feel like it that has the ability to change your situation for the better. Passion is a catalyst for positive change. It causes you to bring a spirit of excellence towards everything that you do, and is completely within your control. You may not be able to control what your boss is asking you to do, and you don’t have to like it. But if you want your situation to change, you do have a responsibility to apply passion to the task at hand.

There’s a great clip from Mike Rowe about passion here that I highly recommend you watch. The whole clip is worth your time, but to hear just his problem with the “follow your passion” advice, go to around 3:55. To see his amazing smirk when the host uses the word passion, start about 1:45.

The bottom line is that passion is a choice. And you don’t have to like your job in order to bring passion to what you do. But one thing is for certain: nothing will change until you change. Change your definition of passion, change your attitude towards your job – and it may just change your life.