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Wrestling the passion problem

Wrestling the passion problem

In 2011, I wrote about Career, Passion, Balance and Happiness in response to my friend’s question on the nagging problem of doing a job with high financial gain versus pursuing your passion. I referenced some thoughts from Cal Newport on the dangers of following your passion. Last night, I read another Newport post on why ‘follow your passion’ is bizarre advice, and thought I’d expand my thoughts on the whole issue.

How I found my ‘passion’

I never knew I was going to enter the field of graphic design; it wasn’t even an option in my mind until I came across it at college. My first attempts at designing were not because of some burning passion, but because I honestly preferred to tinker with things than party. And that was my thing, instead of going out with my friends to party, I would sit in my dorm most nights and write…thoughts, feelings and ideas on how I wanted to grow and improve. If I didn’t feel like writing, I would read, or make beats…eventually I started playing around with Photoshop. Because of my background or general predisposition to visual art (I was pretty good at drawing/painting as a kid), I guess it took a hold of me quite quickly. Another thing that made it stick was the fact I saw myself as the visual guy and pretty soon, people started asking me to design things for them. So with my utterly rudimentary skills in Photoshop, I started working on real life projects very early. One project snowballed into another and soon I was gathering tutorials, looking at magazines and learning about design on my own…and I was hooked, and I developed a passion.

How I chose a ‘career’

Circa 2008/2009, I was studying architecture, dabbling in graphic design and choreographing hip-hop dance. At this time, I was actually known more for dancing than design. I knew I really didn’t like doing architecture, and I needed to transition into something I enjoyed and could work at to become good in. At this point, it was between dance and design. I was very pragmatic about the whole thing. The possibility of growth in dance was limited, I mean, what happens when pop locking and krumping goes out of style? Can I keep dancing in my late 20s and 30s and on? What do I do after that point? Teach? How much money can I even make off that? On the other hand, design seemed like the sort of thing I could carry on into my 70s…if I lived that long. And as a designer you have a much wider sphere to work in and there are more things you can do. So I chose design. I figured as a person with a lot of drive, I could just throw myself into it and work at becoming as good as I can and make something out of it.

My point here is that even though I was probably more passionate about dance than design at that point, dance would not have survived becoming a career for me, but design could. So passion is not the sole determinant of a career path.

Follow your passion?

Newport approaches the whole passion argument with the view that we should not assume that we are hard-wired for a specific economic pursuit, and spend all our time being dissatisfied trying to find that one magic job that we are passionate about. The whole premise of his latest book is that happiness and fulfilment in careers (things we all want very much) have nothing to do with a pre-existing passion. Instead fulfillment is connected to things like autonomy, competence, etc.

And I agree.

I love being a graphic designer because I work freelance (have control over my time and how I use it), I’m good at it (competence), and as a field it gives me options on where to grow into and what to do with it. My developing a passion for design has helped me to put the hours in to grow my skill.

While pre-existing passion can be a great starting point for a career, many people now feel that to be happy in their work, they need to first identify that burning passion. Which becomes very tricky, because not many people can easily point to a passion, and even when they do, not every passion can translate into a career. Plus, we often have it backwards; passion only develops after you’ve put in the time to grasp the skill.

I think the problem with passion is our misunderstanding of its role, and its confusion with mere interest. If you mix interest with competence and a compelling reason, you begin to get passion. The rallying cry behind the ‘passion movement’ is really less about jobs and more about life. The question is are you turned on, tuned in and tapped into life? The experience of being really into something and diving into it to master it and serve with it is much preferable to just grinding out a bland existence at some random job. Living passionately has more to do with your values and the way you approach life than the actual thing you do.

Follow your passion doesn’t necessarily mean make your passion your job. It means fill your life with more passion. Nurture your soul, pay attention to your longings and grow them. Passions can be investigated as jobs or they can become side projects and hobbies. Passions are the fuel to life. Not all passions should become jobs, not every passion can survive becoming a job. Because no matter how passionate you are about something, a job is still a job. It won’t be 100% perfect. So in career choice, yes don’t blindly follow passion, be strategic about it.

Getting rich off your passion

The cardinal rule of making money is find a way to take people’s money from them, or, make things or do things that people would pay for. Passion focuses on you, what you like to do. To make money, you have to focus on the customer. Making your passion into a career means finding a way to make your passions serve the interests of others. To make a living or get rich off your passion, you have to live in the sweet spot, the intersection where your passion is something people would pay for. Otherwise just get a job that pays you enough to live on and leaves you enough time to indulge in your passions in your off time. That is what hobbies are for. And if you want a job you enjoy, it makes more sense to cultivate the traits that foster job satisfaction rather than blindly following passion wherever it leads you.

But remember…

Never buy the lie that your job is “just a job.” Nothing you do 40 hours a week is just a job. That’s just your life. – Jon Acuff


I debuted this at a lil party/exhbition on my birthday…Dreams of a Gem-In-I. All attendant quotes are from Neil Gaiman’s ‘Sandman series”.

I hope you like it





“You get what anyone gets – you get a lifetime”

“it’s more than that. The things we do make echoes…Our existence deforms the universe. THAT’s responsibility”



“Dreams shape the world”

“Dreams are composed of many things, my son. Of images and hopes, of fears and memories. Memories of the past, and memories of the future…”



 “Some things are too big to be seen; some emotions are too huge to be felt”.

“Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means someone can get inside you and mess you up”




“It is sometimes a mistake to climb; it is always a mistake never even to make the attempt. If you don not climb, you will not fall. This true. But is it that bad to fail, that hard to fall?”

“Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly”



“Omnia Mutanur, Nihil Interit.

Everything changes, but nothing is truly lost.”


I’m designing again. I woke up today, and I didn’t feel like a knife was being pushed through my brain every time I thought about design or I sat down by my desk. I actually felt like creating.

So yay me!

The past two weeks I’ve done nothing. Well the odd tiny design here and there, but more or less nothing, except chill and drink…some days excessively, but I’m calm now. I lost both my phones, and as inconvenient as it was, I wasn’t that sad about it. In fact, I was pretty relieved. I had a valid excuse to not take calls, detox from crackberry addiction and just plain avoid people. Finally, I was on vacation. The first 24 hours were rough. I grieved so hard like I lost a dear friend. Day 2 I felt lost, adrift at sea, cut off from everyone. By day 3, I was all good. It felt like my fantasy of walking down the streets of a remote town where no one knows me had come true. It was awesome.

In the past 2 weeks, I’ve read a few things, watched a few videos, had a few epiphanies, gone for a photo shoot, thought about life, what I’m doing, where I would like to take things, etc. Couple of things I learnt.

  1. Be Happy: I have stripped away all my goals and only defined one objective. Be Happy. Simple, wake up, follow my bliss, be happy. Done.
  2. Stop working/Start playing: I mentioned in Nothing that I didn’t really enjoy designing anymore. I sometimes take things too seriously. I desire success, I desire growth and so on, but life is life. I have to enjoy it. I’m experimenting with the idea of playing with my work. This means tinkering with new ideas and techniques and just having fun with it and doing as good a job as I can. I’m hoping that coming to my work with the spirit of play will allow me to be vastly more creative and have more fun.
  3. Do less. Now this one is going to be really hard, because as I write this I have a pile of work I’ve ignored waiting for me. But I’m trying to do less. If I could only work on one major thing a day, that would be great. I want to extend The do less philosophy to life in general, especially with media consumption. I have the habit of always reading something, a book, a blog, a magazine, twitter feeds. It’s information overload. And this is not just fluff stuff, I am constantly reading articles on creativity, self-improvement, ideas, books on success, books on social dynamics, psychology, etc. It is a bit too much. I’m doing my best to cut down and focus on a few books at a time, or only a couple blogs in a week. The idea is to consume less, do less, but do that little very well.
  4. Life-Expectancy: There is the idea that the universe arranges itself around you according to your expectation of it. If you expect getting what you desire to be a long and arduous strenuous road, then it will be that. If you expect the process to be fun and easy, then it will be fun and easy. Quite interesting because we are so conditioned to expect success to be difficult to achieve, and while some effort is required, perhaps there are always easier more fun ways to get what we want. Or maybe not. But it’s a cool experiment for me to go forward in the rest of the year with the expectation that school and work would actually be pretty cool and fun to handle as opposed to a hard grind.

All I’m saying is that I want to have fun with life. I’m tired of stress. I know we all think its impossible and that’s not how life works. I’m saying screw that. I’m going to try it out and see what happens. I’m going to practice following my bliss, which is kind of like following your passion, but with an emphasis on joy. I choose to do more of the things that bring me joy, that make me come alive, and less of the things I don’t like to do. And to bring a spirit of joy to every part of my life

This experiment is how I can make my entire life as fun and playful as possible. And it starts by watching more Community and Parks and Recreation. #TroyBarnes #RonSwanson

Life as a design problem

I have been reading the book “Glimmer: How design can transform your business, your life, and maybe even the world” by Warren Berger. I have mentioned elsewhere how this is possibly the most important book I have read this year. It has sparked off thoughts, ideas and helped clarify the next few steps I will take in my life and how that will eventually culminate.

In 2007 I used Adobe Photoshop for the first time, and since then I have been steadily teaching myself the software, and then graphic design as a whole. The unexpected but very welcome side effect of this pursuit is the understanding of design as a whole I have gained from direct experience. I studied architecture for a while at varsity, but for some reason it never really clicked for me until I was out of school and focused solely on graphic design. One of the things that began to fascinate me was the idea of extrapolating the design process, tools, mindset and ideas and applying it across design disciplines then across other fields. Warren Berger has articulated that perfectly.

The designer is obsessed with making things better. She would ask questions, investigate, create and reiterate until she has found the perfect solution to the existing problem. A good designer is never satisfied with the status quo. In the face of impossible odds, he will press on until he gets the answer. A designer follows a few steps implicitly. They ask stupid questions, they jump fences, they communicate hope, they go deep, and they work metaphors, face consequences, embrace constraints and create for the unknown. The designer by virtue of his work is very attuned to his environment, noticing things that most people don’t. Because they are so aware, they can manipulate things and make them better.

I find the idea of approaching life as a design problem fascinating. Because, with the tools implicit in the design process (which anyone can learn really), one can effectively tackle any problem regardless of how insurmountable it seems.

I have been obsessed with my life for years. I have a stack of notebooks in my wardrobe with notes, ideas, thoughts and descriptions of what I desire from my stay on earth. I have been refining, asking over and over again, what I want from life, what I want to do, what I want to have, and perhaps most important, who I want to be. I’ve been doing this since I was 13. I have essentially been recreating myself over and over again since then. There is nothing special about this. Almost all of us do this in some form or the other. What I do find interesting though, is the use of design process to facilitate the articulation and eventually the manifestation of the dream life I desire.

We are all familiar with things not working. If we sat down and took stock of our lives, we would be able to point out areas of our lives where things are not going as there should. We can spot problems. Sometimes things may have gone on so long this way that we are resigned to the idea that it is unchangeable. However, every problem can be solved, or at least dramatically lessened. We can redesign our lives and take massive action to move ourselves from where we are to where we need to be.

Have the courage to ask stupid questions. Interrogate every one of your beliefs. Interrogate the status quo, the norms and customs of the times. Consider alternative approaches, resources and solutions. You do not have to live your life the way you were told to. The power is yours, you can recreate it. Know what your end actual goals are and be creative about which paths to take to get there. Absorb ideas from everywhere, process them, use them, evaluate them, discard if need be.

The concept of approaching life as a design problem is a metaphor, a mental construct, a framework which can help simplify a lot of issues and release great power in other aspects. It resonates with me because well…I am a designer, and the thought of making my life a grand project is all too exciting for me. I have a clear idea of what I would like to do work-wise and the kind of life I want to live. I’ve always known that the traditional life/career path was not going to work for me. It caused a lot of confusion and questioning for me, but now I see my path fairly clear. This metaphor comes at a great time because I can actually begin to utilise it and share my understanding and experiences with it.

The coolest thing about being a designer for me, is the ability to hold multiple seemingly contradictory ideas in mind, and make them work together. For instance, the question on my mind for sometime has been how to create a life that is focused and purposeful, remarkable, healthy, financially sustainable without excessive time or effort spent in work, engaged in study using efficient techniques and methods, engaged in multiple real world projects with long term personal and professional significance, exploratory and experimental, and full of fun and excitement.  This is what I want for my life. It’s not going to be easy, but it will definitely be interesting.

Incomplete Manifesto for Growth

I’ve been reading ‘Glimmer’ by Warren Berger, it’s easily the most important book I’ve read this year. It has helped to clarify what kind of work and life I would like to create for myself. I came across this manifesto in the book, and promptly searched for it online. I found it here. But here is the manifesto in it’s entirety as written by Bruce Mau in 1998.

  1. Allow events to change you.
    You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.
  2. Forget about good.
    Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you’ll never have real growth.
  3. Process is more important than outcome.
    When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.
  4. Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child).
    Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.
  5. Go deep.
    The deeper you go the more likely you will discover something of value.
  6. Capture accidents.
    The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.
  7. Study.
    A studio is a place of study. Use the necessity of production as an excuse to study. Everyone will benefit.
  8. Drift.
    Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.
  9. Begin anywhere.
    John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.
  10. Everyone is a leader.
    Growth happens. Whenever it does, allow it to emerge. Learn to follow when it makes sense. Let anyone lead.
  11. Harvest ideas.
    Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.
  12. Keep moving.
    The market and its operations have a tendency to reinforce success. Resist it. Allow failure and migration to be part of your practice.
  13. Slow down.
    Desynchronize from standard time frames and surprising opportunities may present themselves.
  14. Don’t be cool.
    Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.
  15. Ask stupid questions.
    Growth is fueled by desire and innocence. Assess the answer, not the question. Imagine learning throughout your life at the rate of an infant.
  16. Collaborate.
    The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.
  17. ____________________.
    Intentionally left blank. Allow space for the ideas you haven’t had yet, and for the ideas of others.
  18. Stay up late.
    Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you’re separated from the rest of the world.
  19. Work the metaphor.
    Every object has the capacity to stand for something other than what is apparent. Work on what it stands for.
  20. Be careful to take risks.
    Time is genetic. Today is the child of yesterday and the parent of tomorrow. The work you produce today will create your future.
  21. Repeat yourself.
    If you like it, do it again. If you don’t like it, do it again.
  22. Make your own tools.
    Hybridize your tools in order to build unique things. Even simple tools that are your own can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. Remember, tools amplify our capacities, so even a small tool can make a big difference.
  23. Stand on someone’s shoulders.
    You can travel farther carried on the accomplishments of those who came before you. And the view is so much better.
  24. Avoid software.
    The problem with software is that everyone has it.
  25. Don’t clean your desk.
    You might find something in the morning that you can’t see tonight.
  26. Don’t enter awards competitions.
    Just don’t. It’s not good for you.
  27. Read only left-hand pages.
    Marshall McLuhan did this. By decreasing the amount of information, we leave room for what he called our “noodle.”
  28. Make new words.
    Expand the lexicon. The new conditions demand a new way of thinking. The thinking demands new forms of expression. The expression generates new conditions.
  29. Think with your mind.
    Forget technology. Creativity is not device-dependent.
  30. Organization = Liberty.
    Real innovation in design, or any other field, happens in context. That context is usually some form of cooperatively managed enterprise. Frank Gehry, for instance, is only able to realize Bilbao because his studio can deliver it on budget. The myth of a split between “creatives” and “suits” is what Leonard Cohen calls a ‘charming artifact of the past.’
  31. Don’t borrow money.
    Once again, Frank Gehry’s advice. By maintaining financial control, we maintain creative control. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s surprising how hard it is to maintain this discipline, and how many have failed.
  32. Listen carefully.
    Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same.
  33. Take field trips.
    The bandwidth of the world is greater than that of your TV set, or the Internet, or even a totally immersive, interactive, dynamically rendered, object-oriented, real-time, computer graphic–simulated environment.
  34. Make mistakes faster.
    This isn’t my idea — I borrowed it. I think it belongs to Andy Grove.
  35. Imitate.
    Don’t be shy about it. Try to get as close as you can. You’ll never get all the way, and the separation might be truly remarkable. We have only to look to Richard Hamilton and his version of Marcel Duchamp’s large glass to see how rich, discredited, and underused imitation is as a technique.
  36. Scat.
    When you forget the words, do what Ella did: make up something else … but not words.
  37. Break it, stretch it, bend it, crush it, crack it, fold it.
  38. Explore the other edge.
    Great liberty exists when we avoid trying to run with the technological pack. We can’t find the leading edge because it’s trampled underfoot. Try using old-tech equipment made obsolete by an economic cycle but still rich with potential.
  39. Coffee breaks, cab rides, green rooms.
    Real growth often happens outside of where we intend it to, in the interstitial spaces — what Dr. Seuss calls “the waiting place.” Hans Ulrich Obrist once organized a science and art conference with all of the infrastructure of a conference — the parties, chats, lunches, airport arrivals — but with no actual conference. Apparently it was hugely successful and spawned many ongoing collaborations.
  40. Avoid fields.
    Jump fences. Disciplinary boundaries and regulatory regimes are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are often understandable efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump the fences and cross the fields.
  41. Laugh.
    People visiting the studio often comment on how much we laugh. Since I’ve become aware of this, I use it as a barometer of how comfortably we are expressing ourselves.
  42. Remember.
    Growth is only possible as a product of history. Without memory, innovation is merely novelty. History gives growth a direction. But a memory is never perfect. Every memory is a degraded or composite image of a previous moment or event. That’s what makes us aware of its quality as a past and not a present. It means that every memory is new, a partial construct different from its source, and, as such, a potential for growth itself.
  43. Power to the people.
    Play can only happen when people feel they have control over their lives. We can’t be free agents if we’re not free.