What if you won the lottery and didn’t have to worry about money ever again, what would you do with your life? For many, if not most, the first thoughts are about ‘problem solving’ their lives, so they can feel ‘free’, but then what? There are always new problems or ways, bigger and better ways or ‘improvements’ in which others can assist us in ‘enhancing’ our lives, in oh so many ways (humor, but also too often true, as we follow advertising and the latest models of almost anything these days…). I suggest this exercise can potentially open up whole new areas of thought, perspectives, and change our lives in subtle and not so subtle ways. I suggest we call it a search for personal ‘passion’ and explore our relationship to it in our lives.

When I was growing up I recall saying, during my teen-aged years, “It’s not bad… that’s good!” I felt a sort of harmony with this newly discovered perspective, and recall this was the age of anything being possible, and “Happy Days” was a highly successful TV show to help confirm the idea. Years later I came to see that what I was more accurately referring to was merely ‘survival’, not ‘good’ or ‘thriving’ as I once believed. This, of course, was a reflection of my family’s dysfunction through ‘benign neglect’ (as I’ve written about in past articles), and the larger Middle-Class suburban society I grew up in (which I am aware is no longer considered ‘appropriate’ social profiling and/or classism). It did fit the only perspective I knew at the time, however… and I’d suggest it may be helpful in beginning to discuss and address current issues, ‘the 800 pound gorilla in the living room’ syndrome SO common these days. I suggest we need to encourage more discussion (in a variety of ways), rather than suppressing and dismissing it as ‘politically incorrect’. We might grow into common ideals IF we can talk…

So many of us grew up believing that our local surroundings were what the rest of the world was like – period. There were those ‘strange cultures’ with their ‘heathen babies’ which local Catholic churches sought for their students to ‘adopt’ through school sponsorships and expected contributions (sarcastic humor). It took many years of enlightenment before I began to comprehend the huge range of lifestyle options across our entire globe, let alone in America’s homogenous appearing culture. This included learning that most of these ‘modern’ projected optional lifestyles were financially based (resulting in ‘the poor’ and their generations of repeating lifestyles, OR a small number resulting in today’s “One Percent Society”, being the cat’s meow ‘everyone’ clamored for – sarcastic humor intended.

What I’d like to suggest is that while there indeed does need to be some financial security necessary for survival and to allow for and promote ‘passion’, it is much more obtainable than most realize. Abraham Maslow, a psychologist from the middle of the last century (strange and fun to discuss people who were from my own time – the 40’s thru the 60’s, now appearing SO long ago), he discussed the idea of everything a person did could be grouped around one of five areas, and there was a ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ (check it out on the Internet – very interesting!). In my words, they include: physical (food, clothing, shelter, etc.), safety, belongingness/sharing, self-esteem, and when all of these were in adequate amounts, we could achieve ‘self-actualization’ or what I call ‘creativity’. I propose it is out of this ‘creativity’ that we can discover our ‘passion’, and it can be found almost anywhere and in any activity of our choosing. Maslow believed that when our basic needs were met, we could then use that energy to give to helping others with their own hierarchy of needs, thereby boosting our own sense of ‘sharing, self-esteem, and creativity’ – satisfaction through helping others. And, this is very different from using others to somehow meet our own needs – ‘hidden agenda’ or co-dependency (from dysfunctional family roles, previously discussed in my writings).

Another simple definition of self-actualization is ‘not being bored’ (again, when everything else is in pretty good shape). While this may sound too simplistic and basic, I would suggest it is even more of an issue in today’s modern world, where we expect immediate gratification, no limits to anything, and our social boundaries are again being challenged in hopefully real ground-breaking ways. For example, women and their ‘glass ceilings’ to advancement and even simply being treated/hired/paid as equals. Gays/LGBT being allowed to marry, live their own chosen lifestyles (including simply choosing which public restroom to use) and have laws that are still slowly emerging which declare discrimination illegal, with enforcement yet to follow in too many cases….

This is further enhanced (or complicated?), by our instant communication and the huge leaps in electronics, including video games, interactive online socializing, emerging virtual reality, and access to details of the entire world on-demand (e.g. YouTube videos for entertainment and instruction on just about anything – WOW!). What, and by whom, are we ‘informed’ as to what needs our attention or concern???

This can all look pretty neat and wonderful, and perhaps it potentially is for some. As with any ‘power’ there goes some responsibility and negotiation to keep it reasonable, fair and safe for all concerned. Pokemon Go being one sometimes annoying current example. And, as we’re seeing with things like major cost increases from medical companies, as they are merging and buying each other out, we have yet to get to the ‘ethics’ of this increase in individual and corporate power… and responsibility.

A definition I offer to begin our search for passion is how ‘passion is it’s own reward’. It is satisfying in itself, and isn’t a ‘step’ towards something greater. An example of this was when I was in my prior traveling antique business, and a long-married couple had us over for dinner (something special since often being on the road some nine months of the year). After a delightful evening, they shared how the husband had been working very hard in his private accountant business (to the point the wife had to use an outside phone line to set up a business meeting as a new client, simply to have lunch). Everyone went along with this each tax season. The wife went on to share that one of her secret desires was to have a 10-carat diamond ring, and he was now ready to fulfill her long-held dream. We discussed how we’d be honored to make arrangements for obtaining such a ring for their jeweler to evaluate, when we next returned to the area. This would be our largest commission and we were thrilled, for them and for ourselves. Shortly before returning with the ring in hand, we received an excited phone call asking us to hold off on the ring, as they had even more exciting news to share. We wondered what could be more exciting than a 10-carat diamond ring!?! Well, upon finishing another great meal at their home, the wife revealed her excitement. While fantasizing about wearing the ring, and the responses she would receive from friends’ excitement for her, she realized that it was that excitement for her that she really wanted from her friends. Holding out her hand to be admired by all would fade after a few weeks, as it had with the other impressive jewelry she had received from her husband over the years. She realized that she already had the passion coming from her friends, and didn’t have to own anything ‘fabulous’ to further earn it!?! This realization that it was already there was thrilling and all she needed to do was enjoy it with her friends. She didn’t need to do anything further to ‘earn’ their approval or appreciation, as they already freely gave it (a ‘win-win’ all around), and all she needed to do was ask. We were a bit let down, as one can image from losing the anticipated ‘finder’s fee’. They then went on to say how they decided the money that would have gone into the ring would be used to add a ‘great room’ to their home, and the husband would cut back on his hard-working schedule to enjoy their friends together more. We were very pleased for them! They then added that their new addition would need lots of fine antiques, which they planned on purchasing from us (since we’d helped them with this great discovery, and they liked our selection, too – grin). It was a ‘win-win’ all around…

A current international example of passion might be the Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps. In addition to his being the most Olympic gold medal winning competitor EVER, he has a fascinating back-story of swimming coming out of his learning to deal with having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It was his mother who urged him to try swimming, to tire him out which aided his concentration… and initially he didn’t like getting his face wet in the water!?! They taught him to swim on his back, and the rest is history, as they say. You can learn more about his journey and his passion by clicking here.

Another modern example might be the current craze of urban bicycle riding groups. Detroit, I recently learned, has a group (‘Slow Rollers’ on Facebook) with some 3,00 – 4,000 weekly participants who move the 10-mile venue around the city. Something simple… yet it works.

I’ve found personal passion in throwing clay on a potter’s wheel, when I give myself the gift of time… Being ‘one with the clay’ is a way of getting ‘lost’ or grounded in the activity (as many potters I’ve talked with attest). And, I’m only a novice doing this hobby occasionally.

When passion is present there is an energizing and refreshing of the person that occurs. It can include some or all of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This is not at all like a similarly appearing state of feeling we call ‘addiction’. With addiction, there is a depletion of energy, with people often left feeling depressed, and there are usually some negative or costly consequences involved. It is a ‘step’ towards something else, often ‘relief’. Again, they look very similar, and IF an individual is not familiar with the concept and feelings associated with passion, it is often mistaken for the frenzy or high of an addictive state of mind (or sometimes described as ‘type A personality’, ‘bipolar’ or ‘manic-depressive personality disorder’, etc.). I was very much the ‘type A personality’ out of an expected quest to earn ‘happiness’, rather than discovering ways of taping into it all around me (humor, upon reflection years later). As I’ve perviously mentioned there is growing controversy over these medical judgements and our current ‘mental health care system’ in general. Our medical system often attempts to ‘control’ feelings through medication (‘symptom management’), rather than examining and addressing the symptoms(s) and their relative healthy or unhealthy sources. Passion may be an alternative solution here, too!

A personal example was my developing hypoglycemia when I was in my previous antique business, just out of college in my early 20’s. Between the competition of antique dealers at traveling shows, and a business/personal partner I would later learn we’d now call a ‘control freak’, I developed the condition that was diagnosed as ‘stress induced hypoglycemia’. I was placed on two prescriptions to ‘manage’ the symptoms (including valium, which has since become ‘too addictive’ to any longer be prescribed) and told I could only manage it, or it would progress to become diabetes. I also mixed this medication with alcohol (depending upon how focus, or ‘relaxed’ I needed to be during business dinners). I was basically ‘high’ for around a year and a half (as directed by my doctor)! Upon completing plans with an attorney to temporarily stop the business so we might hopefully negotiate a partnership plan (at the suggestion of a counselor), the symptoms simply stopped, and I stopped taking the medications on my own (including not having withdrawal symptoms I later learned could have even been dangerous). No one ever discussed this ‘option’ of stress reduction or how to properly withdraw from the medications (since they were prescribed to be taken ‘forever’ – again ‘symptom management’ even before that term was used by the medical field).

To briefly introduce another concept related to passion, this brings up the difference between parallel and integrated play, which can both be ‘passionate’. Parallel play would be two people playing solitary cards sitting at the same table. Integrated play would be a card game that caused the two or more people to actively interact around the activity. This might come up as people watch TV sitting together or ‘interact’ on computers (even ‘communicating’ with each other) but with a disconnect to their sharing the emotions related to their passions in real time. Some can do it, but I suggest many feel isolated in the process of trying to feel connected… they are watching someone else have ‘fun’, but not feeling it. Some might refer to it, when it works, as ‘being in the moment’ or ‘grounded’ when a person is strongly connected and passionate.

There are also the concepts of authentic and vicarious interactions. Authentic activity is where a person is actively involved in the event and is getting their own produced emotions, including hopefully passion. Vicarious play is where an individual relates to what another person is authentically doing, but from a distance. Watching some play sports, or painting, or cooking might be examples. While they can still produce feelings, I suggest they are probably greatly reduced from actively doing an event. I sometimes suggest this might be as great as a factor of 10 to 1 !?!

As I mentioned earlier, I was raised to be a caretaker, and this occurred in my business/personal relationships, too. Perhaps, as caretakers we are SO used to doing what others need/want for their care (without concern or possibly even awareness for our own needs/wants), that we are not familiar (or comfortable?) with the idea of ‘win-win’ situations. This then becomes the caretaker’s expected ‘normal’ of caring for others and they don’t even give any thoughts to the idea of something being for them, too? I’ve written about this previously – caretakers versus caregivers, burnout and negotiated healthy boundaries.

As expected, my prior antique business was never re-negotiated. I was locked out of my home of six years and the business/income, and after two years and three attorneys I dropped my lawsuit (being told it would be at least four years before it came to trial, IF my partner returned from having sold our home and moved out of state…). I’ve continued to be symptom free of the hypoglycemia, once I was away from the stressors, which again was never discussed as even a possibility. I learned about this the hard way – grin.

I’ve since learned to enjoy my continuing passion of appreciating antiques, while dropping the stressful aspect of competition for sales (and, of course, my former partner – who gave me a second opportunity to learn about co-dependency, after my initial learning/training from being a caretaker in my family – humor, finally at this point in my life).

I propose concentrating on the behaviors of the individuals in question, to clear up a troubled past or current lifestyle issue, rather than on their diagnosis of what’s wrong with them or how they’re defective/diseased. As long as most people are able to do the basics of self-care, are not hurting themselves and/or others (in clearly definable ways), and can afford the costs of the activities, perhaps they have a ‘free will’ right as an adult to lead their lives as they wish and choose?!? I have personally found this helped in my discovery of my own passions. Perhaps, this is a still novel idea in today’s ‘health care systems’ model of simply (and only!) managing symptoms??? Of course, some medication for clearly defined issues may be an option and highly beneficial for a time, but too often today it is presented as the only ‘right thing’ to do?!? Perhaps, it’s not simply a ‘chemical imbalance’ but possibly also poor role modeling of healthy, negotiated lifestyles (sarcastic humor to our TV ads).

The same can happen to people in our daily interactions. As long as we’re encouraged to look to what’s ‘wrong’ with an individual, or group of individuals/minorities, we will see them as ‘defective and in need of fixing’, rather than as someone with unique characteristics/traits/behaviors which might be fostered and nurtured to see what and how they might contribute to creating unique social interactions/relationships, while enjoying their own passionate lives. The Olympic star, Michael Phelps is, again, an excellent example of this model. Gay/LGBT individuals are another good example, with their previously being considered ‘mentally ill’ not so many years ago, and needing ‘repairing’ (reparative therapy, which most professional organizations now consider unethical, and yet is still promoted, and is even suggested in the Republican Party’s election year platform!). Now we’re at least (FINALLY!) talking about allowing Gays/LBGT and other varied minorities to participate in mainstream America’s lifestyles, openly and proudly. I propose this can lead to a profound sense of ‘passion’ (and beyond simply a reaction to being oppressed – survival). Sometimes, the identifications and details of significance can be confusing (humor) as we still haven’t had a consensus of how to refer to this significant percentage of America – Gay, Gay/LGBT, simply the letters LGBTQ or the relatively new segment title of ‘NonBinary’ (have fun searching that on the Internet – humor).

The U.S. Department of Education just issued guidelines aimed at preventing discrimination towards students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Again, how do our teachers, leaders and students, whom they come into contact with on a daily basis, help these students when they are just now being given guidelines to simply help prevent discrimination?!? What about the next step(s) of assisting and constructively enabling them to become ‘all that they can be’??? Are we Americans, leaders of the free world, even having such national discussions??? And, who’s going to pay for this next step of training (since we’re not yet into proactive approaches towards almost anything of a medical or mental health nature – again, more often simply ‘symptom management’ through medication and prevention of costly lawsuits)??? One question for consideration here might be that of who is the ‘consumer’ of these services??? This might get into discussions of individual rights and freedoms versus society’s needs!?! Does it need to be an either/or?!?

Whole generations are being lost due to a lack of agreement on what’s ‘fair‘ and ‘reasonable’. Also the ‘boomerang generation, and the ‘victims’ who don’t ‘get it’ continue to be misused. And now we have entire generations that have been told not expect as much as past generations, or their parents accomplishments. Where do they get their motivation under their repeated circumstances of what our ‘leaders’ call our current circumstances… what will be their ‘passions’ (IF they even think in these terms, beyond ‘survival’?). And, what about my generation, which was raised under a ‘Happy Days’ of expectations… It is hard to feel passion, when resentment, abuse and neglect, and daily media reports of the next pending doom are constantly being discussed – ‘fear, hurt and anger based’!?!

Going to the other end of the social spectrum, for a minute, our budgets for education, as well as incarceration/jails are further examples of people not helped to grow or re-invent themselves for even a positive future, let alone passionate ones!?! A recent newspaper story about our Michigan women’s prison having some cells with no space for chairs, even though they are required by policy. These inmates are being housed in converted TV rooms and former offices. The director said she stands by her October testimony to a legislative committee where she said, “I wouldn’t characterize it as being overcrowded.” In June of this year the U.S. Justice Department filed a federal lawsuit against the state. Talk about ‘power and control’ issues, by the ‘caretakers’ of a significant population of the state of Michigan?!? As the media used to say, “Where is our outrage?”

We’ve created special programs, laws and initiatives for people with ‘special needs’, to try and prevent various levels of ‘abuse’ (e.g. terrorism, additional sentences for hate crimes, continued attempts to get state-wide bullying guidelines for our public schools in place, and increasing awareness of domestic violence, which is now called intimate partner violence) and programs to help raise awareness levels on a wide range of additional social problems. What IF we didn’t only provide special services for ‘special needs’, BUT created enrichment programs for the needs of people trying to live passionate lives – for everyone??? This would be going beyond the survival level of, “It’s not bad, so that’s good!” It would go along the lines of our national dialogue for universal health care… perhaps universal mental health care, prevention and promotion. It would be declaring that all people deserve the opportunity, support and available resources to thrive in this financially enriched society we call ‘America – the land of opportunity’. IF all people are created equal, how about equal access to sustaining and enriching resources, too – talk about thinking outside the box – grin!?!

Contributed by

Dale Ross

Therapist, Counselor and Educator
As a professional counselor/therapist, public speaker and writer on men’s issues since the early ’80’s, Dale has lived through many of the situations and issues with which …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *