Home All The Passion Paradox

The Passion Paradox

written by Kim Wimmer May 30, 2018

Kim Wimmer, MAPP 2016 is the founder of The Invincible Artist. She is the theatre department chair and a professor of acting at the Young Americans College of the Performing Arts in Southern California. Her mission is to empower performing artists and creatives to re-ignite their passion & purpose, supercharge their resilience, and ignite their creative careers. Her articles can be found here.



How Using Our Talents in Service of Others May Help Keep Obsessive Passion in Check

Passion Gone Awry

I have this friend who felt called to express herself through the performing arts. She’d always wanted to be a great actor and singer. She spent the first 30-something years of her life in service to that calling. She made countless sacrifices at great cost to her personal relationships, financial stability, health, and well-being. She had a career that, to many, looked like a big success. But to her it was never enough.

Audition Judge

Excruciatingly often, she’d been told that she was going to be the next big thing. She studied and trained harder. She dieted and highlighted her hair. What was preventing the Hollywood gatekeepers from anointing her the new it girl? Who knows? The Hollywood audition process is a black hole for feedback.

As she started making up stories about all of the things that must have been wrong with her, her love for performing began to dwindle. She began to dread her auditions and became depressed and despondent. One day on a stage in Las Vegas singing to an indifferent crowd of several thousand people, she found herself unable to let go of the image that she’d developed a meaning-shaped hole in her soul.

Have you ever had one of those how-did-I-get-here-and-who-have-I-become realizations? Pursuing a passion-based career, perhaps regardless of the industry, generally results in some loss of agency. It means no longer doing the things we love entirely for the intrinsic satisfaction of doing them. Making a living from a passion requires external validation in order to pay the bills. The dependence on approval from others can lead to burnout or depression. How could we dedicate ourselves to doing what we love most and somehow manage to eradicate all of the joy, engagement, and meaning that inspired our endeavors in the first place?

Harmonious vs Obsessive Passion
Click to see larger image.

Harmonious versus Obsessive Passion

Maybe the answer is somewhere in that murky transition from harmonious to obsessive passion. Vallerand distinguishes the two by how we internalize the passion within our identity. Harmonious passion comes from autonomous, intrinsically motivated desire, while obsessive passion demands outside validation. It’s ego-driven and consumes everything in its path.

Spoiler alert—the “hypothetical friend” is actually me. Thankfully, through a series of unexpected opportunities gifted by a benevolent universe, I became a professor of acting at a performing arts college and discovered, quite unexpectedly, that I experience tremendous meaning and satisfaction in teaching.

Student volunteering

My college students were qualitatively different from the actors I had taught in Hollywood. I think that the primary difference is that these students self-selected for a college program that gave them opportunities to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth through an arts education outreach program. With each incoming class, I have witnessed this experience prove to be life-changing for students. I began to remember my own experiences of using my talent in service that happened long before my career eclipsed all else.

I couldn’t help but wonder if service might be a key to meaning, well-being, and the maintenance of harmonious passion. It was clear that through this service learning opportunity, my students were using their love for performing as a tool for connection, compassion, inspiration, and real impact on the lives of others who desperately needed to know that they mattered. It turns out that mattering is important both ways.

Another student volunteering

Stepping Outside Ourselves

Unlike other altruistic behavior like donating blood or writing a check, volunteering is highly associated with:

  • Elevated happiness
  • Better physical and mental health
  • Improved access to social and psychological resources
  • Increased self-reported happiness while countering depression and anxiety

What’s more, by using their talents in service to others, my students’ service learning experiences provided the following benefits:

  • Buoyed self-efficacy, self-esteem, and confidence
  • A positive outlet for dealing with stress, feelings of alienation, or guilt
  • A strong sense of meaning and purpose

Another student volunteering

Person-Activity Fit for Volunteering

However, volunteering is not a one-size-fits-all proposition; the type of volunteering we do matters. Consistent with Lyubomirsky’s research on the importance of person-activity fit with positive interventions, robust research on volunteerism suggests that the helper’s benefits will vary based on the degree of fit between the volunteer’s needs, motivation, and type of service work performed. In other words, an actor might derive more meaning from volunteering to help children with incarcerated parents express themselves through performing their own show than organizing a book drive.

Here’s where it gets very interesting. Musick and Wilson argue that volunteer work is elevated in significance among populations whose other roles have been diminished, such as the elderly. What about those performing artists stuck in the audition loop who continue to offer their creations only to have them unceremoniously dismissed? If volunteering benefits populations whose roles have been diminished, what effect might it have on those who are at risk of abandoning their passion-based careers? It could give them an outlet to share their gifts, where the gifts may actually have a positive impact on others.

More volunteering

When a passion becomes a calling and that calling leads to a career, the forced reliance on another’s permission to practice it can be soul-crushing. Volunteering provides an eye-opening reality check and has been shown to reinforce volunteer gratitude for what they have in comparison to what the receivers of their gifts may lack. The resulting outward focus is a powerful reminder that other people matter. Of course, the primary purpose of volunteering is to uplift others in need. It is a welcome consequence that volunteering can greatly benefit the giver as well as the receivers.

Maybe the boost in positive affect, renewed passion for craft, and a revitalized sense of meaning from using our talents to benefit others could also help us maintain harmonious passion. By providing a pathway for passions to be practiced in service of other people, rather than only in service of our careers, volunteering could be a protective factor against burnout and depression.

 


 
References

Wimmer Totty, K. (2016). The Resilience Compass: How Mindset, Skills-Development, Self-Compassion, Service, and Community Empower Actors to Bounce Back, Reclaim Their Passion, and Live Their Purpose. MAPP capstone, University of Pennsylvania.

Borgonovi, F. (2008). Divided we stand, united we fall: religious pluralism, giving and volunteering. American Sociological Review, 73(1), 105-128. Abstract.

Borgonovi, F. (2008). Doing well by doing good: The relationship between formal volunteering and self-reported health and happiness. Social Science & Medicine, 66(11), 2321-2334.

Follman, J., & Muldoon, K. (1997). Florida learn and serve 1995–96. NAASP Bulletin, 81, 29–36.

Giles, D. E. Jr., & Eyler, J. (1994). The impact of college community service laboratory on students’ personal, social, and cognitive outcomes. Journal of Adolescence, 17, 327-339.

Giles, D. E., Jr., & Eyler, J. (1998). A service learning research agenda for the next five years. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 73, 65–72. DOI: 10.1002/tl.7308

Hodgins, H. S., & Knee, R. (2002). The integrating self and conscious experience. In Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (Eds.), Handbook of self-determination research (pp. 87-100). Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin Books.

Lyubomirsky, S., & Della Porta, M. D. (2010). Boosting happiness, buttressing resilience. In J. W. Reich, A. Zautra, & J. S. Hall, Handbook of Adult Resilience, (pp. 450-464).
 The Guildford Press.

Lyubomirsky, S., & Layous, K. (2013). How do simple positive activities increase well-being? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(1), 57-62.


Musick, M. A., & Wilson, J. (2003). Volunteering and depression: the role of psychological and social resources in different age groups. Social Science & Medicine, 56, 259-269. Abstract.

Peterson, C. (2012). Other people matter: From birth to death. Psychology Today Online.

Piliavin, J. A. (2003). Doing well by doing good: Benefits for the benefactor. In C. L. M. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.), Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-Lived, (pp. 227-247). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Snyder, M., Clary, E. G., & Stukas, A. A. (2000). The functional approach to volunteerism. In G. R. Maio & J. M. Olson (Eds.), Why We Evaluate: Functions of Attitudes (pp. 365–393). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Thoits, P. A., & Hewitt, L. N. (2001). Volunteer work and well-being. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 42(2), 115-131.

Vallerand, R. J., Paquet, Y., Philippe, F. L., & Charest, J. (2010). On the role of passion for work in burnout: A process model. Journal of Personality, 78(1), 289-312.

Wheeler, J. A., Gorey, K. M., & Greenblatt, B. (1998). The beneficial effects of volunteering for older volunteers and the people they serve: a meta-analysis. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 47, 69-79.

Whiteley, P. (2004). The art of happiness: Is volunteering the blue-print for bliss? Press release: London: Economic and Social Research Council.

Williams, R. (1991). The impact of field education on student development: Research findings. Journal of Cooperative Education, 27, 29–45.

Yates, M., & Youniss, J. (1996). A developmental perspective on community service in adolescence. Social Development, 5, 85–111.

Photo Credit: Most of the images are used courtesy of the The Young Americans®.

From Flickr via Compfight with Creative Commons license
Audition Judge courtesy of ORTB

Not seeing the pictures for the book links? Disable Adblocking for this site to view them.

You may also like

1 comment

Sharon Danzger June 7, 2018 - 10:39 am

Great article, Kim!

Reply

Leave a Reply to Sharon Danzger Cancel Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Shares