Why passionate people suffer

by | Dec 26, 2011

The word “passion” has been hijacked. Misused and abused. Emasculated by a feel-good culture of moral relativism. Prostituted by personal development gurus.

Passion today is understood as what excites you. What puts the sparkle in your eyes, the twinkle in your toes.

Internet definitions include:

  • Strong and barely controllable emotion
  • A state or outburst of such emotion
  • Intense sexual love
  • An intense desire or enthusiasm for something
  • A thing arousing enthusiasm

The word has become candy for frivolous children when, at its roots, it is meat for dedicated adults.

Coined by 12th century religious scholars, “passion” means to suffer. In fact, the word was created to describe the “willing suffering of Christ.”

In his excellent book, Aspire: Discovering Your Purpose Through the Power of Words, Kevin Hall describes a meeting he had with Arthur, a retired 40-year Stanford linguistics professor, who taught him the meaning of passion.

Kevin writes:

“After educating me about the word’s etymology, Arthur added, ‘Passion doesn’t mean just suffering for suffering’s sake; it must be pure and willing suffering.

“Arthur said that both ‘passion’ and ‘path’ have similar roots: the word ‘path’ is a suffix that means suffering from.

“‘Think about it, Kevin,’ said Arthur, ‘We have doctors called pathologists. They study the illnesses and diseases that humans suffer.’

“Then he revealed a link between suffering, or passion, and sacrifice. ‘The word sacrifice comes from the Latin sacra, which means sacred, and fice, which means to perform. To sacrifice is to perform the sacred.’

“‘At its essence,’ he continued, ‘passion is sacred suffering.'”

Kevin concludes that,

“It’s one thing to suffer and be a victim; it’s an entirely different thing to be willing to suffer for a cause and become a victor.

“Even though it has become popular to define passion as deep or romantic love, the real meaning is being willing to suffer for what you love. When we discover what we are willing to pay a price for, we discover our life’s mission and purpose.”

If passion is simply what makes you happy, you’ll quit doing it when it gets tough, when it becomes too risky, when you’re ignored and mocked.

Your true passion is what you’re willing to do if it kills you.

What you stick with even when it’s excruciating. When it’s risky.

The things you do because you know they’re right. Because you know they’ll make a profound difference.

The things that simmer in the deepest parts of your soul — far beyond what’s fun or what feels good.

As Thomas Paine wrote:

“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”

Christ’s passion wasn’t the superficial bliss of what made him feel good in the moment.

It was the cross-carrying, torture-enduring suffering of a Man who understood how and why to sacrifice immediate pleasure for long-term joy.

How about your passion?

When asked what you’re passionate about, don’t tell me what makes you feel good or what excites you.

Tell me what you’re willing to suffer for.

(Want help discovering your passion? Click here to download my free toolkit now.)


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