Whenever I hear someone decry, “Tell me what you would do even if nobody paid you, and I’ll show you your passion,” I want to hurl.

Ugh.  Your passion.  Praise your passion.  Live your passion.  Follow your passion.

Stop it.

Tell me what you would do even if you knew with 100% certainty that you would fail, and then I’ll really show you your passion.

One of my passions is competitive rowing. It is an endless mindfuck of epic proportions.  Today while I was at the boathouse preparing for a practice, I got to thinking about this idea of passion and what it really means. I am particularly struck by the idea that anyone who gives you the advice to “Follow Your Passion!” is a Class-A Idiot.

Here’s the deal.

Your passion is gonna suck balls.  It’s gonna wring you dry and take everything from you that you have to give.  It’s gonna kick you in the nuts every chance it gets, and laugh at you while you are vomiting up blood. And you are gonna love every minute of it anyway.

And, why is that?  Because it makes us feel good. It gives us a sense of purpose and helps us see what we can achieve. The struggle is what makes the victory so much sweeter.  Earning your place of honor in the rare air in which you hold your desires makes you worthy of them.

You’ve got to work for your passion.  You’ve got to invest in your passion.  You’ve got to put in the hard yards for your passion.

My 16-year-old son did just that this weekend when he medaled in a cross-country race he had been working towards for two years – two whole years. Now, if you’ve met my 16-year-old or, really, any 16-year-old, you know that they don’t have full frontal lobes.  They are mostly incapable of reasoning toward good decisions and not exactly focused on long-term outcomes.

Pre-frontal cortex notwithstanding, he said to me the morning of Halloween “You know what? I’m not going to go out with my friends tonight. I’m not going to eat a lot of candy or stay out late. The race is this weekend and I’ve worked so hard for it. I care so much about it and I’ve been disappointed so many times where I haven’t gotten the numbers I wanted. I haven’t reached the goal I want yet, so I’m going to put everything I have into this.”

He did it.

He medaled in the race, standing up with other boys who were years older, and further into the physical development of puberty that gives teenage boys free speed.  And he claimed his spot on the board.  Side note: the embarrassing mother that I am, I made him wear his medal at dinner that night, and he didn’t even argue.

So, how did he do it?  He did it by letting his desire beat him up until he knew that in order to fulfill his goal, he had to stop following his desire and start investing in his passion.

I want you to think about what you do in life and in your career and consider where are you investing in that passion?

Where are you letting that passion kick you around, push you around, and teach you lessons?  Are you letting that passion knock you down so that you can get up smarter and fast and stronger?  Where are you using those lessons to claim your spot on the board?

Don’t just follow your passion, invest in it.