the passion of the hobbit

It’s a subject I waffle back and forth on – the idea that passion needs to rule your life. It seems obvious, of course, that you should have passion for your spouse, children… then maybe a bit less obvious but still reasonable to have the same passion for relatives, friends and interests.  Even less obvious would be the very abstract things like country, career, sports teams and so on.  If you’re passionate about something lower on the list like that – say, American Idol – reexamine your priorities.  I was passionate about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I recognize that it wasn’t a good direction for my passions.  I got a lot of entertainment out of it but my life is exactly 0.0% improved because of it.

But if you can’t focus on something, it’s a shortcoming. In my case, I don’t have a lot of passion for my work.  I view it as a mechanical activity that provides food, shelter, clothing and Netflix for the family.  I wouldn’t view this as ideal, although I realize at the same time that 99.99% of the human population wouldn’t view sitting in a quiet, air-conditioned cubicle for 8 hours a day for an income in the top 1% of the planet’s population as a hardship.  Many of the “seize your passion” bloggers do – they assume that everyone can seize their internet business bliss – nobody has to make the computer, only to live off of them.

But that’s fine – of course some can and some can’t. Whether any of us choose to do so is of course a choice; if you love taking care of horses and instead choose to pursue a career as an account receivable manager, you’ve made a choice.  Whether you can live with it or not is the problem – many can, and a few can’t.  I’d guess that the time when all of this questioning really came into play was when the social contract that said companies would handle retirement broke down.  If I worked for IBM for 25 years and knew they’d take care of me during those 25 years, and after, I’d be a lot more inclined to give up on the need for passion.  But nowadays, that’s not true; just recently a colleague of mine got laid off from a company he’d worked for over 20 years without even a thank you.  Your future is not secure.

I realized all of this tonight while reading to my son.  For about a week we’ve been reading a few pages of “The Hobbit” by J. R. R. Tolkien every night.  I’ve explained the general story to him – a little hobbit goes with a bunch of dwarves to steal back their gold from a dragon – but I don’t have many illusions about how well a four-year-old can follow Tolkien’s esoteric prose.   It’s not exceptionally complicated, but it’s not Goodnight Moon.

But tonight when I asked him if he wanted to try something easier, he said no. I asked whether he understood most of it, and he said no.  I asked then if he wanted to stop, and he said no.  I asked why, if he couldn’t understand all of it, and he gave me an answer that should make things clear (to paraphrase):  I’m excited about it because you’re excited about it, Papa.  He liked listening to it because I liked reading it.  Something was in my voice that wasn’t there when I was reading Goodnight Moon or I’m A Truck.

Some of my fondest memories from childhood are of my father reading The Hobbit to me from the same book at a slightly older age. I remember being a little confused by the language and the complex plot, but loving the fact that my dad thought I was ready for something so amazing.  That passion translates easily, and makes reading something like The Hobbit far simpler than struggling through Goodnight Moon for the 100th time.  Sitting down at the desk in the corporate office for the 100th time is much like that; coming up with new ideas, starting new jobs or developing new ideas is much like picking up The Hobbit.

I don’t like to think that work – and through that, life – is bleak without purpose. It’s not; other things should put life in balance even if there isn’t purpose in one’s work.  But work and parenthood and friendship and one’s relationship with parents, community, school and whatever else are, in fact, intimately tied up with passion.  Without the passion to pursue something – church, charity, community, work, parenthood, etc. – life is going to be a little less exciting.  Excitement is its own reward.

3 comments

  • I love this post because it reminds me of when I was little and my dad read “The Little Prince” to me. I didn’t understand it either but I loved it and still remember images that I did get from it. I don’t remember any of the other books he undoubtedly read to me. You’ve triggered a heart-warming memory for me, and someday, one for your son.

  • For years, I was a waffler on the passion thing too. In my case, I finally realized that I could find the passion in the cube through mentoring, indulging my inner geek that likes to play with spreadsheets and numbers and a lot of focus on the team that I worked with, making sure that they enjoyed the work as much as possible and knew that their contributions made a difference. Maybe not in the big scheme of things, but without people like that, annual reports don’t get written, investors don’t have a clear picture and above all, we worked for our other team members. Not all cube environments give that kind of meaning, but it’s magical when you find them. Or make them. Having said that, I think I’ve broken the monotony of corporate jobs too by not staying with the same company or the same position for more than 12-24 months at a stretch. That satisfies the inner desire for change and new problems.

    Something that I’ve found, and I’m not sure if this is necessarily true for everyone, is that I wasn’t able to get my head around the age-old question “What would you do if you didn’t have to do it for money?” – until I REALLY didn’t need the money anymore – ie. it wasn’t just an academic exercise . I’m very grateful that I’ve come to that financial independence point early enough to do something about it and dabble in things just from pure love of the process.

    I wonder too if many of the “follow your passion” internet people are maybe fooling themselves. I’ve read too many stories of how they’re burning themselves out working huge numbers of hours and not having balanced lives. When I was passionately involved working “for the man” in a cube environment putting in 80+ hour weeks, I never felt burned out and didn’t feel unbalanced. And most don’t really have what I would call true passive income, they have to keep on pumping out the content without a break whereas at least at a job, you get holidays and know the work will get done (maybe) 🙂 if you call in sick. It seems quite enslaving to me to live that way.

    It also appears to me that those who find that kind of life fulfilling must be very introverted (in Meyers Briggs terms). Although I enjoy blogging on a limited basis, I can’t fathom wanting to spend my days in front of a monitor for hours at a stretch, I’d go insane without real interaction with the world.

  • It’s surprising how well children do follow Tolkien’s story. We read the trilogy to our son when he was preschool age. He loved it!

    Ahem. I’m afraid we followed that with The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, which he loved even more. Maybe that’s why he’s such an iconoclast today. 😉