Passion, Purpose, and Practicality (Part 2 - Selection)

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the previous post we talked about passion and how it can provide you with motivational fuel to keep practicing. But passion tells us little about how to choose; choosing an art to develop, or if you’ve already chosen, what to focus your practice on. That’s where purpose comes in. With all the movement arts I’ve stuck with I stumbled into passion, when selecting for purpose.

Now, of course it’s only natural to be excited about a new thing. We humans love the new, gadgets, experiences, relationships, workout routines, you name it. New is unknown, and when something is unknown anything is possible; passion rests somewhere in that possibility space. However, if initial excitement was all we needed to find something we loved, then we’d have a glut of guitar gods, prolific artists and martial arts masters. Excitement can get you in the door, but passion develops over time.

If excitement alone can’t point you towards a true passion then what’s missing from the equation?

Perhaps it’s understanding why we’re interested? The source of the excitement? Dig deep enough and you’re either excited because it matters to you (intrinsic motivation) or because it matters to someone else (extrinsic motivation), to the outside world. Making your choice based on the perceived desires of others-whether an individual, culture, or even society as a whole- is a waste of time. At best you might get lucky and find something that you’re also intrinsically motivated by. Endeavors based upon a desire to look good in the eyes of others, either from appearance or superior status/skill or from a feeling of obligation-shame is often involved, and an epidemic in the realm of health- will fizzle out before long. If you want to find something that truly makes you feel alive, the interest must ultimately come from inside yourself.

The Interest-Purpose Loop

If choice should be based upon your own genuine interest, how can that help guide one towards pursuits with a higher probability of developing true passion and undying curiosity? Combine your interest with a purpose. Just as the interest should be your own, the purpose should also be specific to yourself. The possible combinations of interest and purpose are infinite, so I’ll just use myself as an example.

My interest in Ninjutsu was due to an intense fascination with Ninja. I’ve always preferred the stealthy and agile characters to the strong, favoring thief archetypes in RPGs and playing every stealth game I could get my hands on (much love for the Splinter Cell series). What was my purpose for practicing Ninjutsu, learning a practical self-defense art with an emphasis on escape. The combination of philosophy and history that resonates with me and skills which make me feel capable of handling myself and protecting others has made Ninjutsu a perfect fit. For Parkour my interest stemmed from philosophy (again) and seeing the inspiring possibilities of the art on Youtube. When I got started the purpose was purely to round out my Ninjutsu training by becoming ridiculously good at escaping (the ultimate way to win is to not fight at all). My interest in dance was the least expected of the three. I’ve been consistently inspired by incredible ability of B-boys (most of all B-Boy Issue ) to move their bodies in ways I thought impossible, especially while improvising. I dance to explore creativity and self-expression in movement, which also helps with creativity elsewhere. Dance is also my laboratory for testing theories on movement and how to hack movement learning.

In all three cases I picked the art due to that link between an existing interest of mine and some specific benefits I wanted to get out of practice, which was my practical purpose for practicing (say that three times fast). I didn’t know what to expect from any of them when I started, all I knew was that they looked interesting and it’d be fun to try them out. Now I can’t see myself stopping any of them, ever.

Pick a practice based on your genuine interest. There is no one ‘truth’ and no right answers here, only what is meaningful for you. You’ll know you’ve found something if you’d do it even if it was a closely guarded ninja secret and you could tell no one.

Move for you.

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