In this world of excess and extremes, here’s a case for the underrated average.
Back when my college friends and I were all dreaming of pursuing perfect jobs and wildly social lifestyles, we would never have imagined that the downright sad definition of ‘virtue’ by Aristotle would one day, come to mean anything more than a dull concept in an ordinarily boring lecture for us.
Aristotle defined ‘virtue’ as the mean or the perfect average between two extremes. The mid-point between all or nothing. The point in between deficiency and excess according to him, on any scale, is the point where virtue thrives. It was absurdly difficult for us to grasp too, so let me elucidate.
For instance, on the spectrum of happiness, where one extreme is feeling dismal or pessimistic and the other is feeling ecstatic and optimistic, the right in the middle feeling… ‘just fine’ is the perfect point of being according to this famous ancient philosopher. Being right in the middle of two extremes on the spectrum of any emotion (or even otherwise) is the right way to live and be. If Aristotle is to be believed that is.
My 16-year old brain couldn’t fathom the concept of living life at this average point. My 22-year old brain, however, is just about starting to understand that Aristotle got something right.
Main Udhna Nahi Chahta, Naina
Where did we really pick up the idea of living in extremes from? Why is ‘living life on the edge’ so damn #cool that we can’t help but aim to live a life chasing our #passion?
Media, popular culture, Internet and basically every other institution that governs our life currently has been feeding us different versions of this glorified chase.
Popular content seems to constantly oscillate between “you’re allowed to feel as sad as you want” and “you go girl, follow your passion!”
As momentarily empowering and aspirational this discourse seems on the surface, it is not always conducive to sustaining a life in the long run.
The problem with popular adages like “choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is that it rests on the assumption that what you love is a constant. Or even that you will be the same person five years from now that you are today.
Passion Is Limiting
These popular catchphrases are based on the flimsy assumption that our definition of eminence and achievement will not change as we grow and evolve.
Confining ourselves to “finding our (momentary) passion” and approaching this seemingly static idea of #passion and interest with a fixed mindset, sets us up for disappointment.
Because our interests, and our passions, by extension, are more fluid than we’d like them to be. They evolve and transition as we age and gain wisdom and experience.
Back when I found Aristotle’s prescription of a virtuous life dull and stuffy, “becoming an actor” featured prominently on my list of life goals.
But I grew up and began dreaming of more sustainable career options. Like a writer. (don’t laugh, joke’s on you, you’re reading this!)
If I had discounted other career options in favour of my supposed ‘passion’ at that time, it is likely that I would have given up easily when things got tough. As they are bound to, always. Encouraged by popular media, I would have somehow assumed that following my passion would relieve me of failure, hard work and struggle or even worse, that following my dream somehow, de facto, would set me up for success.
Following through on things with a fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset can stop us in our tracks very quickly.
Being urged to find a passion may drive us to put all eggs in one basket but also force us drop the basket altogether when it becomes too heavy or too difficult to carry.
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Stimulation Vs. Sustainability
The human tendency to value short term emotional comfort and immediate gratification over long term sustenance has been proven time and again. But if recent research, and the gradual shift in the tones of university graduation speeches (from passionate to pragmatic) are to be believed, following your passion is increasingly becoming one of the worst pieces of career advice to be doled out.
Research on passion suggests that contrary to popular belief, passion is actually something to be developed. Not something that’s found or discovered.
Passion has a tendency to wane over time.
That doesn’t mean it is to be discounted altogether. Passion has a purpose. Its intensity pushes us to focus on something strongly for a brief period of time. Hence, allowing us to develop an expertise in something. Or discover something about ourselves or our subject of interest (think romantic relationships). This wouldn’t be visible if we didn’t dig deep enough. But if we make passion our purpose, we will be disappointed when it leaves us (think romantic relationships again.)
Instead of focusing on passion, how about we focus on purpose?
Focussing on what you care about first will be more helpful in tiding you over to your big finish. Focus on a larger purpose, which could be anything from your own well being to making it to the top in a certain field. Changing the narrative in your head allows you to look at career options as a lifelong journey.
And if the current global pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the need to chase long term sustainability. Not whims or flights of fancy.
If Coronavirus Is The Judge, Sustainability Wins
Having said that, I personally don’t entirely give in to the idea of doing away with whims and fancies altogether. I did end up getting into a relatively safe and stable job life. The kind that has just enough excitement to keep me stimulated enough to want to show up to work (or a zoom call) every morning.
But just for dramatic effect I would like to add this. I ended up pursuing acting as a part time career with a decently famous theatre group. Because passion, as I mentioned, can be developed.
It’s this balance between safe and whimsical that helps me sustain. The same balance that Aristotle spoke so extensively about.
In the larger context too, life – and work more specifically, has undergone some rather colossal transitions.
Click here to read my two cents on how the definition of work has changed.
And if anything, these changes, can actually make it easier for us to attain that attractive average. The pandemic has managed to deconstruct a lot of archaic work cultures. It will be more viable going forward for us to craft our work in a way that leaves more scope for exploring things that we’re #passionate about.
We can spend more time working with people who inspire us. Work towards a different passion project. Get to know our coworkers and see how they view their work too. This transition can actually help us reflect on how we can find other, newer and different opportunities to pursue our passion.
More than that however, the pandemic has proven how significant sustainability is. And how truly alright and perfectly normal it is if your job isn’t your lifelong passion.
One Basket Isn’t Enough For All Your Eggs
Ultimately, the key to that coveted balance is this. Think about how you don’t really have to have just one basket. If we don’t overload the basket, and create multiple different ones so all our eggs can comfortably rest in them, do you think you’ll ever worry about breaking one again?
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