I’ve always had an interesting relationship with passion and obsession. But I’ve never quite known the difference between the two, or if there actually was a difference. They do share similar characteristics, after all. So I’ve often wondered … if there is a difference, of which do I routinely engage?
Recently these questions came to mind as my credit card bill began to rise due to my increased purchases for an upcoming backcountry trip. Particularly that increased spending revolved around acquiring camouflage clothing, gear, and fabric.
“Huh?” you ask.
Tomorrow, I’m departing for a 9-day elk hunt in northern Nevada with one of my best friends. Although I don’t personally hunt, my father and grandfather were both avid hunters and fishermen. So not only am I’m tagging along as a friend, extra set of eyes, and schelpper, I’m also treating the experience as one in which I can reconnect (even for just a short time) with my past and, in a broader sense, the history of humankind. And, of course, I’ll be photographing the landscape and wildlife during the trip.
I understand that some people might be surprised to hear that I would be participating in such an event. But I’m not here to sell you on the idea or to engage in public discussion about the merits for or arguments against hunting. Just know that I don’t take the act lightly.
All of that said, I haven’t owned an article of camouflage clothing for about 20 years. And, guess what? The forecast for the duration of the trip calls for rain, snow, and some nights of single digit temperatures. So, I was essentially starting from scratch and needed to buy a full complement of camouflage gear.
Quickly after purchasing my first shirt, I realized that having camouflage clothing probably wouldn’t be the worst thing when it came to wildlife photography. So, my thought process immediately transformed from only considering the minimum amount gear that I needed to wanting all of the camouflage.
On a related note, I’ve lamented all summer about not having an efficient and easy-to-grab system in which to carry my naturalist, birding, and wildlife photography gear.
This is what I do, though, plummet down one rabbit hole after another hence my questions about passion and obsession. Fortunately, during these last few years, all of my endeavors have supported one another as if there were a much bigger plan in motion.
Simply buying new gear was one thing. Either it fits or it doesn’t, and it’ll either work in a layering system or it won’t. The real mind-bender and time-suck was sewing a camouflage vest with pockets in all the right places for the exact items that I prefer to carry.
But three days later, I had a freshly stitched vest made to my exact specifications. Now, I want to sew for myself about ten more vests for every possible scenario! Again, this relentless push (learning, assimilating, and expressing as my own) to get something done is what I do.
Many people equate passion and obsession as being the same thing. But, after some meditation on the subject, I would argue that they’re not interchangeable at all and are, in fact, vastly different.
Passion is internally driven. A passionate person is an active participant in the life experience. They’re not just along for the ride. With passion, you’re motivated to do a thing based on interest and enthusiasm. You’re not compelled to do it because of urges or forces beyond your control, like a drug addict.
Obsession is passive. You’re no longer in control because you’re at the mercy of the thing and stuck adhering to its stringent demands. In many respects, you switch over the controls to autopilot when you obsess over a thing.
Passion is more like a mission and yields boundless creativity. It’s a way in which to channel all of your efforts into a meaningful outcome. You take interest in the subject and learn what needs to be done. Then, you gather the strength and a network of teammates and support personnel and implement a strategy in order to accomplish the thing. With passion, you open your mind to all possibilities because you know as soon as you step foot into that echo chamber your chances of success dramatically drop.
Obsession suppresses your ability to create. Because an obsessive person becomes so target-fixated on a specific thing, they limit their potential. An obsessive person trying to build bigger biceps, for example, would just perform countless barbell curls when they were at the gym. This would have a limited effect because the body is a whole system, not just one facet. A passionate person might, instead, embrace a full-body workout with an emphasis on arm work.
The mind works the same way. Limit your focus and you limit your potential.
Passion is sustainable because it’s your free will that dictates how far you take it. Remember that passion is based on your interest so, believe it or not, you are always in control. As long as you stay motivated, you can keep going. Or, you could stop whenever you want.
Even if you totally lost interest in your passion or had to give it up completely due to other circumstances, would that really be bad?
If I had to move to the east coast, for example, I’d probably give up Tahoe Trail Guide. Maybe I’d try to sell the website or publish an actual book based on it. But, for all intents and purposes, it would be odd for me to try to keep it alive assuming I no longer lived in the area.
What if your passion resulted in repetitive stress injuries? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to walk away from it before catastrophic injury? Or, what if you actually completed your passionate mission? The work would be done and you could move on.
I guess if you spent $10,000 on new equipment but lost interest after only a week that would be bad. Or, if you had the habit of hopping from one unrelated activity to another week after week that would get pretty exhausting. But neither of those two examples describe a passionate person.
Passionate people tend to stick with things for far longer than a week or two. And they’re usually pretty calculated about investing time and money into their pursuits.
Ultimately, you could put down your passion for a day, week, or year, and most likely be able to pick it back up as if it were a conversation you were having with an old friend.
Obsession requires an intervention or life-changing event for the person to “lose interest.” Obsession grips your mind and won’t let go until it’s done with you.
Passion fosters community. You forge strong relationships through passionate endeavors because there’s an honesty and relatability to the work you’re performing. People become inspired by you and your mission and want to encourage and support your efforts.
Obsession ultimately co-opts your personality. It strips you of your identity and most indicators of the person you once were. The object or focus of your obsession begins to exclusively define you. This causes you to appear unrecognizable and unrelatable to even the closest of friends and family. Your close relationships eventually disintegrate and you become alienated.
Lastly, and most importantly, passion elicits feelings of joy in myriad ways. Meaningful work and relationships. Sense of purpose. Expression of your highest potential. On the other hand, obsession is often just a matter of putting checks in the box, over and over and over. Now, where’s the joy in that?
When I recently looked closer at the distinction between passion and obsession, I realized that I have engaged in both over the years. But I don’t imagine there are too many people who haven’t toggled between the two. Fortunately, when I scan the ledger, I see more endeavors on which I’ve embarked being based on passion rather than obsession.
How can I be so sure?
All I have to do is remember the fun I’ve had, look at the volume and diversity of my creative output and, most importantly, read the long list of people who I’ve met along the way that I now call friends.
For an even better discussion on this subject, check out this article written by John Hagle titled “Passion Versus Obsession.”
I actually participated in a second year of “Inktober.” Basically, people around the world draw a sketch each day for the month of October and then share them on social media. This year I kept my process fast and loose, never spending more than 10 minutes on a drawing. I started with a quick (blue) pencil sketch and then went over it with a Copic brush pen. Mostly I focused on shape and form, leaning toward capturing a silhouette rather than spending time delineating detail. To see last year’s output (where I used a fine pen with lots of cross-hatching), see my November 2019 newsletter.
Click an each image for a larger version, and then cycle through them all using the left/right arrows.
My longest YouTube video to-date, so I won’t blame you if you don’t watch the whole thing. But it features some nice photos and footage 🙂
Basically, this video is a recap of my 2019/20 cross-country skiing season with an emphasis on my backcountry cross-country ski sessions. There doesn’t appear to be too many YouTubers producing backcountry cross-country ski videos, so I’m trying to carve out a little niche in that area. I published this video last month in anticipation of the upcoming winter. Enjoy!
Please subscribe to my channel if you haven’t already. Thank you 🙂
This article about backcountry travel during the winter is one that I wrote about two years ago. But, last month I edited and updated it because I suspect there’ll be a lot of people venturing into the backcountry this during the winter of 2020-21. Perhaps my information will help some newer people to winter adventuring steer clear of trouble. Or, in the least, provide food for thought about being safe when winter adventuring.
Click the image to read its article.
Thanks for being a part of my life. Until next time…
Tahoe Trail Guide is an online resource for hiking, backpacking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing in the Lake Tahoe region. In addition to trail data, I offer backcountry “how-to” articles and information about the local and natural history of Tahoe. Tahoe Swag is a collection of art and design products I create based on my love of the outdoors and appreciation for Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains.
If you like any of the images I post in these newsletters, please contact me. I’d be more than happy to upload them to my RedBubble account so that you can order prints and other merchandise featuring the images.
Please note that I’ll be in the backcountry from November 6-14, 2020. So, if you have any questions or correspondence for me, I’ll have to reply when I return.