Passion: To Have Or Have Not

Passion: What is it? Why is it? Why do some people have it, and some
simply don’t? What’s the deal with passion, anyway? Why is it so elusive for
some, and so motivating and inspirational for others?

Passion, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “a strong liking or desire for or
devotion to some activity, object, or concept.” There are many other definitions
of passion, but that’s the one I’m interested in. You see, I’ve had several
conversations with friends who don’t have it, don’t know how to get it, don’t
know where it comes from, or why it even exists for some but not for all. I’m
with them… I don’t get it, either.

See, I’m one of the lucky ones, I’ve had a passion for music all my life. It has
driven my life, directing it in ways I’d never have imagined, and has been a
constant reward in this somewhat otherwise iffy existence. Music has taken
me to another dimension, many times, and has ever been my go to, my fall
back, my comfort, my happy place… the center of my very being.My music
has been my analyst’s couch, and my analyst, more times than I can tell.
Music, and my passion for it, has defined me and nurtured me through life,
and I can’t imagine my life without it.

Was I driven by a passion for music from the beginning? Oh absolutely!
Once it got its hooks in me, i never once considered an alternative. My mom
wanted me to be an English major in college, as a back-up plan, if and when
I failed in music. I clearly remember that, for me, failure was not an option. I
simply never even thought about it or considered it, beyond knowing that one
thing I was NOT going to be was an English teacher! For me, music quickly
became a passion that might have dribbled into an obsession. I hungered for
good jazz, especially good jazz piano, and frequently got goose bumps and
sometimes tears when I was lucky enough to hear some in those early years.
When I was 15, the song “Quiet Village” by Martin Denny came out on the radio
as an instrumental hit. I was thrilled to hear it, and hoped that jazz, even the
“barely jazz” that Quiet Village was, might slowly become more popular with
time, until I might hear several jazz instrumentals on the radio every day!

Well, of course that never happened. I can still count the jazz instrumentals
that actually got any steady radio play on the fingers of one hand. I was told
over and over again that music was not a good career direction, that I needed
to pursue something far more practical if I wanted to entertain any chance of
a successful career. But I never once second-guessed myself on that issue.
Music was my love, my passion!

Now here it would be good to be able to explain why I had this passion for
music, why my love for it pushed me through the fog of uncertainty that so
many young people seem to be fighting their way through today. But I can’t.
True, I had a natural ability, a definite affinity for music, but a modest one
it turned out. I worked at it and developed it to the best of my ability for the
better part of 50 years, only to hear a 12 year-old boy named Joey Alexander
play circles around me. Yes, that’s real genius, and fairly rare. Still.. My time
at the Berklee School in Boston was a constant reminder of how mediocre my
abilities actually were, in comparison to so many others. Yet I succeeded,
developing my middle of the road talent into a viable, successful career.
I’ve told friends that, in most cases, I simply outlasted much of my competition,
that I stuck it out and kept pushing, always believing that I would, somehow,
become a good musician. But what was the force that kept pushing me all
those years? My passion for it! It never left me, never weakened.

Which leaves me wondering… what is the relationship between a passion
and an obsession? Merriam-Webster defines obsession as “a persistent
disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling…
more broadly, a compelling motivation” Not very satisfactory there, Merriam,
but it’ll do for our discussion here. It becomes evident, to me at least, that
there is a slight gray area between passion and obsession, and that the two
might actually work together in some fashion, without our being able to know
which one of them is driving the bus! Not that it matters very much, but an
obsession is usually construed as a potentially darker, more dangerous passion,
driven, perhaps, by less purity of intent than the love of a thing that we usually
think of as a passion. Wait, did that make any sense at all? Never mind, you
get my drift.

A few of my friends have told me they chose their career paths by making
a practical choice about what they could be good at, do for a lengthy period
of time, and wrench an agreeable retirement plan out of the whole deal. They
looked at their chosen path as a good, well-thought out decision, with no drive
or passion connected to it whatsoever. See, I don’t understand that. And
when I asked how they were able to choose the thing they decided to pursue,
not feeling any particular passion for it, their answer was this: “I knew it was
something I could do for a long time that would provide me the security I

When I asked if it bothered them that they didn’t really love their chosen
field, but simply worked at it and put in the time, as a practical matter, they
answered, “No. Why should it bother me? I made my choice and it worked out
fine. Besides, everyone has to work, make money, support themselves and
their families. There’s a very real success in being able to pull that off!”

Being in total agreement with that, still I can’t imagine going to a job every
day that wasn’t exciting to me, a job I didn’t necessarily love, a job I did
simply to pay the bills. Doesn’t that get depressing after awhile? Doesn’t one
begin feeling like they’re spinning their wheels for nothing? I have immense
respect for all those who have worked through their lives in that way. What
courage, what dedication it must take!

I know a few others who are still fairly young, multi-talented people who don’t
know which direction to take for a career, as they aren’t motivated to
necessarily go one way or another. They admit to having no real passion for a
thing. So I can only deduce, from this small smattering of friends’ career
choices and feelings about them, that one can become very good at a thing
without having a passion for it. Further, that having a passion for a thing
doesn’t insure a great ability to do it. My friends have had most successful
careers. They were very good at what they did, and have since retired

I am immensely proud of all of them. Not only were they professional, steadfast
and courageous, but they motivated and helped many people around them
for years, without that magical motivation of passion.

How different we all are, one from the other… how alike, yet so different in so
many significant ways. My friends are happy for me, happy that I was able to
have a life and a career filled with a love and a passion for what I did. And I’m
as grateful for that as i can be, without making the trek to Mount Carabunga
in the Himalayas, to denounce all mortal weaknesses (of which I have many)
and submit myself to a life of self-cleansing and servitude. That not being a
necessary option, I’m content in the knowledge that the Universe knows well
how grateful I am for my middle-of-the-road talent for making music, and a
giant, loving passion for doing it.

I would wish for all of you to live a life of passion, with a love for what you do,
For those of you who have found it, you know these words are true. For those
of you who work hard and have yet to find your passion, I would wish for you
to remain open to an abiding love for a talent, a special ability that you might
have. If you find it, if you feel it, follow it, let it guide you, let it motivate and
excite you! Chase it until it consumes you, not worrying about the results.
For you will love the results. Find a passion, embrace it… you’ll never regret it.

Steve Hulse

3 Replies to “Passion: To Have Or Have Not”


  2. Steve:
    I remember that you once told me “If you hd it to do over, you’d do the same thing.” You were right – except that I might have considered hanging onto some California properties that became $1million+ way after I sold them…
    I accept that my retirement will be when I fall dead over my instrument (I did that to myself) and I’m glad I still love what I do.
    I describe myself as A MUSICAL ANACHRONISM AT THE PEAK OF MY SKILLS. And I appreciate the times we played together. Stay well.

  3. LOVE Bobby Short & the others, too…but esp Bobby. I’d always hoped to catch him sometime at the Cafe Carlyle but never did. 🙁

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