If there’s one thing I hope my collective online presences (social, blog, etc.) show, it’s that I’m passionate. I love books, yes, but also:

  • gaming
  • blogging
  • helping
  • cross-stitching
  • skiing, and
  • fishing.

Anyone who knows me IRL knows that I passionately pursue progress and fun in all of these area. I think about them almost every minute of every day. I’m actively involved online and in real-life communities around those interests. I sometimes pursue them so zealously that my my family suffers (“Mom, are you ever going to make dinner?”) So reading The Passion Paradox: A Guide to Going All In, Finding Success, and Discovering the Benefits of an Unbalanced Life by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness was a wake-up call and a great help to me.

Cover of book The Passion Paradox: A Guide to Going All In, Finding Success, and Discovering the Benefits of Living an Unbalanced Life

What is The Passion Paradox About?

As it says on the inside cover, it’s “the counterintuitive guide to achieving success [in your passions] without ruining your life.” Its authors say that we’re often told to pursue our passions, and we often admire people who pursue things passionately, but we don’t often talk about what passion is exactly.

I mean, it’s not like there’s some official, external standard by which we can gauge if someone’s ardent pursuit of an activity qualifies as a passion because passion, by definition, is personal. But because it’s so personal, it can be hard for the passionate person to gauge if they’re “in too deep” and moderate themselves, if needs be. The reason Passion Paradox is “counterintuitive” is because it says that balance–with other people, pursuits, and responsibilities–isn’t possible for passionate people to achieve. Forget about it, they say. Their research says it’s not possible.

Instead, they recommend seeking “self-awareness” and a “mastery mindset.” In Passion Paradox, Stulberg and Magness explore both the up- and down-sides of passion, and how to be more self-aware and masterfully mindful of yourself while pursuing your passions.

How Passion Paradox Helped Me

I knew that I was passionate before I read this book, but I hadn’t really thought about the possible downsides of passion, which are:

  • associating self-worth with external results. “When our sense of self is tied to external results, desperation inevitably follows. Nearly all success includes at least some degree of failure. If you can’t accept those failures honestly, openly, and with humility, then fraud, angst, and depression are a likely path. That’s because the experience of failure, or even just a lack of progress, becomes a personal attack.
  • neglecting other parts of our lives
  • obsession
Quote from The Passion Paradox by Stulberg and Magness: "When our sense of self is tied to external results, desperation inevitably follows."

Don’t get me wrong. My kids aren’t starving and their physical and mental well-being is always my priority, although some might look at my youngest boy’s long hair and total and purposeful disregard of the “matching clothes rule” and think otherwise. We’re prepared for Covid-19.

But I realized that I’ve been prioritizing my “indoor” passions–like writing and reading books, gaming, etc.–way over my “outdoor” passions. I haven’t been skiing or dirt biking this year nearly as much as I have in years past, and my body is telling me it doesn’t like that. Seems like I should have realized that a long time ago, but sometimes I guess I need an outside, impartial person–or book–to help me see it.

Could Reading The Passion Paradox Help You?

Yes, if you like self-help books that have a good balance of research, real-life examples, resonating truths, and real-world advice on how to avoid the pitfalls of passion. If that’s you, you’ll love this book.

Yes, if you’ve read books like It’s Not Always Depression by Hilary Jacobs Hendel, and liked the talk about “self-parenting,” or the concept of removing your emotional self from highly charged situations. Stulberg and Magness’ discussion of self-distancing is similar and also helpful.

No, if, like me, you don’t or wouldn’t agree with a recommendation to visualize your death as a way to get a bigger-picture perspective on life and what’s important. If that’s you, skip over locations 1826 through 1868 (Sorry, I don’t have the actual page numbers, since I read an eARC). The rest of the book will still prove useful to you, though. For me, imagining my death in full detail, as they recommend, would make me want to embrace my passions all that much more and be all that much more unbalanced.

Yes, if you’re looking for something to be passionate about, although this book won’t give you specific ideas. It will provide advice on how to seek passions wisely.

Keep in mind, though, that the authors frequently use the word “inertia” in reference to the the movement or progress that passion might help you feel, which bugged me. Take this sentence for example: “It’s all too easy to let the inertia of a passionate experience carry you forward without every really evaluating what you’re sacrificing.” Since the definition of “inertia” is “a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged,” I don’t think that’s what they mean. A better word would be “momentum.” If you’re a word nerd like me, it might get on your nerves. If you’re a regular person, don’t worry about it.

Book Deal on Passion Paradox

Between Barnesandnoble.com, Amazon, ThriftBooks.com, and BetterWorldBooks.com, ThriftBooks had the best deal: a hardcover, like-new condition copy for $8.09.

Read this book or one like it? If so, tell me in the comments! I want to hear about it!

1 Comment

  1. […] it’s about: I talked about it here, briefly, but it’s about helping you identify “inhibitory emotions” like anxiety, […]

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