How To Discipline Your Passion--An Ugly Title, I Know

I’m the kind of person that, when I find something I like, I travel to the far-fetches of fandom. When it comes to music, books, and movies: I’m not a dabbler, I’m a super fan. 

Here are some examples:

  • Before ‘Netflix binging’ was a thing, I spent my school vacations watching entire seasons of The O.C. in the middle of the night by myself. I’d use my Christmas money to buy each season on DVD, year after year.

  • I can listen to the same song on loop all day. [The last two days I’ve been listening to “Sunday Candy” (Chance the Rapper) and “Wrote My Way Out” (Hamilton Mixtape).] It seems to make me more productive, but also it’s a little much - so I use headphones for the sake of everyone around me. 

  • When I find a book that I like (or worse, love), I go on Amazon and buy every book that person has ever written, watch every interview they’ve ever done. I will go into the archives on everything that person has EVER touched. 

  • When it comes to researching for books or articles, I follow my curiosity to the source. I get obsessed with certain ideas, certain art forms, certain quotes and anecdotes. I don’t stop at trying to understand the surface of something - I want to know EVERYTHING. 

For a long time, this ‘swarm strategy’ (as I’ve heard it called) felt like an impediment to my progress. You have to admit—it’s f*cking weird. 

But then I started realizing that this is how many successful creatives work - they generate a degree of obsessive, passionate, crazy desire to figure things out.

Let’s say you want to write a book, a musical, a movie script. Would you rather write about a vanilla topic that you’re ‘kinda into’ or a rocky road topic that you’re completely obsessed with?

Rocky road is the best choice for two reasons:

(1) Life is short and you better enjoy yourself, and

(2) Passion will help you build the stamina necessary to followthrough.

But, as you likely know, there’s a downside to unmitigated passion. Netflix keeps asking if you’re still watching House of Cards and you’re STILL saying “yes” five hours later.

This is something the zeitgeist often forgets. There’s nothing wrong with binging House of Cards if you’re preparing to write something on how “life imitates art.” There’s also nothing wrong with it if you’ve set aside half a day to relax and reset.

The problem is the slip that happens. One episode turns into six seasons, one chip turns into a whole bag.

Passion can be blinding, often times counterproductive when unrestrained. It can suck you into manic-mode. In a work context, you want something so bad that you’ve lost all ability to think rationally. You start spending time on things that aren’t moving the needle forward.

This is why you must discipline your passions, your own curiosities. You need to set aside time to follow what interests you - to get sucked into blackholes on Reddit or vortexes on YouTube. You also need to set blocks of time when you don’t have access to these tools at all.

Let me ask you something. How much of your time is being spent passively consuming content—on TV, The NYT, etc.?

Now, how much more productive and happy could you you be if you just flipped the switch and made that consumption active?

What if you decided to discipline what you read, watch, and consume by choosing what truly interests you rather than just what’s in front of you?

Look, we can’t sit around and justify spending an entire weekday doing research on Abraham Lincoln (a current obsession of mine with no clear reason).

We have jobs to do, people to take care of.

But you know what?

We also can’t justify living vanilla lives. We can’t justify being the type of people who dabble. Dabblers don’t make the world a better place.

So, what do we do?

We make time for the things that interest us, if for no better reason than that they interest us. Then, we find ways to shut off the spigot of information.

There’s no saying what will come if you invest in this obsession of yours.

Take Hamilton: The Musical. It doesn’t make sense. In the words of writer Lin-Manuel Miranda, “ it’s the story of America then, told by America now.” You know what it really is? It’s 95% historically correct, and dope as hell. A hip-hop masterpiece. How the heck did Miranda come up with that? According to his own account, he just buried himself in research - about his favorite rappers and Alexander Hamilton - then dug himself out limerick by limerick.

If that doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will.

Grit on full blast.

Passion turned up.

Go for it, dude!

Just go for it with intention and purpose, schedule it in.

Kate Ward