There are wonderful times when life catches me completely off guard. Like a week ago when I attended my five-year-old’s first piano recital. It was, initially, reminiscent of the recitals I’d played in as a child, where the first children to play were the youngest and least skilled, and the last were those who could show some mastery over their lessons. Needless to say, I never played last at a recital in any of my seven to eight years of piano lessons. I liked playing the piano, still do, but I was never passionate about it.
However, last Sunday, I saw passion. As I sat there in church watching one student succeed another, a few of them showing fine technical skill, I expected no great epiphanies at the keyboard. But then the last student to play, an 11-year-old boy who had been taking lessons only four years, sat down to regale the audience with five minutes or so of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and I sat there dumbfounded. Not only did this boy demonstrate technical skill way beyond his years, but he played with the passion of a man who has found and lost love, watched a beloved die, walked through fire….
Where does feeling like that come from in an 11-year-old boy?
I have no idea.
But I do know that it was not passion alone that made that young man stroke the keys as if he was born to play. The piano teacher’s sister informed me after the recital that the boy’s parents could hardly keep him from the piano, that he played all the time.
That’s not just passion. That’s commitment.
And if you ever want to succeed at something, and I mean really succeed, you have to have both.
How often have I seen a person with passion for an art, skill, or subject fail to reach potential, not for lack of talent but for lack of commitment. And commitment, mind you, is more than hard work. It comes with cost and sacrifice.
A friend of mine had to give a meditation recently at a wedding, and she was anxious about how to do it because she had been asked not to be too religious. “How can I talk about passion,” she asked, “and not draw an anomaly to the passion of Christ?”
I don’t know what she ultimately came up with, but even though I’m not religious, I know there is much to learn from what we refer to as “Christ’s passion.” Jesus, whether mortal or God, was willing to take the cost, make the ultimate sacrifice, for what he believed. The result? His life and teachings form one of the world’s most influential religions. And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the influence of Jesus’ passion and commitment.
I suspect, knowing my friend, that she perhaps touched on the necessity of passion and commitment to a successful marriage. It is one thing to love another person, even deeply love him. It is quite another to commit yourself to maintaining that love for life. That not only takes work, like the work of resolving minor disputes before they become big resentments, but the work of sacrifice–willingly and lovingly giving up to get more. And I don’t mean more in a greedy sense. I mean more fulfillment, more meaning, and, ultimately, more passion.
Because that’s the thing about commitment that is passion-inspired. It builds more passion.
I will not pretend to know about passion and commitment within the framework of a marriage. I know I tried commitment without passion for a very long time, and it didn’t seem to do much other than take up valuable space in the short span of what we know as life.
But I do know about passion in other things. I have had a passion for writing since I was a small child, yet for a brief period while in college and grad school, I let a couple of mentors convince me to pursue a career as professor instead of as a writer. To my good fortune, poverty eventually drove me out of academe, and I began to see, after working as an ex parte brief writer, speech writer, and copywriter, that one could indeed earn a living writing.
For five years, I spent every waking hour I wasn’t at my salaried job working to build my own business as a writer. And once I cut the cord to the world of the regular paycheck and began freelancing full-time, I worked 80-hour weeks for a couple of years to build a client base. There was never a time that any of it felt exhausting. Why? Because I was passionately committed to living my dream.
The same held true when I finally bought the farm I’d always dreamed of owning and built the house I’d always dreamed of building, working until the wee hours of the morning at times painting cathedral ceilings while lying on my back on a scaffold, hanging wallpaper, and sanding and varnishing cabinets, stair treads, and trim. Passion launched me. Commitment held me.
I have no doubt I will hear one day of that 11-year-old boy at my daughter’s piano recital rocking the world stage as a concert pianist. Because the boy is not just passionate; he is committed. He practices his passion daily.
That’s the key—daily commitment to passion.
As one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda, remarks, you should live “as if you were on fire from within.” Doing anything less is not really living; it is not really committing. If you believe in your passion, whether it is the passion you hold for your work or the passion you hold for your lover, then commit to it, live as if “the moon lives in the lining of your skin.”