Why Undergrads Need to Redefine Passion

Not knowing what major to declare, questioning my core set
of beliefs and identities, losing my last pair of untorn stockings in the
laundry room washer … My time in Claremont has been full of existential crises.
Luckily I am always being told that these misadventures will propel me toward success. The value of college is apparently not
in the protracted process of secondary socialization, but in the freedom it
guarantees me to indulge in the things I love. They will help me find my passion.

Hold up for a second, though—passion? What is this strange word everyone seems to keep repeating? What is this
miraculous, one-fix-for-all phenomenon that will not only guide me toward what
profession I should choose but also to find true contentment in life? Feels like
too much pressure for a two-syllable word, to be honest.  

So I looked it up on dictionary.com, which gave me this: “PASSION (noun) (1) any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate, (2) strong amorous feeling or desire; love; ardor, (3) strong sexual desire; lust, (4) an instance or experience of strong love or sexual desire, (5) a person toward whom one feels strong love or sexual desire, (6) a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything, (7) the object of such a fondness or desire.”

While I wrapped my head around this grand notion itself, I
wondered how you find this elusive muse that helps you power through personal
and academic struggles. Apparently, you are just supposed to feel it in your
bones. But what about an unfortunate humanoid like me who has not discovered it
yet? 

I am invested in many causes and love many things, but I am unwilling to commit to just one because I know none of them
will sustain my interest long enough. The weird thing
is, of late, not having something that meets this criterion has turned into a
crisis itself. And worse still, now that I’m feeling blue with the approach of
the cold winter months and finals week, I am trying to summon this passion
evermore because of its promised restorative qualities.

Every lifestyle magazine I have flipped through has taught
me how the importance of passion in one’s life cannot be overstated. It should
be a key feature of not only our love lives, but also our academic and professional
careers. ‘Self-actualization,’ it is often suggested, is impossible unless we
are intellectually and emotionally engaged in whatever we are passionate about.
Otherwise, we are cheating ourselves out of true happiness.  

To be fair, perhaps I am setting up a straw-man argument to
explain my bewilderment in the face of a notion very foreign to me. Where I
come from, passion is wonderful to read about in books, but reading in itself
cannot be a passion; it’s a distraction at worst, a hobby at best. What interests
you should not define your every action, and it should not be the primary source
of happiness or success in your life. Other, more practical concerns should
dictate your life choices.

But one definition of passion that has resonated with me has
surprised me for its brevity. My friend described his passion for skiing as
this: “PASSION (noun) a form of
self-love.”

His passion is not an all-consuming ambition or
life path, but simply an activity that brings him joy. It helps him find
clarity in the face of adversity and motivates him in other spheres of his life.
This conception of passion, stripped bare of all the extreme expectations we
place on it, is more palatable and
realistic to me. I still do not understand
this cultural infatuation completely, but at least now I am not afraid to use
that word in my own life.

As of this week, I am pursuing a Late Antiquity and Medieval
Studies (LAMS) minor, and the lord only knows what that actually means. But according to my course choices so far, it’s
apparently something about which I am passionate. Why else would someone who has already satisfied their language requirement want to learn to conjugate in Arabic or want to study abroad in a part of the world that is religiously and culturally similar to their home country, even when they love to discover new places? It has to be passion. 

I can probably give you
20 reasons why I feel it’s not (my toes aren’t tingling), but I almost feel
like I shouldn’t. If I can chant LAMS every time I feel lost and uninspired, if
only for the placebo effect, I’ll do it because what the lifestyle magazines forget
to remind us is this: Passion does not always have to be strong, powerful and
extravagant to bring you joy. My passion is anything that allows me to love
myself. 

Aiman Shafique Chaudhary PO ’17 is a pseudo-philosophizing poet/politics major at Pomona.

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