#161: One-Buttock Passion (How a Simple Redefinition Can Help You Move Forward)

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How do you redefine the term “passion”?

A definition shouldn't be a barrier to your progress, should it? Yet, the moment you hear people talking about passion, you're stuck. And that's because their definition is all wrong. How do you redefine the term “passion”? And what does one-buttock have to do with passion? Let's find out.

You can read this episode online: One Buttock Passion


In a TED Talk that's been watched over 9 million times, the conductor of the Boston Philamornic, talks about a seven year-old child.

And this is what conductor, Benjamin Zander, says in his speech.

He talks about a seven-year old child and what he sounds like when he's pounding on the piano. Clearly, the sounds that emanate from the piano border on pain. Even so, if that seven-year old practices for a year and yes, takes lessons, he's now eight. And the piano isn't screaming out in terror any more.

Benjamin Zander goes on to talk about how the child sounds when he's nine, then when he's ten. At which, point, Zander suggests that most kids give up. However, if he'd waited for one more year, he would have sounded pretty wonderful.

Zander takes pain to suggest that it's not that the kid became suddenly passionate, engaged or hit puberty. He explains that when the child was younger, he was playing with an impulse on every note. Then as he got better, he was playing with an impulse on every other note. At 10, it was every eight notes. And the 11-year-old had one impulse on the entire phrase.

Zander calls this the “one buttock” moment

When instead of hogging the piano stool with both buttocks, the music takes over and you're taken over by the music itself, so that you're playing on a single buttock. People who try to find their passion are two-buttock players. At the start of their journey they're struggling to hit the right impulses and this is because of the information they get about passion.

-Stop looking for your passion. -Knowing something well and solving someone's problem is more commonplace than you believe.

-Why the terminology is all wrong—and hence drives us crazy. -What if you know too much or too little?

Think about passion for a second and what does it sound like to you?

It sounds remarkably like love at first sight, doesn't it? You don't equate passion with spending five years chasing after a girl or a guy to get their attention. Instead, it's quick, it's instant. You have a new type of drink, possibly a wonderful Pisco sour, and you fall head over heels with it.

Now you want to talk about it to everyone. You want Pisco sour for breakfast, lunch and dinner, if possible. It's all about instant, now, magical moments. And that's what passion sounds like to everyone, whenever it's brought up in a conversation.

But passion for your work is almost never like that It's almost always a kind of slight attraction, a lot of frustration, some joy, some more frustration, some more joy. And then bingo, you look backwards and it's no longer two-buttocks on the seat.

Take me for example. Most people consider me to be a really proficient writer. Without fail and for 40 weeks a year, I diligently turn out at least 5000 words a week. That's the bare minimum, by the way. However, I had no passion for 500 word-articles, let alone 5000. In time, I could turn out 500 word articles while conducting two courses, it was that easy. And may I add, fun too. I was one-buttocking my way to writing.

In 2014, I started writing longer pieces that progressively moved into the 5000 word zone.

As we were having coffee this morning, Renuka reminded me how I was getting upset with her all the time. Well, really I was getting upset with myself. I couldn't come up with topics. Writing 5000 word articles would drain me completely. I'd reach out to her to get ideas, and of course it wasn't something that she was interested in, so it wasn't possible to suggest something as quickly as I needed it.

This would cause me to complain, and quite bitterly at times, that she wasn't helping me at all. In reality, I was a one-buttock 500-word writer, but a two-buttock 5000-word writer. Then, later, much later in 2017, something happened. Yes, you know what happened. I was writing and able to look at the back as well and notice that one buttock was off the chair.

Now I have the opposite problem I have so many 5000 word articles, that I barely have time to write them. I have about 5 or 6 of them outlined and ready to go, and by the time I write them, it will be a week or two from today. By which time, another 5 or 6 will be in the queue, if not more. The passion I'm feeling for writing, just wasn't there when I started Psychotactics, then it came along. Then it wasn't there at the 5000 article mark, and now it's suddenly all fun and games again.

Even so, there's nothing instant about passion. The idea of passion is all wrong.

This one-buttock stuff just takes time. This is not a Pisco sour where you swig it down and you hit an instant high. This is slow, often boring, consistently frustrating progress. One more example and I'm out of here.

I recently bought an app because I love cooking. The name of this app is Paprika (yes, like the spice). And I was instantly in love with it. I could use it on day one and I continued to sing its praises. I even did a double spread cartoon about the app in my Moleskine diary. This experience with the Paprika app is diametrically different to the the experience with Evernote. I didn't like Evernote. I found it hard to work with. I made excuses, I deleted it from my computer, from my iPhone and then installed it again.

Then over time, as I learned how amazingly eccentric it was, I started to love it. And today I'm passionate about Evernote. How do I know that to be true? Because if you gave me the option of deleting one app and keeping the other, the Paprika's head would be on a plate in a second. I would never, ever, ever, ever, give up Evernote, if I could help it.

So all this talk about follow your passion is going to take you nowhere because the starting point is more frustration than one-buttock playing. Which leaves us with a nagging question.

Where do you go from here?

The key is to start learning something you think would work for you. Maybe learn how to do some pottery; or make face cream; or how to build running shoes. Perhaps you're already skilled at something and need to get the message out and need to learn about how to give a better presentation or write better. Wherever you are now, it's where all entrepreneurs are at any point in their lives.

They are almost always in transition. There's almost always that point where you get a bit fidgety and want to do something else, or at least the same thing differently. Whatever it is you have an inkling for, the only way to get the passion to keep going until you look back and see your one buttock.

It's an inexact science, but it boils down to a few simple steps

You start, not necessarily knowing where you're going You run into a lot of frustration until things start to ease up a bit. You aren't doing very well, but you still love what you do, and you persist. Eventually, the tide turns in your favour. You get terrific. And clients think you're close to perfect. It's an inexact science that requires a good deal of focus and persistence.

That's when your passion will find you. And that's all I can really say. The journey is long, but it sure is interesting. You may as well start today.

A few questions on passion:

1) I do have a question: How do you find that intersection passion or even exploring a passion and solving someone's problem? Especially when you have too many interests and passions & can solve several problems just like you can. Or you just pick one and stick with it until you find a reason to change the course.

2. How about people who draw a complete blank on their hobbies, interests or often times they are things like playing tennis but at 50, bodies don't cooperate very well, or a mum who wants to learn calligraphy but fears what's the point of that and where will that lead her, or someone who simply draws a blank? I have met several people like this and it fascinates me that I have a complete different problem to what they are struggling with.

Everyone has either a problem where they feel they know nothing.

Or they know too much. The point is the people who feel they know nothing, haven't really thought things through. I know a woman who for years was just a stay-at-home mother. Technically, that doesn't get you very far if you're looking for a job or want to start a business. She had no intention of starting a business, so she got a job. And how do you get a job if you don't have the skill? That's an easy answer, isn't it?

You look at what you want to learn, and you learn it. Then you apply for the job, and if you meet the requisite needs of the employer, voilà, you have the job. We all know how this system works, don't we? Most of us have had to do some kind of job at some point, whether at home or at work, and we get the skills and off we go.

If you know nothing or believe you know nothing, you have to learn something

This very same person never cooked much. For her a sandwich is as interesting as a fancy meal. Even so, she got herself some cookbooks and took to baking. She now bakes all the time and turns out some great pies, muffins and all sorts of goodies that you and I are not supposed to eat. Once again, no experience, no knowledge magically turns to a high level of skill.

Almost everyone can create something, if they're not physically or mentally handicapped. It sounds trite when someone says the word “simple”, but it's really that simple. To get a skill, you have to learn a skill. To get better at the skill, you have to practice the skill. To get good at muffin-making, you have to burn some muffins before you get your Michelin stars. The same analogy applies to business.

You can sit around thinking that you know nothing, can do nothing and end up doing nothing

The result of all this inactivity isn't nothing. It's a few levels below nothing. Feelings of uselessness wash over you with increasing rapidity. Others see you as directionless and lazy, or just confused. Yet, think of yourself as being 15 years old again and wanted to move into a career. You wouldn't be aimless. You'd pick a college. You'd pick a university. You'd do a professional course. You'd learn, and acquire the skill knowing fully well that it was just a matter of time before you had enough ability to do the task.

There is the flip side to ability, of course.

When I was 25, I felt like I was a bit cursed. I adored Photoshop. I wanted to spend all day with it. But I also drew cartoons. Hey, I could use Photoshop to draw cartoons. No clash of interests, there, are there? But what if you can write, draw, dance, cook, and find there are subsets of everything. Because cooking can involve Italian cooking, but also French. It can involve Sri Lankan cooking, Thai, Malaysian, or Indian.

Suddenly the options are too many. And the excuses increase with every subsequent option. Well, you have to “kill some of your babies”. If you're so very talented, so very skilled, you have to sit down and get yourself a nice big red pencil. Then you make a list of what you can do, by crossing out everything that isn't important right this minute.

You pick one and you stay the course, just like you'd do with a marriage. If things go sour, and you've given it your all, it's time for a change.

The problem with passion is that it changes all the time

When I was growing up, I was a shy kid. All those cartoons you see; all that skill you think is inborn isn't a result of some magical gene in my family. If you go back many generations, you'll find zero cartoonists in our family. All of that drawing came from a lot of encouragement and being much too shy to talk to too many people.

I went through a lot of years, all the way into the first couple of years of university, being relatively shy. If there was one thing I was passionate about, it was drawing. It got better over the years, people complimented me about my talent all the time, and more importantly, it was a perfect “chick magnet”.

While other guys were busy trying to get the attention of the girls in university, I'd sit quietly in the corner of the canteen. I'd drink my chai, open my book and start drawing. Before long, a few girls would be oohing and aahing over the drawings. I didn't have to go and find the girls; the cartoons drew them to me. That's how I got over my shyness, and that's how my passion for drawing cartoons burned even brighter.

But by the time I was in university I wanted to be a copywriter

By the time I'd spent a year and a half in copywriting, I wanted to script 30-second commercials. Then, on a whim, I decided to go back to cartoons. The journey to New Zealand back in the year 2000, caused me to want to get into marketing. Could I end up becoming a chef in the next few years, or find myself obsessed with origami?

It's hard to tell, but look at the story of most entrepreneurs or freelancers, and a common thread starts to reveal itself. Passions change over time, and the starting point of passion is almost always marked by lots of enthusiasm—and a lot of frustration.

It's hard to imagine it now, but back in the years 2000 and 2001 it was really a slog trying to get clients I was passionate about jumping into marketing, but no one else was willing to pay me for it—not for a while at least. And sure we had our website up and running. Sure, we wrote articles. You have to do that for yourself, if not for anyone else.

But the slog continued for quite a while. That frustration is the starting point, and it seems to swirl about like a fog for the longest time. Which is when most people give up and try to find something else.

Something easier, or shinier. And this is where I think the concept of the 10,000 hours really shines.

I don't believe you need to do 10,000 hours to gain a talent

You can get good enough to be hired in a fraction of that time. Even so, the 10,000 hoursmeans you're deep into what you think is important to you. It shows persistence, and if you're spending that much time learning, you will also figure out ways to make things work for you. When I started cartooning, I had no clue how to earn an income. I persisted and found areas where I could make my mark and get paid for it.

The same applies to any skill. At first, if you're floundering, you'll be in that position for a while. If you study your profession well; if you keep improving your skills and more importantly, get away from that computer and into the real world, you'll find that your passion will eventually find its way to you.

In the end it's not about whether you have a passion or not. No one starts off wanting to be an engineer at a waste-recycling plant. No kid runs into the room saying, “when I grow up, I want to sell USB cables to the world”. It's something that you find along the way. That passion comes when you play enough on two buttocks and find you're having fun.

And you know it's one buttock time. For now. Tomorrow, or next year, who knows?

Next up: We are told to start up a business doing what we're passionate about.

How do we know what we are passionate about in the first place? Let's explore the concept of passion and why you should let your passion find you instead.

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