Finding the Path Between Passion and Purpose

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” – Buddha


On a recent trip to DC, I was walking through the city looking for interesting things to photograph. One of the great things about a big city is that there’s always something to shoot; you just have to keep looking. This was my second time in DC, and I was going back to a few of the places I had previously visited. A friend of mine has a terrific approach to street photography. He says that your brain is always effectively filtering the amount of detail you can take in and it’s only by revisiting places over and over that you begin to see those hidden bits of interestingness that may otherwise go unnoticed. Based on the quality of his work, I think he’s absolutely right. I’ve been out shooting with him and I can tell you he sees subtle details and interesting compositions that I miss completely. And it’s partially because he revisits these “fishing holes” as he calls them over and over and the obvious slowly gives way to the elusive—granting him access to the mystical “juice” that helps to make a great photograph. But I digress. Where was I? Right, DC. I was walking up 7th towards the Chinatown metro station and I heard a brass section in the distance. At first, I thought it was just an incredibly loud car stereo, but as I continued walking up 7th, it grew louder and louder until I got to the corner of 7th and F and could see the source of the music. Across the street, at the entrance to the metro station, were two drummers and four trombone players. In front of them was a five gallon bucket that read “SPREAD LOVE” in bold black letters. It wasn’t clear to me at first whether that was a directive, or the just name of the band—turns out it was both.
To say they were fantastic feels too superficial—it might be appropriate to describe their playing as musicians, but not the feel, both on the part of the band and of the growing audience. The energy around them was palpable. The music is a fusion of funk, R&B, jazz and a healthy dose of gospel. It’s the gospel that comes through the strongest. These guys aren’t just playing music—it’s more like a street corner revival. They become the instruments of something bigger working through them and the audience takes on the role of an itinerant congregation, one that doesn’t simply passively receive, but rather becomes part of the performance, singing, dancing and clapping. There are of course random stragglers and passersby, but their numbers are dwarfed by the faithful.
The way this is connected to photography, creativity, etc. can be seen in the way Spread Love approaches their music, in the service of something bigger—a calling if you will. One of the books I’m currently reading references a TED talk designer Stefan Sagmeister gave several years ago in which he describes the three different approaches he takes to work: a Job, a Career and a Calling (a concept he borrowed from The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt). Basically, a Job is something you do from 9 to 5 for money, a Career is system you engage in over time for rewards or advancements and a Calling is something you feel compelled to do regardless of whether or not money is in the equation.
I had the chance to talk to a couple of the guys in the band between sets and I can tell you that they absolutely view what they do as a calling. Sure, they place the bucket out wherever they play, but it’s not why they play. For Spread Love, the ideas of work and love (or joy and passion) are interchangeable, fueled by the calling of something bigger. In The Prophet, Khalil Gibran wrote “work is love made visible.” The visibility here is in the music and in the audience as the congregation bearing witness to it. Part of what I am drawn to is their energy, their willingness to call attention to it, to commit to it, and release it—an arms-wide-open invitation to the audience to receive and reflect the joy they are putting out into the world as a vehicle for changing it.
If I view my own life as a Venn diagram (one of several that I have on my whiteboard), what I am searching for is that overlap between passion and purpose. My passion is in learning and connecting with others and the purpose comes in the form of sharing those connections—celebrating the lives of others through what I’ve learned. The writing and the conversations I have are where I see those two circles overlapping; I’m living the questions, to borrow from Rilke.
Ultimately, all of this comes down to two things: finding your own path (bliss, passion, etc.) and having enough faith in the path to stay on it, even when every ounce of logic, anxiety and fear (the Bad Fears I wrote about here) tells you not to. Unfortunately, those two things are often buried beneath a lifetime of patterns, old tapes and procrastination. Stephen Pressfield refers to this as Resistance. While the path may have always been there, Resistance wants to keep you from it. So, like my friend who photographs the same places again and again to allow the subtleties to surface, finding the path or calling becomes an exercise in faith and often requires revisiting the same struggles again and again so that the way forward can be revealed.


Music courtesy of Spread Love. Used with permission.