Burning Passion

Passion is the driving force for our creative ventures. Passion is what keeps me photographing even when my critics give me a hard time. Passion is what keeps me travelling even when I end up in intolerable situations I wish I’d never experienced. Passion keeps me writing even when my scribbles are turned down, whether by publishers, editors or the public. Without passion, there is no true creativity.

However, passion is not all that is needed in our creative ventures. Passion alone cannot sustain a healthy creative life on its own. As much as passion can drive you forward, it can also make you blind. It is not a license to do whatever you want. It certainly cannot justify all means no matter how deep you passion swells. There is still an ethical dimension towards yourself and not the last the world around you. Or maybe, rather a focused or decisive dimension.

Yes, Mark Twain famously said, “twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” I totally believe so and very much try to live by this notion. However great these words are to put on a motivational spark for many of us, though, it’s not all there is to it. They ignite the spark, but if the fire they ignite then burns the wrong stuff, you might end up with nothing at all—or even worse. You don’t want the spark to burn down your whole cabin rather than just the chopped wood in the fireplace.

Nothing epitomizes the creative fight more than turning tragedy into triumph. That’s what the cyclist Lance Armstrong had done if you remember back when he won Tour de France seven times on a row. That was after having defeated server cancer. The world rallied for him every time he neared the finish line in Paris. His passion burned bright. The way he overcame the odds inspired all of us to do the same.

Then we discovered that Armstrong’s victories were unfairly won. It wasn’t a creative fight but a cheater’s lie. The betrayal stung. Twenty years from now, Armstrong will still be living in the shadow of his mistake. Armstrong doesn’t stand alone; there are countless others who took their creative license too far. My point is, creativity isn’t carte blanche to do whatever you please.

Most of us don’t cheat. We try to go along with honesty and as best as we can. Still, passion builds dreams and hopes, flying high above us. Those dreams and hopes night blindfold us. We need to hold on to them, yet at the same time, we need to stay rooted in the dirt of reality. If we let our dreams take us wherever the wind blows, we might end up getting lost.

Mark Twain loved to stir people up. Since the beginning of his writing days, he was rallying people to “throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” We will always need to be reminded to leave safety behind for the pursuit of our dreams. Yet such advice is in itself not enough. You can’t just run out of the door, jump on a sailing boat, and hope to survive. Without proper understanding of nautical navigation, you will die. Incurable optimism is valuable, but when it comes to taking a journey so is planning ahead.

I remember quite a few years ago, my travelling buddy with whom I have been making stories from all around world, decided to go to Ukraine. This was long before the present conflict between Ukraine and Russia. We had already worked together in many tough places in the world. We felt invincible. Ukraine was going to be our next triumph. We were cocky. We were sloppy. We embarked on the journey without much preparation. We were experts on improvisations. However, that’s just not how serious journalism works—if we didn’t already know. Which we quickly discovered. We didn’t get access to the coal mines in Antratsyt. We didn’t get access to Chernobyl—the site of the nuclear disaster in 2005. We didn’t get access to Anatoly Onoprienko—one of the worse mass murderers—in his prison cell. And so on. Simply because we hadn’t made any preparations beforehand. Because we knew how to make our way in. Nobody could stop us. Well, so we thought. Cockiness has its prize…

Dreams float in the clouds, but true creativity is always rooted in the ground—in the dirt. What gives creativity its strength is having a compass reading to follow. It’s passion combined with mindfulness and directions from the heart and the soul. Lance Armstrong was driven by power and his passion to succeed. Blinded by passion, he neglected the rest.

Passion transfer energy to your creative pursuits. It gives you the courage to bounce back even when you fall down. Yet, too much passion can get out of control. And passion in itself isn’t enough. Without the sure footing that strong values and thoughtfulness provides, pursuing your dreams can be an icy slope. Clearly defining your values and sticking to them is like putting on metal crampons that give you a grip on the ice.

“Passion, though a bad regulator, is a powerful spring.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Natacha with a photo of her in laws who were murdered by Anatoly Onoprienko in their own house.