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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

Passion vs Fulfillment

It wasn’t long ago that I finally internalized the difference between passion and fulfillment, and it upended a lot of things in my world. I followed my passion into finance and energy and it sustained me for five years. In the beginning, my career was fulfilling too. Over time, though, the little things that made it fulfilling were gradually lost to disillusionment and epiphany and I was left powered by a rocket running out of fuel and I quit. That’s really the heart of the difference between the two terms and why they are interrelated ““ passion drives the moment while fulfillment is necessary to replenish that energy when it cannot sustain itself.

Pas”¢sion /’paSHen/
1. Strong and barely controllable emotion.
2. A state or outburst of such emotion.

Passion is the great motivator. It’s a dream that pulls you forward through the mind or the flesh. It is the satisfaction of a heavily emotional desire manifested in the real world. People often find passion strongest in desires of the moment ““ sex, booze, and drugs come to mind but it is equally applicable to the pursuit of money and power that drives so many careers.

The problem with passion is that it ebbs and flows. It is easy to become passionate about something new but difficult to sustain that passion past the major hurdles that inevitably appear down the road. I have friends who have drank themselves past the point of enjoyment until it became a crutch for a lonely soul. Others too late became disillusioned with the parasitic effects of drugs. Still others have gorged on passions of the flesh until sex lost its meaning and left only a craving for something more”¦ fulfilling.

I found passion in the dynamic game of trading ““ figuring out the market, trying to defeat the other players, and keeping score with dollars. For me, it was more about the game than the prize. Until my last day, I still loved the day-to-day of what I did because it was always challenging and always new. But I found that I couldn’t muster up the same fire after a crappy run as I did in the beginning and it wasn’t just fatigue. When I started, being a successful trader was idealized alongside the pursuit of wealth in general. Over time, the ideal turned out to be a less noble reality and wealth a hollow comfort. My problem was a growing lack of fulfillment.

Ful”¢fill”¢ment /fo*ol’filment/
1. Satisfaction or happiness as a result of fully developing one’s abilities or character
2. The achievement of something desired, promised, or predicted.

Fulfillment is the key to long-term happiness. The way I see it, fulfillment is literally living your life fully. For many people, that sounds like an excuse to chase pursuits of the moment but it’s not that simple. I use the following test of whether or not something is actually fulfilling: If I am lying on my deathbed some day and I look back upon my years, will I consider this to be a worthy inclusion to my life’s tapestry or does it fade to the background as a mere passage of time? In other words, did it fill my life? When you are doing something that passes that test and truly fulfills you, the passion that makes every day exciting can be sustained and replenished.

Not everyone figures that out in their 20’s or 30’s or even 40’s. Talk to old people. Better yet, talk to people who are dying. They say some surprisingly consistent things about what they wish they had done in their lives. For many people, their life’s fulfillment is a stable relationship and a family. For others, it’s a career spent adding value to others. Often it’s a combination of the two. But it appears that those who spent their lives chasing numbers in a bank account or skimming through one shallow relationship after another are just trying to fill a cup with a hole in the bottom. Every now and then someone seems to pull off the “crazy life well lived” thing but far more aspire to it and fail miserably.

Maybe it’s the first true test of adulthood to examine yourself and ask whether what you are doing is just chasing passion or providing fulfillment. A big part of this question is asking what actually fulfills you. That’s a tough thing to get a handle on sometimes because it can be very hard to see past the blinders of your various passions and temptations.

So what would fulfill you on YOUR deathbed? Are those the same things that are motivating you now? Then are you serving your life’s fulfillment or just chasing passion? The better your answers are, the closer you are to achieving happiness. You can only fool yourself for so long.