Debunking Myths of ‘Following Your Passion’

Christy Mori & Dr. Josephine Palermo talk about why following your passion is not all you think it might be. We chat about the myths of “feeling passionate” and the reality of actually doing the work. There will also be a discussion at the end about the truths of trying to monetize our passions.

Please send your questions or comments to [email protected].

*This episode is sponsored by Melbourne Bellydance (home of authentic cultural dance)

Listen to all episodes on Apple Podcast

Intro  0:17 

Welcome to Gears Action Growth: Shifting business culture one conversation at a time. This is part one of debunking the myth of following your passion. My name is Christy Mori, and I’m joining Dr. Josephine Palermo, whose superpower’s to create business cultures that transform organizations team by team.

Christy  0:42 

How are you going this week, Joe?

Dr. Josephine Palermo  0:43 

I’m good. I’m surviving lockdown, even though it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge for everyone. But yeah, hanging in there. It’s been a busy week. So that’s a good thing.

Christy  0:55 

Yeah, it’s good to stay busy. So we’ve been on lockdown for a few months now, actually, almost half a year, with pretty intense measures, especially for Melbourne. Isn’t that crazy? That long.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  1:08 

It has been crazy this year.

Christy  1:10 

Yeah. Maybe we can share a bit about it and how it affected business personally.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  1:15 

For business, and especially from small to medium business, in particular, it’s really devastating. It’s, you know, there are so many people who are struggling with not having work and, you know, luckily, we have some safety nets in terms of being in Australia, we have safety nets related to government support and income support. But that’s actually changing next month, and as things continue, that does create a little bit of worry for people, because we don’t know how long we’re going to be in this situation and how much support we really need. So it is very difficult. It’s also difficult for businesses who are, you know, experienced reduced revenue, but at the same time, have ongoing costs. So cash flow is a real problem for business right now and that’s small to large business. And so many business owners are looking at ways to reduce their outgoings at a time when you know, revenue is dramatically reduced. So not easy, not easy. So we have to stick together and support each other and acknowledge that it’s a difficult time.

Christy  2:31 

Yeah, it’s very, very true. Because nobody would have ever guessed that it would have gone on for so long, would it?

Dr. Josephine Palermo  2:37 

No. Well I didn’t, as well. I was sure that we were maybe going to be in this for a month or two at the most. But yeah, not as long as it’s gone on for.

Christy  2:48 

It’s really difficult with the pandemic, isn’t it?

Dr. Josephine Palermo  2:51 

It is.

Feeling Passionate vs Cultivating Passion

Christy  2:51 

So as you’ve sort of mentioned before, the climate of job scenarios have changed, people are out of work. So that’s why we wanted to discuss this topic today. And it’s about following passion. So some of the myths we do want to debunk about following our passion is feeling passionate versus cultivating passion, passion being easy versus hard work, and how to regain passion when you lose it. And then we’ll speak a little bit about monetizing your passion, the good and bad parts of it. So today, we’ll just start off with the basics of how would people even go about finding what they’re passionate about? Maybe the biggest myth of feeling passionate over cultivate passion is because people think it’s just going to be easy. And it’s just a feeling of, you know, great things all the time. But for instance, maybe we can use dance as it’s one of your many passions, Joe. How can you share a bit about your experiences with dance and pursuing it more than a hobby?

Dr. Josephine Palermo  3:53 

So, I have a business called Melbourne Bellydance. And it’s an entertainment agency. And I also teach dance and I partner with Strut Entertainment, who also are very passionate about cultural dance. And together we love what we do. We’re very passionate about it. I’ve been passionate about cultural dance and dance all my life. And I never thought that I would monetize that in the way that I have in my life. It has been a passion since I was very young, I’ve loved dancing since I can remember. But I never thought that I would be able to turn that into something that would also give me an income. Having said that in my life, my intense desire for dance and being a dancer has also given me lots of opportunities. But I’ve also been interested in other things that have given me a lot of opportunities in my life. So I’ve been managing my passions rather than my one passion. And in that journey, I think that what I’ve done is particularly managed it by not expecting my passion to give me everything. So even though I’ve always loved to dance, and I would love to spend every waking moment dancing, it hasn’t provided me with, per example, some of the opportunities of travel and income that my other passions have given me. So I’m really glad in a way that I haven’t been one-eyed about it. And I think some people tend to follow a passion in a very one-eyed way, because passion is something that, it’s a really intense desire to want to pursue an activity or a particular interest, and it really transforms us into that enthusiasm, and energy, and motivation that we feel. And what that does is it keeps us going and we want to get better at it. And it keeps us digging into that particular interest or topic. So it can be all consuming, but life is about managing your expectations and happiness across a number of domains. And sometimes passion in one area may not fulfill all of the expectations you have about, you know about what you want out of life.

Christy  6:30 

Yeah, that’s a good point. So maybe you’re saying that it’s okay to just have multiple interests and passions to pursue?

Dr. Josephine Palermo  6:38 

Yes, exactly. And I think one of the myths about pursuing your passion is that you’ll have one passion, it’ll come to you in your sleep, or you’ll have it since you were very young. And that’s what you should pursue, because we’re also in a society where individualism is actually the norm. We believe that as individuals, we can create whatever we need to. But individuals operate in social systems, and they operate in larger, you know, economic and national systems. And there are lots of, I guess, competing drivers for our time and energy. So for example, people might be very passionate about their individual pursuits, but as soon as they have responsibilities of family, or perhaps looking after even aged people in their lives, they tend to maybe shift their perspectives about how that interests can fulfill the other responsibilities that they have in life or the other obligations that they have in life. And how that particular passion can look after the people they care about.

Christy  7:51 

Yes, that’s really, really good. You’re saying is that it’s okay to, you know, fulfill other responsibilities in our lives, especially when it’s with responsibilities that, you know, require us to care for people in our lives that we care about.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  8:09 

Yeah, sure. Following a passion gives us joy and that intense motivation to do something can sometimes blind us to other people around us. But most people do have a social system that they live in. They have a family or they perhaps, you know, they get married, they have children, suddenly they have responsibilities as a parent and obligations around that. And following that passion becomes something that they need to consider amongst other things that they need in their life and amongst other demands that they have on their time and energy. So, and unfortunately, not all our passions are going to realize an income for us. And I feel like I’m such a naysayer when I say that. But the reality is that many people will often make an income from something that they are good at. It’s maybe not particularly their absolute passion and intense desire. But for me, I think that that’s okay, as long as you still provide yourself some time to follow that other passion. I think that we’re bombarded by messages particularly from kind of the new solo entrepreneur sort of landscape where all we need to do is follow our passion and then a five, or six-figure salary or income will come from that. And what people don’t understand is actually, there are steps along the way that you need to follow. You don’t just suddenly succeed because you’re passionate. Passion is absolutely the starting point and I would always say, you know, don’t spend a lot of time in your life following a pursuit if it’s really not something you’re interested in. But passion is the starting point, it’s not the end point. You start with having an interest or a passion in something, then you have to get competent in that particular interest and competency takes time. There’s education, there’s learning from other people, if it’s a creative pursuit, there’s practice, you know, people don’t necessarily get great at painting or great at singing. just because they’re passionate. They actually, usually spend hours of practice doing those things. And then there’s other considerations, like how you monetize that particular interest that now you’ve developed a competency in, you know, how do people find you? How do they know they need you? What niche are you fulfilling? And then how do you maintain your energy when you’ve monetized that? Is it something that you can maintain for a long period of time? Or is it something that requires you to rest? Because, you know, particularly again, you know, like I’m a dancer. And I also have a PhD in organizational psychology, and I do consulting work, and I do lots of other things that take up my time. But when I’m thinking about my creative pursuit, which is dance, I couldn’t even pursue that as something that I do eight hours a day. So the time in which I can dance is limited, just physically, because of the time it takes for my body to recover from that. So therefore, I need to look at that as something that I need to conserve my energy, I need to be healthy to do it, I need to do it in short bursts, for example. And then what does that mean to my life in relation to earning an income over my lifespan? What does it mean in terms of also when I get to an age where maybe I’m not physically able to execute the things I need to execute in dance. So all of those things are considerations. And I think that what I want to say is, absolutely, people should follow their passion. But it’s a starting point. It’s not the end point.

Passion is the ability to endure hardship.

Christy  12:27 

Yeah, those are really, really good points, because what you were talking about before, has to connect with our values as well, and what we value and not just let passion take over. We have to think about other things. And you’ve sort of touched upon this as well. And basically, in Harvard Business Review, it says German word for passion is “leidenschaft”, which literally translates to “the ability to hardship.” So you’re talking about the sense when we’re following our passion, that it’s actually really hard work. And we might not always have the right time to cultivate it to the best max of our ability, but we don’t necessarily associate with passion. And that’s because hardship is maybe not as emphasized in it.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  13:20 


Christy  13:21 

Yeah. We should think about that.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  13:23 

Absolutely, Christy, we think it should be easy. You know, I actually heard something the other day, which made a lot of sense to me. Talent is something that you perhaps see when people just do things, and they might not have practiced it. But most people need to develop their talent. So most people do need to practice and they need to, you know, it’s a bit of a trial and error phase around a particular passion that they have, and particularly, you know, in the creative arts, but not just in the creative arts. And so that road can be very challenging, because sometimes you might be pursuing something you’re very passionate about, it means that there are payoffs that you make around, perhaps the time you spend earning money somewhere else. And so the payoff might be in relation to not having as much money as you’d like, or you’d need instantly while you’re learning, while you’re practicing, while you’re a student of that passion. Most people accept that for a period of time in their life but how long do you accept that? So how long for example, do you accept being that kind of suffering artist where you’re not really making money, but maybe you’re being fulfilled in other ways. And for some people, that equation adds up because the ability to develop creative works kind of, you know, it compensates or subsidize their inability to maybe monetize that straight away. But for other people, that payoff might not be what they need or what they can afford. So there are hardships in terms of you know, is this interest, is this pursuit giving you what you need? The other hardships are around getting feedback on your particular passion. Sometimes you get feedback that is not either constructive, or it can be negative feedback that you’re not able to process. Sometimes you don’t win a competition, sometimes you apply for a grant and you don’t get it, and sometimes you continue to produce work that maybe nobody reacts to in the way that you want them to react to. I’ve put on a lot of shows where maybe I didn’t get the audience that I wanted to come to the show, and I’ve put so much heart, soul and time into that show and my audience numbers don’t meet my expectations. And particularly, when you’re very passionate about something, you tend to internalize the reasons why maybe that particular pursuit failed, or that output failed, and you don’t think of other external reasons for that. You blame yourself or you perhaps start to second guess yourself. So it can be really tough. It can be really, really tough on your sensibilities around, “Am I worthy? Am I good enough? Is this really for me?” So those kinds of things happen all the way through your life and when I think about my belly dance career, I started belly dancing in my 20s. So I didn’t have that training from a childhood into teenage into early adulthood, I really started late. But I got competent really quickly, because I was very passionate about it. And there was some talent there. But I needed to cultivate that talent. And what happened to me is, I instantly got kind of grabbed up by the commercial side of belly dancing. I was working in restaurants, parties, corporate events, you know, major, major festivals. And it was a great time. But what I perhaps missed was some parts of my training, which are now, even at this stage, going back to because I missed developing some of the knowledge and I missed developing some training because I was so busy doing shows. The other thing that happened to me, that was great. And I was, you know, making money, it was a great life. It was a very nocturnal life, though. So the payoff for me was that I often didn’t go to dinner parties, I didn’t go to birthday parties, I wasn’t able to attend family gatherings. And it’s only in hindsight that I now think, you know, I really missed in developing some relationships that were very key at that time in my life. And I missed out on the opportunities to develop those relationships, and maintain those relationships. So there is a trade off there as well. So all of that feels great. The hardship for me, though, was when I realized that there were other people who were also talented, and they were pretty much coming at my skirt tails, and they were up and coming, and suddenly, there’s more competition, and I started to be less and less relevant. And at one point, I decided that I would not focus so much on performing and I would switch to teaching and so I had to kind of pivot. But it also meant that I needed to make an income in other ways. And I still feel that the journey for me is troughs and peaks. So there are times in that, you know, in my dance career, where I’m on a high, and the output is great, and it’s being appreciated. And there are times during that journey where I’m in a trough, and I’m not producing what I want to do. Either, because I’m not able to just deliver in terms of time, energy, physical ability, or sometimes it can be also because of money. I don’t have the funding to sort of produce the show in the way that I want to. So all of those things mean that it requires persistence. It requires me to be more persistent. And my passion does drive that persistence and people who are passionate will be more persistent. But I’m also very realistic about what I’m able to do and the payoffs that I need to be aware of. Because at the end, I will have other goals that I want to achieve and it’s not just around dancing and Melbourne Bellydance, as much as that’s important to me. And the other goals will take precedence over Melbourne Bellydance at times. So I’ve run a number of different businesses, and I juggle my time across those businesses and I have great partners, and that’s how I do it. But there are times where I know I’m not able to put their time and energy into something that I need to. But that’s the trade off I make.

Losing and regaining passions

Christy  20:53  

So that’s really, really good that you’re very realistic in what it means to follow your passion. And so for people who kind of lose their passions, as you said, persistence is one of the really big keys about continuing, but maybe some people after all the setbacks, or all these things that didn’t go quite right, they could lose passion. Do you have any advice for people who have lost passion and they want to regain it but they don’t know where to start again?

Dr. Josephine Palermo  21:29 

Yes, absolutely. I think that we have to debunk the myth that passion is singular. So you know, you’re passionate about one thing, and that’s it. And if that doesn’t work, you can’t be passionate about anything else. I think that’s a myth. And the other myth is that passion finds you and you don’t need to go and find it.

Christy  21:55 

Yeah, so one of the things you were talking about is you’ve been really realistic about your times and your limits, and even like spatial limits, all these kinds of different things. So after a lot of setbacks, someone could really lose their passion. And just to round things off, how would you advise someone who lost their passion, and they want to regain again, but they don’t know where to start?

Dr. Josephine Palermo  22:26 

Yeah. And this can be a real moment where people feel very dejected. Because as much as passion drives our motivation and drive, if we’re not passionate, you get the opposite effect. So I get it when people, if they lose their passion, if they can’t maintain that, what do you do? I think we’ve got to debunk that myth, though, that passion is singular. That you are passionate about one thing all your life. And if that doesn’t work, then you can never be passionate. again. I think that that’s a myth. The other myth is that passion finds you and somehow you know, that you’re passionate. And then you pursue that over, you need to go out and find a passion. I think that you can go out and find passion. And I think you can be passionate about a number of things, especially over your lifetime. I think because we have to conserve time and energy, it’s a finite resource. I think that we are usually passionate about one thing at one time. Most people are, unless you’re me and crazy, because I’m passionate about lots of things, and I can pursue them at the same time. But if you’re passionate about one thing at one time, and you lose that for whatever reason. You can explore different areas and find passion again. So again, it could be something related and I had this, particularly, even as a child, I actually was very passionate about oil painting. I loved to paint nudes. This is me as a teenager, I loved painting nudes.

Christy  24:11 


Dr. Josephine Palermo  24:11 

I was in love with Michelangelo and the rennaisance masters. And I actually did you 12 Arts and that’s where I thought I was going to go until in my 20s when I found belly dance. But I think I would have pursued that. I would have got better at that and I had a talent in that, and I would have probably pursued that over dance in a sliding doors moment. So when I get to a point where I want to find another passion, I’ll go back and explore something like that. Something that piqued my interest, but maybe I didn’t pursue because other passions took over. So what I’ll do to explore that though, is start From the basics. I’ll look for a beginner class, I’ll look for maybe a teacher who can instruct me, I’ll read some books, I’ll just grab a paint set and play around without any expectation about what the outcome is. I’ll go to the museum and look at the Renaissance masterpieces and get inspired that way. So I will go and explore that. Because I know that there’s like a little tickle when I think about that. But that needs to be nurtured. And I think a lot of people could have the same experience, if they didn’t expect it to just happen by osmosis. You need to go out and explore. And if you can’t think of something that maybe piqued your interest before, then maybe that’s an even better journey of exploration. Go out and explore something really left field. Go out and start to look for maybe a group of people that are doing something you don’t know anything about. And you might find that you develop a passion there. So often, developing a passion goes with competency. So as you get better at something, you might develop more of a passion for it. So you need to maybe give yourself a bit of a time limit to try something new. If you don’t develop a passion after a period of time, you can go to something else. But to your point earlier, Christy, thinking about your values, what do you value? So for example, I’m a very social person. I love and value that part of my life. That’s why lockdown is so hard for me at the moment. But if I was going to pursue a new passion, I’d want to do it with other people, because that’s what I value. I value that social space. So for me, I would be looking for a class where I can go and meet some new people. But for you, it might be something else. It might be some some other way of exploring a passion. We’re all individuals in that way.

Christy  24:16 

I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about just what we were passionate about as kids and exploring that, which is something similar to what you were saying.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  27:14 


Christy  27:14 

The oil painting. Because maybe as kids, we started but then you know, all these other life obligations came in and we put it down. So yeah, so that’s one way I heard that was a good way to just kind of see as an adult. What kind of interest we can regain again.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  27:35 

That’s right. And because I think children don’t have the expectations that we have about being good at something, so they’ll just play. They don’t care whether they’re good at something or not, they’ll just give it a go and play. And I think that they then succumb to some of the more societal norms about needing to have a certain level of competency around something. But yeah, it’s basically get that play on again and explore.

Christy  28:05 

Yeah, that’s a great way. I love watching my nephews play. And you have a nephew, too.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  28:09 

Yeah, I do. I have two.

Christy  28:10 

He’s really young. Yeah, they’re so fun. I feel like they don’t really care if they’re failing, or I don’t think they even really know. You know what failing is. They’re just trying it out.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  28:23 

They try it out, they don’t fear it. They just go for it. And so that’s kind of what we want to get back to. It’s that kind of an abandoned, play and sort of exploration. And then I think that after some time, you can then reassess whether that passion is something you want to pursue. And where I wanted to kind of finish up on is just some advice on how long do you pursue a passion. When it’s not giving you or what you need are not fulfilling the other things you need in your life. And I think what we have to do is be realistic about that, too. So you need to maybe give yourself a time limit, that you’ll pursue something to the expectations that you want to pursue it. And if you don’t get that, get it to that level, then have a chat to someone who’s maybe a bit more independent than you and have a chat to a few people. Get some objective advice about whether your persistence is going to continue to give you the same results, which is not what you want, or whether you need to do things differently. You know, if we do something in the same way, and we’re not getting results time and time and time again, you need to reevaluate that.

Don’t fear it. Just go for it!

Christy  29:47 

Yeah, there is a quote on that, isn’t there? I think it’s an Einstein quote that says like, “Doing the same things, and expecting different results is insanity.”

Dr. Josephine Palermo  29:55 

Yeah, exactly.

Christy  29:56 

Something like that.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  29:57 

That’s right, that’s right. And I think people who are passionate, you know, insane sometimes around what they’re passionate about.

Christy  30:04 

That’s true. Einstein was insane, they say.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  30:07 

No, that’s right. So I think if it makes you happy, if something makes you happy, and it’s giving you a lot of fulfillment, of course, continue. But don’t expect that pursuit to fulfill every other demand you have in life. It’s okay to, for example, I run a belly dance business, I don’t expect the belly dance business to fulfill all the expectations I have about my income, because I am kind of realistic about that, too. And I have other pursuits that are fulfilling those needs. And I just want the belly dance business to be a place where I can be free, and take risks, and invest in other people, and have fun. And so, I don’t want to put an expectation that that business has to be profitable to the point where I can live the kind of lifestyle that I want to live. So, I’ve made that conscious decision. It might not be the decision others will make, but we just need to take stock of what do we need in our life? And will that passion really give me what I need?

Christy  31:22 

Yeah, I think you’re right, as well. Because I’ve had experiences where I was doing something for like a day job where it was not passionate, but I felt like because I was pursuing things outside of it, like it didn’t stress me out if my rent was coming or things like that. It was like, those things were fine.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  31:44 

They’re covered.

Christy  31:45 

Right. And I think there was a bit of stress when we expect, like, our passions to be everything, you know? Including the monetary part, like providing for ourselves. I think that’s when it really intersects in the stressors of life. Instead of it being like, maybe something that’s fun, and later could be monetized.

Dr. Josephine Palermo  32:06 

That’s right. You know, I decided early in my career in Korea, that I wouldn’t pursue dance as an academic pursuit, because at the at the time, I was deciding on what I was going to do my PhD in. And I could have done it in dance. I could have looked at dance, but I didn’t want to do a PhD in dance. Because I didn’t want to add that expectation on my passion. So I made a conscious decision about that. I also made a conscious decision that dance wouldn’t be my sole avenue for income throughout my whole life. Because, at times, it was. At times I was dancing, and it was my full time income. But I knew that I didn’t want to add that level of expectation on that pursuit for the whole of my life. So I was working on other things at the same time. And I feel like I’ve had, in some ways, a bit of a renaissance life because of it. Because, again, my rennaisance Masters that I love so much like Leonardo da Vinci, he was equally competent in sciences and arts. And I feel like I’ve achieved that in my life where I’m equally passionate about and competent in, you know, artistic pursuits, but also the more scientific pursuits and that’s where I ended up doing my PhD. So I have to fill that sense of happiness around that.

Outro  33:40  Thank you, Joe, for sharing all your experiences and then following your passion, and inspiring us to do the same. Thanks for listening, everyone. Looking forward to connecting with you next time. Please send us any questions and what you might want to hear more of in the series at [email protected], which is in the description, and we’ll talk to you next time.


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