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You Might Be Thinking About ‘Passion’ All Wrong

Reading Time: 3 minutes

You hear people say “follow your passion.” It sounds nice.

Then you hear wildly successful people say “do NOT follow your passion.” Mark Cuban is in this camp. So is Dilbert creator Scott Adams.

So which is it? Do you follow your passion or not?

My answer might disappoint you. Because it’ll sound evasive. But I’ll give it a shot. I’ll need you to help out here, though. Think of this as an exercise. When I ask you to write down your answer, please do that. Write it down. Commit your answer to paper. Use a pen. Don’t erase.

What Do You Mean By “Passion?”

First, write down what you mean by “passion.”

Next, what do you think it means to “follow your passion?”

Have you written your answers? Good. Now, no matter your religious background or beliefs, you probably know that “the passion of Christ” refers to Jesus’ betrayal, persecution, crucifiction, and death. Write down how that series of traumatic events fits with the definition of “passion” you wrote above. I’ll give you more time for this one, because a  lot of people might have to fit the square peg of their definition into the round whole of crucifiction.

What Passion Really Means

Here’s what passion really means: suffering for love or purpose.

Notice that. It’s not about doing what makes you happy. Passion is doing what makes you miserable. For a higher purpose. Or for love.

Mark Manson has written one of the great books about following your passion: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. Mark doesn’t use the word “passion” a lot, but he’s talking here about the same thing:

Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who run triathlons and have chiseled abs and can bench-press a small house. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who fly to the top of it. People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainties of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it.

This is not about willpower or grit. This is not another admonishment of “no pain, no gain.” This is the most simple and basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes. Our problems birth our happiness, along with slightly better, slightly upgraded problems.

I like sitting in bars and drinking, having boisterous conversations filled with loads of uproarious laughter. I can do that without an ounce of struggle. And many people tell me I’m great at it. People love hanging out in bars with me.

But that’s not my passion. It’s not a struggle. If anything, the struggle and pain come as a result of that, not in the pursuit of it.

And that’s the key difference. Passion means you suffer through the process to achieve some greater good.

Happy hour heroism is the reverse of passion. It’s maximizing immediate happiness in pursuit of a less-satisfying future. It’s living on credit. It’s borrowing from your own future and from the future of the world.


Mark Cuban is wrong if Mark knows what “passion” means. But if he uses the popular meaning, which is something like “do whatever makes you happy while you’re doing it,” Mark is dead right. Scott Adams is right, too. They both think of “passion” the way popular culture thinks of passion: hitting all the happy hours you can.

Here’s the answer key.

  1. Passion means suffering for love or purpose, or both. It’s having the hangover first, then getting to drink because of it.
  2. Follow your passion” means suffering for a higher purpose. It’s doing things that are painful, boring, and even dangerous. But doing them makes you and the world better. Lifting heavy weights hurts, but the practice makes you stronger, healthier, and braver. Picking up dog dirt stinks, but it means little kids can run around barefoot without accidentally putting on a crap-sandal.
  3. Christ’s Passion: He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hell. In other words, he suffered for love and purpose. We are his love and purpose.

Go ahead and follow your passion. We all should. But know this going in: if your passion is worthwhile, following your passion means going through hell in the process.

Happy Easter.

P.S. If you’re wondering why I’d choose such a profane book for an Easter post, there’s a reason. It’s called “pacing and leading.” In fact, Mark’s entire book practices pacing and leading. It’s one of the most effective tools of influence and persuasion you can use.

Magical Thinking

Reading Time: 5 minutes

You might wonder why I’m thinking about magic so much. What if you let yourself think about magic for a moment? Your mind can make all kinds of connections. It’s as if your mind takes you on a journey inside when you think about magic. When you hear “magic,” you instantly feel like a kid, don’t you? Perhaps you can remember when magic was as real to you as your favorite pillow or a treasured blanket.

Remember when you read the Magic Letter yesterday? Try to remember where you were when you read that post and how the letter made you feel. You really should read the Magic Letter if you haven’t already. You can always come back to this later.

Welcome back.

You might feel you want to leave a comment on this post. Just say how you felt after you read the Magic Letter. Or maybe just tell me that you performed the magic trick. Did you make a wish for someone? You might want to tell me who. Or maybe you want to tell me what you wished for. You don’t have to tell me both, but you might feel better about yourself and your wish if you write a comment about one or the other. Commenting makes you feel like a good reader, doesn’t it?

I want you to now focus on that magic letter and pretend the person you wished for just got their wish. Look at the joy on this face. See the surprise in these eyes. Focus on the muscles in your face as you smile a little. That’s right. It’s natural to share their happiness. It’s as if you’re watching someone open a birthday present you made for them.

And now you know the power of magic. This was all magic and still is.

When you made your wish for someone, you felt better. It’s natural. It’s how you’re wired. Whether your wish did anything for the other person had no bearing on your feeling good. That’s magical thinking.

Magical thinking helps us feel better, which is why kids do it all the time. All the time. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Great Pumpkin come from magical thinking. And good things happen because of magical thinking. Good memories and great moments for the magical thinkers.

But magical thinking doesn’t mean a jolly fat man drives a team of reindeer all around the world delivering toys to kids. Magical thinking can make Santa Claus real to the mind, but magical thinking doesn’t make Santa a real person in the real world. Which is why most of us outgrow Santa Claus even though we never outgrow magical thinking.

And here’s where this all makes sense. But first a little about the science of magical thinking.

The field of psychology has a definition for magical thinking which you experienced when you read the Magic Letter:

a belief that merely thinking about an event in the external world can cause it to occur. It is regarded as a form of regression to an early phase of development. It may be part of ideas of reference, considered normal in those instances, or may reach delusional proportions when the individual maintains a firm conviction about the belief, despite evidence to the contrary. It may be seen in schizophrenia

You might find yourself feeling disillusioned, now. If the Magic Letter made you feel good, you might think I pulled a mean trick on you.

Please don’t. You shouldn’t feel that way because  the Magic Letter caused you to have healthy feelings of goodwill to others. And your goodwill to others reflected back on you, making you feel better. You can always feel better by thinking about someone and making a wish for them. It works. For you.

The Magic Letter evokes healthy magical thinking.

If you thought your goodwill could produce changes in the real world for other people, you put your best big toe across the line toward delusional thinking. But don’t be too worried. It’s natural to approach that line, especially since I tempted you to think delusionally. I did, I admit. I wanted you to feel the power of magical thinking for a moment. But I’m a fairly responsible person, so I’m now pulling you back from delusional thinking. I won’t let you cross the line completely into schizophrenia. I’m ethical that way.

Are we good? Good.

Now, this might make you sad, but some people have crossed the line and stayed crossed. Not because of the Magic Letter, but because of Donald Trump.

There are people calling themselves NeverTrump, and they embrace magical thinking in the bad way. The NeverTrump people maintain a firm conviction of the belief despite evidence to the contrary. Like schizophrenics.

NeverTrump has crossed the line, and they aren’t coming back.

I’m not a psychologist, and I don’t completely understand what NeverTrump people say. But their thinking goes something like this:

They wish Donald Trump weren’t the Republican nominee for President. They don’t like Hillary Clinton, either. And they firmly believe that a third party candidate will somehow win the election.

NeverTrump has crossed the line, and they aren’t coming back.

These NeverTrumpers have inspired an unknown guy named McMullin to run for President. NeverTrump admits that McMullin will get on the ballot in  only about nine or ten states. Yet NeverTrump believes McMullin will beat people who are on the ballot in all 50 states and DC.

They get really angry, these NeverTrumpers, if anyone asks them how this McMullin can win. Despite their anger, they explain a careful plot that requires millions of chance occurrences to occur in precise order and fashion. And these NeverTrumpers will tell you those millions of freak chances will occur just as they need them to occur because they’ve wished them to occur. Just like the Magic Letter.

NeverTrump has crossed the line, and they aren’t coming back.

The NeverTrump has memorized the Constitution, so they know that the House of Representatives picks the President if no one gets 270 electoral votes. They also know that the House must pick a President from the top three electoral vote-getters in the general election. And even though McMullin is on only nine or ten ballots, NeverTrump believes McMullin will get more electoral votes than two candidates who will be on 50 (or almost 50) state ballots.

The evidence is against NeverTrump. For example, McMullin is a Mormon, so they hope he’ll win in Utah. But Trump has a 15-point lead in Utah. Still, they think McMullin will win Utah.

NeverTrump has crossed the line, and they aren’t coming back.

According to Nate Silver’s forecasting, there’s about a 99 percent chance Trump and Clinton will combine to win all of the electoral votes. Every last one. If they tie at 270 each, the House will have to choose between the two of them. And even if McMullin were to win one or two electoral votes and become the third option for Congress, everyone suspects that picking McMullin would lead to civil unrest. You can imagine how people would revolt if Congress awarded the office to someone who lost by over 200 points.

So how could McMullin (or the other minor party candidates) get at least one electoral vote? Well, they’d have to win a plurality of votes in a state or they’d have to win a plurality of votes in a congressional district in either Maine or Nebraska.

It’s unlikely McMullin will be on the ballot in Maine or Nebraska, so he’ll have to win a state.

His best bet is Utah where Trump has a 15-point lead over Hillary Clinton. (I can’t find McMullin’s name on any polls.)

In short, the evidence says a McMullin win in 2016 is extremely unlikely. Let’s call the chances 0.000016.

Yet, NeverTrump believes it’s likely that McMullin will win. Some think it’s certain.

That’s the power of magical thinking taken to the delusional. NeverTrumpers get to believe that merely thinking about President McMullin will make him real. Like the Great Pumpkin.

It’s kind of sad when you think about. Really sad. Not just for the NeverTrumpers, but for the innocent conservatives who believe what the famous NeverTrumpers tell them. (I’m looking at you, Bill Kristol.) These innocents are like Sally Brown. They’re going to miss Halloween because the NeverTrump Linuses made them believe in the Great Pumpkin.

The next time I read the Magic Letter, I’m going to wish NeverTrump would get treatment for their Magical Thinking condition. I’ll feel better about myself, but I know they won’t get treatment.

Magic Letter

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Just pretend that this letter is sort of magic. You don’t have to be aware of how it’s magic. Just pretend that you’re reading a magic letter. In a moment you’ll find out how it works.

You might find yourself rolling your eyes and thinking you’re too old and too smart for magic letters, but the more you read, the more you might wish this letter really is magic.

If you’re still reading, you might even laugh a little at how stupid this sounds. You don’t have to believe in magic to pretend you’re reading a magic letter, though, do you? If you want to pretend you can. No one can stop you.

If this really were a magic letter it would grant your wishes, wouldn’t it? Like a genie in a bottle. You’d read the letter and your wishes would come true. You can pretend, anyway, just for a little while.

A real magic letter would probably tell you to close your eyes and make three wishes. But this is a different kind of magic letter. This magic letter gives you only one wish, and it has to be a wish for someone else. Its magic won’t work for you. It’s a kind of karma magic, not genie magic.

Still, magic’s kind of neat, and you probably wouldn’t want to waste a wish, even if the wish is for someone else. Why not make somebody else’s day, right?

One other thing: the wish has to be something that actually helps that person or makes them happy somehow. Wishing ill on someone won’t do any good.

If this were a real magic letter, here’s how you’d activate the magic powers:

  1. You’d have to say the name of the person you’re wishing for out loud. At least whisper.
  2. You’d have to close your eyes and picture that person in your mind. Right in front of you.
  3. You’d have to speak your wish for them out loud.

There’s one more thing, too. You have to repeat those three steps every day for three days.

If this were really a magic letter, the wish would eventually come true, would it not? You can test it and see. You make a wish and start to feel better about that person, too.

And even if this letter isn’t magic in that way, you’ve made a wish for someone. It took you only a few seconds total, and you did something nice for someone even if they never know about it. You should feel good about yourself.

What if there was even better news?

If you get a magic letter, you can bet other people get them, too. And if enough people get these magic letters, someone’s bound to make a wish for you. Someone somewhere will say your name, close their eyes, imagine your face in their mind, and make a wish that something great happens for you.

The more people get these letters, the more likely someone’s wishing good for you. Someone could be making a wish for you right now. And if someone’s wishing good for you, you might have a great day tomorrow, right?

You’re probably thinking there’s another catch. In a movie, you know that catch would go something like this: the other person’s wish for you won’t come true unless you’ve made a wish for somebody else.

This letter didn’t say anything about that, though. Maybe it’s true. You’re free to believe either way.

When you get to this part of the letter, you might start to feel good about the positive changes you’ve already made in our life. That’s a kind of magic, too, isn’t it. You don’t have to believe in magic for the magic to work on you, do you?

Congratulations for reading this far. You’re on your way to something good happening. Not all good, maybe, but some good. It’s just the way magic letters work.

The Best We Can Do: Freedom and Independence For America

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Tim Gerrity: We may not always get what we want. We may not always get what we need. Just so’s we don’t get what we deserve!

–True Colors, 1991

Do you ever get the feeling we’re getting exactly what we deserve?

As the Crisis deepens, 13ers will feel little stake in the old order, little sense that their names and signatures are on the social contract. They will have reached full adult maturity without ever having believed in either the American Dream or American exceptionalism. They will never have known a time when America felt good about itself, when its civic and cultural life didn’t seem to be decaying. From childhood into midlife, they will have always sensed that the nation’s core institutions mainly served the interests of people other than themselves. Not many of their classmates and friends will have built public-sector careers, apart from teaching and police work. Most 13ers will have oriented their lives around self-help networks of friends and other ersatz institutions that have nothing to do with government.

–Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2009-01-16). The Fourth Turning

It’s easy for Americans in the 21st century to believe we deserve better. Some people say everyone deserves free education through college, free medical care, free food, free transportation, free contraceptives, even free tampons. Maybe “deserve” is the wrong word. “Right to” is what people actually say.

What if we don’t?

Let’s play a thought experiment.

What if you woke up tomorrow on a tropical island. It’s not tiny, but it’s not too big. You find lots of tropical plants and animals but no other people. You are alone on an island. All alone in paradise.

Being alone, you won’t find a doctor or a professor. No stores to shop. No contraceptives. And no one to use them with. You are alone with yourself and all of your natural rights.

Sure, there’s no one to talk to, no one to kiss, no one to love, no one to comfort you. But there’s also no one to boss, no one to bully, no one to enslave, no one to rob. Just you.

On this paradise island surrounded by food that you can harvest yourself, you feel completely in charge of yourself. Perhaps for the first time in your life. There are no license bureaus to visit, no security lines to wait in. You pay no taxes.

You have all of your rights. You have a right to an education, but you can’t force someone to teach you. You must teach yourself to survive on the island.

You have the right to shelter, but you probably have to build one yourself. Or build twenty if you want.

You have the right to health, but you have to treat yourself. (What do the animals do when they get injured? How do they heal themselves?)

You have the right to eat, but you have to harvest the food yourself. (What do the animals eat? How do they get it?)

You have the right to transportation: your legs. You may crawl if you wish. No one there to laugh.

You have everything you deserve: your freedom and total independence.

You probably wish someone were there with you, but company comes at a price, does it not?

One day, long after you’ve developed routines and practices to ensure your safety, nourishment, and maximum happiness under the circumstances, something catches your eye. Out on the ocean between the horizon and the shore you spot an object. It’s large and different from anything you’ve seen since waking up on your island.

Over the next hour or two, the object gets bigger as it drifts closer to your island. Soon you see the object is a raft of some sort. Yellow. Crowded onto the raft are seven people. Some begin waving, so they must have seen you. They drift closer and closer and you can hear them shouting. You cant make out their words over the surf and the breeze, but you know they’re trying to talk to you.

In a moment the raft reaches shallow water. You wade out to help bring the craft ashore. You are no longer alone. You have company.

Everyone on the raft speaks the same language you speak. One of the “rafters,” the word you use to describe these visitors, is a doctor. One is a professor. Another is a former legislator. The other four are a young family consisting of a carpenter, his wife (a receptionist) and their two children, one boy and one girl.

“How long have you been here?” the politician asks.

“Huh. I’m not sure,” you answer. “A couple years, I guess.”

“And you’re alone?” the doctor asks.

“As far as I know,” you say. “I’ve pretty much explored the whole island, and I’ve never found signs of other people.”

“How have you survived?” asks the professor.

You start to tell stories of your time on the island. How you panicked at first, but then learned to live.

“I was so angry for a while. I though I didn’t deserve this. I felt deprived and lonely. And, honestly, scared. I had no idea how to survive out here. But I realized I had to eat, so I taught myself how to gather coconuts and pineapples and a lot of berries and plants I saw the animals and birds eating. I stay away from all the snakes and lizards because there’s no telling which ones are dangerous. I built shelters for myself around the island so I’d never be caught out without protection. I figured out how to spear fish–there’s so many fish in the waters here, it’s easy.”

“How do you cook?” the doctor asked.

“I don’t.”

“You’re lucky to be alive,” the doctor continued. “You could get all kinds of parasites and bacteria from raw fish. You should know better.”

“We need to figure out a way to make fire,” the politician said. Then, turning to you, “Since you’ve been here for two years, I think you should figure that out. You know this island better than anyone.”

“I agree,” said the professor. “I can tell you what might work.”

“Okay, but I don’t really need fire,” you say. “I’ve survived without it for two years. If I knew how to do it, I’d have done it.”

“Well, we need some organization, then,” said the politician. “Why don’t we take a vote?”

They vote. The professor and the politician decide that only adults may vote. The carpenter and his wife abstain, but the doctor, the professor, and the politician vote that you are responsible for finding a way to make fire. They also decide that you must teach them which plants are edible and which are not and to make a map of the island so the others can find their way around.

In the next few days, the group makes a lot of other decisions, all by vote. Your days get busier and busier trying to fulfill all the obligations the rafters dumped on you. Because you’re the most experienced, you gather most of the food. You help the carpenter build shelter for the others. (The professor decided your existing shelters were inadequate.) The rafters form a government of which the former legislator is the head.

You work day after day gathering firewood, building materials, food, and fresh water while the doctor, the professor, and the politician spend most of their days deciding new rules that mostly apply only to you and the carpenter’s family. You’ve grown close to his family. Like you, they mostly do whatever the council tells them.

“Why don’t you tell them to get lost?” the receptionist asks you one day after the council decided that you may not refer to the others as “rafters.”

The receptionist had been down on the council ever sense it voted to make her two kids attend class six hours a day. She and her husbanded want the kids to learn skills useful on the island, but the professor and the politician insist they need to learn other things that will prepare them for college.

“Well, they vote on everything, so how can I just say ‘no?'”

“They just made up this system. Really, we’re all on our own. We don’t owe any allegiance to them,” she says.

Her husband says, “yeah, they really don’t do anything but tell us to make them comfortable. You work your butt off for them. What did you do before we got here?”

You think about this. What did you do? Woke up whenever. Caught a fish for the day’s protein. Ate berries and fruit. Explored the island. Experimented to find ways to make paper, ink, and clothes. Practiced animal and bird calls.

But since the rafters arrived, you never seem caught up. Fishing takes hours every morning, and some people don’t like all the varieties of fish. Then you and the carpenter haul water and remove waste from the little village. Then gather fruits and berries. Then mandatory school for a couple of hours in the afternoon. And village meetings. Then do it again.

You think back to the days before the rafters. You were free. You were alone, sure, but you felt whole. You appreciate the family, but the others, the experts, are really just mild slave masters. They do little work and make all the rules.

On Independence Day, remember that you had all your rights when you were alone on that island. No one grants you a new “right” without taking away someone’s freedom. You probably don’t want to benefit from slavery, do you?

America was founded on the idea that people create governments to serve them, not the other way around.

If you like truth, justice, and the American way, you might like my latest book.

Mike Flynn, RIP

Reading Time: 2 minutes

When the BBC called Brexit for LEAVE at about 12:30 a.m. CDT today, I thought first of my friend Mike Flynn. Mike had a keen sense of history. He put the Tea Party movement into proper perspective, as he did with all events. Mike kept us from overstating both the Tea Party’s effect and its potential. Or he put them in context and reminded us that our potential depends on ourselves, not outside forces. Among nascent political operatives and activists, Mike was the adult in the room, even among people many years his senior.

I wanted to talk to Mike about Brexit, because he’d have a brilliant understanding of the event’s historical significance. I believe it’s the biggest political event since the Berlin Wall fell. Would Mike say I’m exaggerating? Underestimating?

I met Mike, Andrew Breitbart, and Chip Gerdes in September, 2009, around the time of the massive 9/12 Tea Party in Quincy, Illinois.  Here’s how I described the end of that pivotal weekend:

I was hungover.

I sat in a booth at the Holiday Inn in Quincy, Illinois, with my wife and two friends from St. Louis. The day before was my wife’s birthday, which she graciously spent waiting for me to speak at a tea party in Quincy.

Angela and I sat with Jim Durbin and Ben Evans. About four feet away, sitting at the bar, were Andrew Breitbart and editor-in-chief of Andrew’s, Mike Flynn. Andrew and Mike were monitoring the Sunday talk shows on the bar’s big sports TVs. Andrew  and Mike, and a kid named James O’Keefe, were the subjects of every political program that weekend. Just two days earlier, the famous ACORN videos dropped on

I’ll never know Mike’s thoughts on Brexit. My friend, the political editor of Breitbart News, passed away last night. The Lord has now taken three central figures in the Tea Party’s rise, especially St. Louis Tea Party: Andrew Breitbart, Chip Gerdes, and Mike Flynn.
Mike Flynn, Chip Gerdes, and Andrew Breitbart at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, August 2011. Photo courtesy Jeremy Segal

I saw Mike in Washington DC in April. I was in town for only a couple of nights, but he made time to hang out and talk about politics, the primaries, family, and old times. He was joyous and funny, as always. Mike left early that night because of an appointment early the next morning.

Freedom will miss Mike, as we all will. You and I will have to pick up a little extra work now.

Why did God see fit to call how Andrew, Chip, and Mike so soon? No idea. But He probably knows what he’s doing.

God bless Mike, his family, and the grieving nation Mike left behind.

Please read the touching words of Mike’s friend and colleague, Mike Leahy.