When I first heard the title of this book, The Passion Paradox (by Brad Stuhlberg and Steve Magness), I assumed it wasn’t going to be for me. I was bummed at first because I love reading Brad Stuhlberg’s articles in Outside magazine. But because he was one of the authors, the “passion” part of the title didn’t scare me off. I was still intrigued.

The idea of “following your passion” doesn’t sit well with me. Part of it is because the phrase reminds me of a Hallmark card. The other part is that I know from experience that when I try to follow a passion, I wind up burned out.

And then I read the synopsis of the book, and it talked about tackling that very thing: how to follow a passion and not get burned out. I wanted to make sense of being able to pursue something sustainably, so I added the book to my hold list at the library.

As it turns out, I got more than I bargained for in this little book. Not only did I get some clarity on how to avoid burnout, but I also got a refresher on intrinsic motivation (and a few flashbacks to writing my graduate thesis). I also adopted a new definition of mastery, got some tools for developing self-awareness, and realized how powerful storytelling is when it’s happening in my brain.

(If any of that intrigues you, I encourage you to pick up a copy and do a little self-discovery of your own. Don’t let my thoughts influence you.)

One of the things that I love about Brad Stuhlberg’s writing is that he shares information without getting preachy. He does his research, presents the data, and recommends how to practice it in real life. Could be, not should be. Most of his examples come from sports, so I can relate to what he’s saying.

I picked up some good ideas around perfectionism getting in the way of pursuing a passion. And how creating a sustainable habit doesn’t come from chasing external rewards. But I love what this book says about mastery and self-awareness.

Mastery is not the same as becoming perfect or the best. It’s about “being the best at getting better.” Mastery is sticking to an internal drive, being patient, and remaining focused on the process. Adopting a mastery mindset keeps things in perspective. It’s possible to pursue something long enough (without getting burned out) and have it develop into a passion. Mastery gives me hope.

The other part of this book that I loved was all about crafting your own story.

“Your inner narrative, or the story you tell yourself about yourself, provides the lens through which you see, make sense of, and navigate the world.” (The Passion Paradox, by Brad Stuhlberg and Steve Magness)

The internal story that you tell yourself about yourself shapes your identity. And you can always change your story. But to do that you need to be aware of who you are and what you’re doing. The way you’re able to change and craft your story is through self-awareness.

I’m still not crazy about the word passion. My brain automatically replaces it with “something that I really want to pursue.” But now I have hope that I can move forward with something I really want to pursue, bypass burnout, and work on crafting one hell of a story.