One of the weirdest moments in my artistic career happened last year, on the last night of a successful run of the show I had produced.
Now, this sparkly baby wasn’t just a passion project. It was more like a passion marathon, but I had run the marathon in stilettos and one of those Victorian deep-sea wetsuits. As a co-owner and show producer, I had actually quit my reasonable job to put it on stage.
And we did! Despite everything, we had produced a sold-out season. Each night had been a riot of effervescent scintillating catharsis for the cast and crowd. I should have been delighted.
Instead, I stood on stage for the bows and thought, “I don’t ever want to do that again.”
Weird, huh? Not exactly the moment of jubilant satisfaction I expected. Everything had gone perfectly. And yet there I was, feeling about as buoyant as a pinata at the end of the onslaught of a kid’s party.
I spent most of the next lockdown trying to figure out why I felt like a burst balloon animal. How can you achieve something you’ve wanted and worked for all year – only to turn around and vow never again?
It wasn’t until months later that I realized the clue was in the name: passion project.
You see, “passion” is a loaded word. We think of passion as a kind of ever-renewed spring inside us. This is where artists are supposed to drink. As if we all have an inner, eternal Trevi Fountain, carved into a plaza of white marble beneath our spleen. Whenever we are tired, we simply drink from the Eternal Fountain and emerge refreshed and revitalized.
But in reality, I don’t think that passion is an eternal spring that renews itself. I had treated it as such, imagining that – no matter how tired or consumed I was – I could always drink it.
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Turns out my passion is probably more of a bank balance. Something finished and expendable. And I didn’t recognize it at first, because I drank so much of it I thought it would last forever. But just ask MC Hammer, you can still go broke after being a multi-millionaire.
And I managed to spend every last penny of my enthusiasm.
In fact, I’d say the odds of you putting every penny of your enthusiasm into your passion project are much higher than they normally would be.
Not only are you likely to do everything yourself to save time and resources, but you’re also likely to want to to do it all yourself, because no one gets your vision like you do.
Unlike a normal project, a passion project is made in your image. It becomes not just a job, but an extension and proof of your value as an artist and a person. So you put a lot more of yourself into it and tap into your reserves of passion with a lot more fervor.
But no matter how much enthusiasm you put in, if you have to spend it on an equally huge amount of work, you’re going to go broke. You’ll be like me – staggering across the finish line, feeling broken and bitter that everyone seems to enjoy it but you.
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But the good news is that when you recognize that enthusiasm isn’t a Trevi Fountain, it’s much easier to budget for it.
I know budgeting is a much less sexy metaphor. It conjures up images of those people spending around $2.50 a month on coffee and making their own deodorant.
But it’s an essential distinction for us to make up our minds as creatives.
Otherwise, how do you understand that there are certain parts of the process that will build our passion bank? And there will also be parts that will drain your balance so dry you swear on the soul of your beloved dead dog you’ll never crawl through that fiery circle of hell again (Hello, Facebook Ads Manager). And that instead of expecting passion to flow forever, we must both develop it and spend it wisely.
It was only after realizing this that I was able to reinvigorate myself.
Filling myself with passion-boosting pieces and learning to cut out items that are too expensive for my enthusiasm. And it worked ! We just kicked off our next season of Club Burlesque, and I’m bouncing back excitedly like an over-caffeinated Tigger.
But it was an important realization that while creative passion can be our greatest strength, it can also be our greatest weakness.
And we have to learn how to handle it properly, otherwise we end up getting killed by our own darlings.
Written by Verity Johnson and first published by The Big Idea.