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The Dark Side of Passion

“Everything about passion is a little bit paradoxical.” - The Passion Paradox





I found this post from my old blog as I was going through my Google Drive the other day. When I wrote it I was reading the Passion Paradox by Steve Magness and Brad Stulburg. I found this book so incredibly thought provoking and deeply connected with the idea that passion has a dark side.


“But if it’s not pursued thoughtful or handled carefully, passion can quickly become a curse, something far more destructive than it is productive. This dark kind of passion is especially in a culture that conditions us to crave quick fixes and instant gratification, tempts us to judge ourselves by the number of “followers” or “friends” we have on social media, and repeatedly tells us that ‘winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing’; a culture that is achievement oriented and compels us to focus solely on results at all costs,” says Magnuss and Stulburg.


As an athlete and a running coach I see the struggle between the positive side or passion and the dark side of passion a lot.


Dark passion shows up when an athlete defies well established reasoning in favour of “doing more” - more miles, more speed, races… the focus is instant gratification over long term athletic development. I’ve yet to see this end well.


In an excerpt from my original blog post, I define my own understanding of positive passion vs. dark passion:


The difference between positive passion and dark passion exists between your ears. While both are characterized by an unbridled and relentless force - force that oftentimes leave this willing to do things that cause sacrifice, struggle and willingness to become uncomfortable - critical differences exist.


Positive passion comes from a guttural love for something. It is deeply rooted in our identity. It aligns with our core values and although involves sacrifice, produces great emotional rewards. This type of passion fills us up, it does not drain our tank.


Dark passion manifests itself as an obsession - a visceral compulsion. Obsession does not leave room for self respect, reflection or rest. It is an intruder that will not leave and a friend that will never allow you to feel adequate.


As an athlete I have cycled between positive pass and dark passion. Both versions of me work extremely hard. The difference being one occurs in a healthy headspace and one occurs in an unhealthy mind.


When I am running and training passionately I'm focused on both the process and the outcome. I follow my workouts diligently with regard for my body. I have clarity and my training is thoughtful. I'm satisfied with each step that I take forward and I celebrate my successes along the way. I becoming extremely focused on taking the best care of my body. I drink well, I eat well, and arrest accordingly. I look forward to my workouts, although sometimes the paces and challenges make me nervous, I'm excited to see what my body can do and how I can progress as an athlete through each individual run. when I am training and healthy headspace I tend to take the time to do things like strength the mobility, and rope stretching, as opposed to running more miles. I take my easy days easy so that I can excel at my harder workouts. My training becomes more about preparing for the harder days versus running hard everyday.


When I am running with dark passion, I’m in a vacuum of obsessively wanting to get more done. My training is characterized by lack of respect for my workouts and for my body. I am overwhelmed by an urge you always do more. The line of doing enough is elusive. Invisible. Imagined. Excitement is replaced with anxiousness and the blinders go on. I begin to worry more about how my training stacks up to other people's training and begin to have difficulty making decisions that are best for me. every run becomes the race and an opportunity to prove an unprovable point to myself.


The line between positive passion and dark passion is easily muddled. There are so many commonalities between the two that in a single run I can be both a passionate runner and an obsessive runner. As I've growing in the sport of endurance running it has become easier for me to define which type of athlete I am on a given day, on a given workout.


Being fuelled by dark passion is exhausting, consuming and joyless. Obsessive running easily masquerades as a positive passion - in fact it is often times praised as being “badass” and “hardcore” in a society that values extremes.



Reflecting on this, the times of dark passion in my own running career are wildly obvious. I still have to actively call upon my own self awareness and honesty when I make training decisions for me. I think like many athletes, I have the tendency to zoom in on myself so tightly that I lose sight of the bigger picture.


Coincidentally - I came across an IG post a week ago from David Goggins. He was crawling on a treadmill because his knees are so injured he can’t run. I couldn’t help but to recognize the passion in his post “ followed up by 959k likes and 3,391 comments (mostly) praising his dedication. It’s not up to me to decide where his passion comes from, or what the rest of his life outside of IG looks like, but what I will say is that the message of relentlessly pursuing 100% surrounds us, and if not managed with a critical lens, can quickly skew our perception.


Have you encountered the passion paradox in your training or other areas of your life?


Run until you fly,


Coach Lynsey


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