Pursue Your Passion: A Lesson in Persistence From Vincent Van Gogh
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Ready. Set. Gogh!
Little do people know that for a majority of Vincent Van Gogh’s career, he was a starving artist. He wore ragtag clothes and slept in ragtag inns. He would exchange his paintings for a hot meal and a place to sleep.
The Vincent Van Gogh would exchange his now million dollar paintings for a roof and some food!
Wrap your head around that for a minute.
There’s a reason why Van Gogh starved. He created art for the sake of creating art. He didn’t send surveys to his potential audience, conduct A/B split testing, ask Twitter, Facebook, or Quora what people wanted. . . And then create art.
Van Gogh created art because creating art was his passion—it was his calling. He didn’t ask for anyone’s permission. He didn’t ask if people were going to like his work. Van Gogh followed his heart and realized the dream he always had.
Most importantly, he maintained persistence in the face of challenges, roadblocks, and the absence of success.
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh
4 Reasons We Don’t Pursue Our Passion
Here are a few reasons that keep you away from your calling.
Fear is by far the number one reason why we do not pursue our passion. It conquers us to the point of inaction.
We are afraid. Afraid of failing. Afraid of the economy. Afraid of our boss. Afraid of [insert your excuse].
Mainly, we are afraid of what others will think. Will people like the work we put out? Will they reject it? People will judge me!!
I’m going to shoot it straight by saying that no one will even care. Family aside, people are generally submerged in their own lives. They’ll applaud you or judge you momentarily then go back to their own lives.
Little do we know that we have nothing to lose. Regret is much worse than fear. Personally, the one thing that drives me is regret because when I’m on my deathbed, I will know I had the courage to pursue my passion and persist when faced with adversity.
The fact that you conquered fear and went after your goals is the biggest success you can achieve. It opens up a realm of many possibilities.
Success by traditional standards (money, notoriety) is a byproduct and will eventually come. But when you are pursuing your art, does money and fame even matter? If so then I challenge you to re-consider your passion.
2. You are Expecting Something in Return
If we don’t get anything in return, we deem it a failure. This is the art of business. This is not the art of creating.
If you are expecting something in return, then you are not fulfilling your passion. You are chasing fame and riches. Even though you may end up achieving these goals, you are not fulfilling your authentic self.
How many times have you heard of people that have gained fame and riches only to be left unhappy than before their fame?
3. Ignoring Your Inner Voice
Our inner voice knows exactly who we are. This inner voice is telling us what to do, but we fail to listen. We silence that voice and create excuses for not walking down the path we truly want to follow. Reasons 1 and 2 are big culprits for this.
You’ve heard that voice several times. It has told you to say “Yes” when you said “No.” It has told you to say “No” when you said “Yes.”
You discount yourself, but I urge you not to underestimate yourself. You are more than capable of going after your dreams.
What separates others from you is that others persist because of their passion. They go hand in hand. Persistence stems from passion.
4. You’re Overwhelmed
Having a grand vision is daunting. You know what you want to do but are not sure where to start. In any event, you get overwhelmed to the point where you do nothing.
I can tell you that taking the first step is scary. At the same time, it is one of the most liberating feelings. When I first launched my blog, I had no idea where to start. “I need to make my website look pretty. I need the right plugins. I need to create a Twitter Account; I need more Facebook likes.” Blah. Blah. Blah.
90% of the battle is getting started. You’ll figure out the rest along the way. I like to use the analogy of going to the gym. Physically going to the gym is the hardest part but once you’re there, you have no choice but to exercise.
Van Gogh unconditionally did the work, then shared it—and repeated this cycle many, many times.
Most importantly, he never gave up.
Van Gogh was not a naturally gifted artist. He made drawings throughout his life, but it wasn’t until his late 20s until he started painting full-time. This was after failed attempts at multiple professions: minister, a school teacher, art dealer, and clerk.
I got the impression that he finally followed his heart after failing at professions he didn’t want to do in the first place.
His notoriety didn’t begin until his last few years of life, gaining widespread fame after his death.
Nonetheless, he created art while he was alive.
Van Gogh is the epitome of persistence. His first major painting was at age 32, but there are countless of drawings displaying his efforts to master his craft. He was engulfed in the process of creating art.
Whether in rundown inns or in mental asylums Van Gogh persisted. Fyi, Van Gogh painted Starry Night in a mental asylum.
. . . A mental asylum.
Are you allowing a bad situation to allow you to move forward?
“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” ~ Vincent Van Gogh
3 Strategies to Stay Persistent
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If you too want to relentlessly pursue your passion, then follow these steps.
1. Know Your Why
Too many people get stuck on “What” and “How” but very little actually know their “Why.” Like Simon Sinek says, “Start with Why.” Becoming one with your Why will help you persist through roadblocks when you don’t feel like moving forward.
If you don’t know why you want to pursue your passion, then you are in for a rough journey, my friend.
“I feel my voice will inspire others to take their lives to the next level.” This is my Why for my blog. In lieu of the multitude of blogs on the web, I stayed true to my Why and continued to pursue launching my blog.
Allowing myself to pursue my form of art (blogging) is a success. Anything else gained is secondary.
2. Have a Clear Vision
Create a vision and be extremely clear on what this looks like. Write this vision down and keep it in front of you at all times. Place it on your fridge, workstation, intern, wherever.
Whatever it is you’re doing, ensure you are working towards fulfilling your vision. The most successful people ever to live always had a clear idea of their vision. And they always stayed true to it: Henry Ford, Steve Jobs. . . Vincent Van Gogh.
3. Set Deadlines
Setting a deadline will light a fire under your ass to keep you moving forward. Putting these deadlines on paper will help keep you accountable. Because the deadline now exists, it’s tangible.
A helpful strategy is to have micro-goals established for each deadline.
For example, if you want to lose 30lbs in 30 days, break down your overall goal. Set a deadline 10 days from now with the expectation that you will lose 10lbs by then. Once that deadline is hit, move on to the subsequent deadline. Repeat this cycle until your goal is hit.
4. Stay Accountable
If you are having trouble maintaining motivation, then chances are you need a support group. These people can be there to listen, hold you accountable, or uphold whatever expectation you have for them.
The best accountability partner I’ve ever had was money. I would throw my hard earned dollars on the line if I weren’t staying true to my goals.
The thought of losing money is much more prominent than earning money. Back to the losing weight example, if you don’t meet your deadline, then you must sacrifice a certain amount of money.
Needless to say, this works. If there is something that will hold you accountable, it’s the potential to lose money. People hold money with much value and will go to great lengths to ensure they don’t lose it.
What is Your Art?
There’s an abundance of art in the world. It comes in a multitude of forms but doesn’t have to be art in the traditional sense. It can be:
- Graphic design
- Data Analysis
If you know what your artform is then, it is time to get to work. If you don’t know what it is then, it is time to get to work.
Whether you think it’s too late to start or is not seeing the fruits of your labor, then keep persisting—because it’s small daily performances that pay off big in the long run.
My former self got discouraged every time I read a Forbes 30 under 30 list. “I’m too old” was a story I’d constantly tell myself.
Then I read about Van Gogh’s story.
I kicked my weaker self out and began persisting like Van Gogh. Art was his passion and he worked, worked, and worked. Writing has been mine. And no one is telling me to clock in at 8:30.
I do it on my own because it’s my passion. And I’ll never stop.
“Do not quench your inspiration and your imagination; do not become the slave of your model.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh
Your Dreams Await You
There is nothing in this world holding you back but yourself. You are the master of your destiny—the maker of your own fate. The world provides everything you need to make your dreams come true.
You may think that Van Gogh is an exception, but I assure you he is not. There have been a multitude of people that became successful against all odds. Many faced rejection numerous times but never gave up:
J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Jim Carrey, Stephen King , Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Disney, Nikola Tesla
The list goes on.
Some of these people beat all odds. Many people had no business being their line of business. But they never gave up. They were in line with their passion and persisted as a result.
Just because you hear “no,” doesn’t mean it’s over. “No” sometimes means “try harder” or “not yet.”
My challenge to you is that whenever you reach a roadblock or challenge of some sort:
Just keep Goghing!
“In spite of everything I shall rise again. I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh
Over to You
Are you giving up on your passion quickly? What’s holding you back from pursuing your dream? Share your comments.
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Seriously brilliant and inspiritaitonal post, and not only that, motivating. I’ts a good job I heard of Van Googh as recently as a few years, while watching a documentary about him. Talk about persistance. Next time I feel de-motivated or depressed, I’m going to try to remember to come back to this article to re-invigourate me. This, and Tony Robbins, and I can’t go wrong.
Thanks for the motivation.
Inspirational for sure. It was Van Google gift driven by his,passion that made him famous. Find your gift, apply it and who knows,where you will end up. Ofcourse, Van Googh never achieved fame….until he left his work behind. Sometimes that is,how,it is.
Your post is very inspiring, many people fear because of failure, but I sincerely believe that a person with vision will never look at the negative side effect of things. Talent and skill are crafts that describe who we are, but without passion and persistence we may not be able to realize our goals and vision in life. For me I believe that passion combined with determination, persistence and hardwork are the cardinal force that will drive us success in life. I love your post keep inspiring us.
If you get the chance, you need to take Lisa Thompson’s suggestion: listen to “Starry, Starry Night”. It will give you a deeper appreciation for Vincent Van Gogh. As for your post, I read it with interest and enjoyed it. Here are my thoughts.
I think what holds some people back, and I didn’t figure it overnight, is the different ways one measures success when working in a traditional job vs. non-traditional. In a typical “9 to 5” job it’s easy to establish an identity. You have a paycheck, set hours, company mission, team members, and so on by which you can see progress.
When you pursue your dream you need to reclaim your identity. Now, however, you have no obvious way, no template, by which you can measure your success. Months and years may pass before you feel any sense of accomplishment. You can have doubts in yourself and wonder if you have made a big mistake pursuing your dream.
Here’s the catch. Your dream may be the only real measure of who you are–meaning, your true identity. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort. If you pursue your dream you’re likely to discover something awesome about yourself.
Wow, Thabo. That was fantastic. I feel the challenge is defining what success means to US. Traditional definitions of success are money, fame, and power. We look externally to define success rather than figure it out internally.
Defining who you are on your own is a great measure of success. Becoming self-aware is a great measure of success. I think the next challenge is once you identify who you are, how will you spread your gift to better the world?
I am very grateful to have ran across such an inspirational blog post. This hit the nail on the head for me. I am an aspiring inspiration blogger who wants to focus on uniqueness and differentiation. I have a passion for clothing but I also want to use my voice as an outlet while helping others. I’m told that their should be one specific niche, however I have so much to offer than cloning advice. I become lost in self expectations and I begin to doubt my abilities. But your article has done me wonders on today. It’s basically time to brainstorm and remain persistent. (Ironically, persistence has been the most mentioned word for me in 2016) but I continue to pursue it. Thank you for this!
Inspiring post, Del! Very helpful advice to keep us going on our paths to our dreams.
I truly believe you’re right about fear holding people back from pursuing their dreams. In fact, I realized fear of what other people would think or say has held me back for most of my life.
For much of my younger life I buried my dream of being an artist and only did any painting or drawings if I had any extra time here and there. Back then, I always felt guilty spending time doing artwork as it somehow had gotten into my head that it holds no value in the “real” world.
I used to believe doing things that lead to a “decent” job were the things I should be doing instead of working on art. I wasted many years this way until I finally woke up and realized what a waste of my life to spend so much time doing things I didn’t really enjoy.
I love creating things, drawing, painting, even writing as I’ve found out. But, to share any of these things it was the scariest thing ever. I almost didn’t do it, but when I thought longer on whether I should go for it or not, I finally realized that I had to do it. I didn’t want to live life wondering and regretting that I didn’t at least try.
I first started out writing a blog that I was passionate about in 2012 and enjoy writing on still, but it turned out that it wasn’t my true passion…art. I was just too afraid yet to share that part of myself with anyone.
About a year ago, I finally went and did it. I started my art website. It had kept coming up in my thoughts even way back in 2012. But, I just couldn’t do it yet at that time.
Once I went through with it, nobody made fun of me. Nobody criticized my work or my writing there. And sharing my artwork with people that actually “know” me was the most difficult thing to do in my life yet.
What I’m trying to say is they didn’t really know me…they only thought they did. I never told anyone such as coworkers or even people I considered friends I did any kind of art. Only the closest of friends and family knew.
And, the thing is, these people that thought they knew me, they didn’t judge me either once I finally shared it with them. Actually, I received some surprised, but nice compliments about it.
Anyways, I’m goghing forward with it whether it makes money or not, it’s made my life a much happier one to pursue my passion. And, in doing so, hopefully it’ll inspire others to never give up on doing what they love. Put fears aside and just gogh!
Otherwise, you’ll just never know where it could’ve led. Life is much too short. I don’t want to be at the end of it wondering what could have been if only I had tried.
Thank you for sharing this Del. I’m saving this article to read on days when I need a reminder to keep on working at it…I absolutely love it!
Great post, thank you, Del. “What is your art? If you know what your artform is then, it is time to get to work. If you don’t know what it is then, it is time to get to work.” Love it!
I appreciate the comment and kind words. It’s great to know that this article resonated with you. Cheers!
Hi Del, this is very inspiring.
To me, staying accountable to work on my dreams is one of the most important keys that keep me going every day.
Ah, and the big WHY too. I always remind myself why I would want to put in commitment and to achieve my goals and reach my dreams.
And now, I’m trying to work on my work and not making the return/reward the priority. Instead, I’m trying to put my passion first in the list and rewards can come later.
Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for the comment. Best of luck on your endeavor! I’m sure you will prevail.
I really enjoyed reading this blog post! Exceptionally written! I have heard of Van Gogh but I never knew his story. It is very encouraging. Many people don’t have the determination that Van Gogh had. You have to keep going even when you might not be seeing the results that you want. This is when you should persist but many people get discouraged instead.
I believe at one point we all may feel discouragement but you cannot let that stop you. I always tell myself to be unstoppable and that failure really isn’t an option. Do I feel discouraged sometimes? Of course but I must keep going no matter how I feel. I find that focusing on the positive really helps.
Thanks for sharing this with us!
Thank you for your comment. I’m happy you enjoyed it. I feel that there will always be a struggle. There will always be discouragement. No one goes through life without it. If they do, then I’d sure love to know what they are drinking! Your persistence and attitude is inspiring. Keep at it.
Very compelling and informative post. I believe that anything we do in life with the hope of achieving success, we must pursue with a passion. I agree with the things that you shared about what holds us back from going after our passion.
Time management has been my biggest challenge in me not pursuing my passion as I should. For example, I am passionate about my blog but do I pursue it and work on it like I should? Honestly, no. The way I manage my time daily is something that I personally need to re-evaluate and come up with a plan of how to better manage my time. While it is hard to be in a full time job with blogging as just a part time thing, I can see myself working that along with the strategies you have shared.
Vey helpful post. Thanks for sharing
I’m glad you enjoyed it! Time management is something a lot of people have complications with. Blogging has been a part-time thing while I am working full-time. It’s been taking longer than expected as a result but I feel that happens when you’re doing it part-time. Just stick with it, Yvonne!
The first time I heard of Van Gogh was on Jeff Goins’ blog and ever since I read about him I’ve been tremendously inspired to beat against all odds and achieve my dreams.
I’m a writer like you, Del, but where I come from writers are the least people the society will ever acknowledge because they believe writing won’t put food on the table, unless you’re a big name. Apart from this, there are other countless roadblocks trying to put me off track; but as they say, everything happens for a reason.
I believe re-reading the persistency of Van Gogh is to strengthen me.
Thanks Del, this is super inspiring.
Jeff Goins’ blog is fantastic. He’s great at what he does.
I hope this post as well as Van Gogh inspires you to keep going. We never know how close we are to the finish line when we give up. Yes, it might not put food on the table but you owe it to the world to put your work out there.
Your blog is excellent! Unfortunately, the world often does not give you what you need to support your passion. Your passion and what you have to do to make a living are quite frequently two different things. The world is money obsessed and often forces you into doing “practical” things that support their system instead of your own passion. This is the unpleasant reality of it. I learned to live my passion somewhat, only later in life. There are still many things to be done that take me away from that passion, the practical aspects of survival. Also, being a writer, I find that I cannot schedule or “bribe” my creative muse, since it operates intuitively, not on a clock or whether I have to give up some money. It works mostly when I am in a state of peace of mind. All of these suggestions about scheduling and timing may work well with certain types of writing that are physically manageable, such as magazine and article writing, but, take it from someone who writes with a more direct connection to the mind (intuition), inspiration and realization are not amenable or answerable to the clock and the calendar. Otherwise, I certainly enjoyed your blog. I agree with 90% of it, just not with some of the practical ideas that you and others have presented in the comments.
Thank you for the compliment! I think it’s important to reiterate that the world has provided everything you needed to support your passion. It is YOUR job to filter out what is important and unimportant. You can’t let the discouraging voices of the world dictate how you are going to live. There are people with very obscure jobs that are making a living from their passion (tap dancers, poets, dog walkers, etc.). You’ll be surprised what people will pay you to do.
It sounds like we are in the same boat. I found my passion “later” in life and have to be very good at time management to survive as well as pursue my passion. My time has been very selective.
This is so inspiring, Del. Thanks for these important reminders. It’s hard to maintain the passion when dealing in real problems. In spite of that challenge though, keeping our vision on our creative pursuits and never giving up, just like Vincent himself, will make all the difference. He wuld turn in his grave if he knew the value of his work. It’s kind of sad he suffered so much in life. I love that song about him, written by Don McLean “Starry, Starry Night”
Thanks, Lisa. I never heard this song. I’ll have to listen to it!
It’s never going to be easy. Problems and pain will be ongoing. That’s how life is. You just have to stay strong and stay persistent. This is the world’s way of filtering out the weak.
Excellent advice, and good points, too. All too often, fear hinders us.
It is important, however, that you have no regrets! That is why it is best to follow your heart!
Regret trumps fear! “Best to follow your heart.”
You said it, Lorraine!
Everyone take note!
Great post Del, and thanks for sharing your advice.
I think all too often we let the fear of failure, the unknown, and the judgements of others stop us from pursuing our passion in life. And when we fail to break our goals down into bite-sized tasks, we become – as you rightly pointed out – overwhelmed and discouraged and likely to give up. Persistence is the key, especially when we feel we are getting nowhere. A life without passion is a life half-lived.
Thanks again for sharing!
I heard some quote saying something like you’ll find the richest people in the world in the graveyard. You’ll find all sorts of ideas that never came out of people there.
I’m glad you enjoyed the post! All the best!
Good to see you here and it is nice reading your views about a great person and also about a few most important things that must lead us to success and obviously without following a passion one can become an average successful person but can never be unforgettable in his field.
This is an era of stiff competition where people want prompt results and our society does want reward quicker than earlier because everyone is in haste. That is why instead of following passion people like to follow a shortcut that can get them success without much delay.
I once read an interview of successful person and when he was asked what he would have been if he had not been what he was right then. His answer was so simple he said he would not have been borne if he had not been in his present profession that really was his passion.
My passion is blogging and online communication and can never live without following it. It happened to my in the past that to make my livelihood I had to do something else and follow my passion in free time. But now I am fully fledged blogger and both enjoying and earning money with it.
Thanks for sharing this wonderful post that really is quite motivation for those who sometime lose heart while struggling.
Thanks for the warm comment. Your comment on prompt results hits the head exactly. We all want instant gratification and we live in a world where people are unwilling to work long and hard to accomplish their dreams. It’s truly sad to see this. I feel confident the Aha-Now audience is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish their dreams.
Great comment, Mi.
What an article and I now so well the story of Van. He is an inspiration and it takes a man of courage, bravery and determination to hold on to a passion even when it was not given him any money.
As you shared, his passion for his art was his driven force and we learn that as long as we hold on to our passion, we can make a difference.
I wrote in my blog about what to when no appreciates your work using Van as an example. You shared my view that one needs to stay focused on his dream, people will get it eventually.
Thanks for sharing this awesome post. Take care
I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It’s great to hear that you have the same point of view! Van Gogh was truly an inspiring mind. It’s impressive what he did with all the dread he experienced in life.
Hi Del. I enjoyed your post, and I like the story of Vincent Van Gogh. Starry Night has been one of my favorite paintings since I was a kid.
I believe that if your why and your vision are strong enough then nothing else matters. If they are strong enough then you have no need for accountability because you are accountable to your vision. You also have no need for deadlines because you are going to stick with it until it happens.
I also respectfully disagree with Kim Willis. Van Gogh may not have been competent as an artist when he started. Most of us weren’t competent as writers when we started our blogs. The competency comes through pursuit of your vision. I also don’t think there necessarily has to be a market for your art at first. If there is something unique or intriguing about your basket weaving, it will create it’s own market. There wasn’t much of a market for Van Gogh’s work during his lifetime, but there certainly is now. Your belief in your work will create what you need from it.
Hi Ben! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
The thing with art or any type of business is that you don’t have to give people what they want. However, putting something out there that people aren’t asking for is a risk. Steve Jobs did this with the iPhone. I think he had this philosophy that people don’t know what they want until you give it to them. I say this philosophy applies to art, music, etc.
Very sweet post here
The Van Goph story is certainly inspiring.
All of your points hit the spot, but I would like to add two more (for those who aspire to make money from their passion):
1. Have Commercial Intent
If all someone wants to do is pursue their passion as a hobby, fine – no problem. But if they want to make money from it they need more than passion. Passion alone will not cut it if there isn’t a market for the thing they’re passionate about. Example: basket weaving. Someone may love basket weaving and be super passionate about it, but the chances of them ever making a good living from it are slim to none.
2. Be Competent
All the passion in the world won’t amount to a hill o’ beans if they aren’t very good at what they do. I know plenty of passionate people who are quite hopeless when doing the thing they love.
Thanks Del – fabulous post
Thank you for the kind words. I think Mark Cuban said that passion will only get you so far. I highly agree that being competent is extremely important. In fact, it is necessary.
And don’t forget something very important when trying to make a passion into a business. It must solve a problem or entertain people in a certain manner.
You seem to miss the whole point! Passion is not about making money! It’s about expressing what’s inside of you. All the “making money” palaver does is to become a trap. It’s “putting the cart before the horse”. If you live your life with your passion, then you have been successful, whether you ever made money at it or not. Van Gogh was never successful at making money, yet, he lived a life of his passion. Try to put money first and it doesn’t work; you lose your passion.
I agree. Passion is not about making money. But that depends if you want to make your passion a money-making endeavor. Expressing your form of creativity should be unconditional. I run a blog that makes me no money but I find myself successful because I am openly expressing my creativity. Any money made from it would be a bonus.
I thought this was a beautiful read and very inspiring! When I look back on when I’ve made the most progress in my life, it’s been when I’m in a group of like-minded people.
Thanks for sharing.
Hi Quinn! Thank you for the kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Keep moving forward!
Definitely, a great article and motivated, let talk a little in business, when come to business people would need a lot of motivations and all kinds of motivations to thrive their business. And in the end, the word FOCUS is very important.
Thanks for the comments! I agree, focus is absolutely important. If anything, it is required. The best performers are laser-focused in their tasks.