The Emerging Economy of Passion

I have to admit something: for all of my life, I have tried to make a living following my passion. My experience in the fields of human motivation and civic engagement have shown me I’m not alone, and that there’s an emerging economy of passion. Here I reflect on my experience, and share some of the markers of this new economy.


“…[L]ife is too fleeting, too restrictive and too short to do work that doesn’t reward the soul.”


My Passionate Journey, So Far

When I was 14 years old, I realized that youth empowerment enlivened my soul. Over the next decade, I worked with in a dozen nonprofits striving to empower young people through mentoring, teaching, facilitating and supporting communities, families, schools and other places where children and youth spent all their time. I did this work in many roles: tutor, mentor, ropes challenge course facilitator, adult living skills teacher, naturalist, youth center director… Sometimes I volunteered; oftentimes I got paid.

Immediately after 9/11, I decided I wanted to teach others how to make a living following their passions, too. Reflecting on the struggles my family faced while I was growing up and watching the horrific events of that fateful day unfold on TV, I immediately decided that life is too fleeting, too restrictive and too short to do work that doesn’t reward the soul.

Up until that point, I met and was inspired by a lot of people following their dreams, making a difference, and living as fully and wholly as they wanted. Reflecting on those people and examining my own experiences, I found a series of patterns emerge and recalled powerful lessons. Absorbing research and literature on passion, engagement and empowerment, I found some vital points I wanted to teach.

In the 15 years since, I’ve worked to help people live their passions. I’ve spoke at more than 100 conferences worldwide and facilitated many workshops with countless young people and adults. All of them have shown me one thing: An economy of passion is emerging that is changing the world right now.


“We already have everything we need… All these trips that we lay on ourselves, the heavy-duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping that we’re good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds – never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.” – Pema Chödrön

Markers of an Emerging Economy

I believe an economy of passion is emerging around the world. With more access to more knowledge than ever before, more people are cultivating the skills, habits and beliefs they need to live their dreams. This isn’t exclusive to wealthy white people in the Western hemisphere, either; instead, communities of color and the Global South are leading the way. Maybe that’s because they’ve never left this economy.

My experience and studies have shown me there are five major markers of this emerging economy of passion: Jobs of Passion; Population Sustainability; Nodes of Passion; Intergenerational Equity; and Obvious Interdependence.

  1. Jobs of Passion—In order to establish an economy, there has to be an exchange of goods and services for value. Jobs of passion allow people to follow their dreams, empower their interests, and engage their networks. There are no limits on what is a “job of passion” either: A gas station attendant can be equally passionate about their work as a visual artist. What matters are individuals’ self-perception of their work, and how they feel about their jobs. In the emerging economy of passion, people will have jobs they are excited, interested and fulfilled by.
  2. Population Sustainability—Economies of Passion can work because of the longevity of interactions; the healthy relationship between production and consumption; and the ongoing interest of individuals within it. These factors sustain populations where people are passionate about what they do, why they do it and what difference it can make. When an Economy of Passion has population sustainability, it can feed upon itself, grow its boundaries and engage people more effectively.
  3. Nodes of Passion—Practical, purposeful places where individuals can connect, engage and empower each other are key to Economies of Passion. Whether happening in workplaces, community centers, schools, or someone’s garage, nodes of passion engage like-minded people with common passions in collective action that can benefit groups and individuals. Beyond that, there are no parameters for nodes of passion. They can be online spaces or happening in realtime; they can be singularly focused or represent a multiplicity of interests.
  4. Intergenerational Equity—Young people and adults are gradually moving beyond historically negative, belittling relationships by establishing thoughtful, mutually respectful and empowering partnerships that benefit everyone involved. Economies of Passion require this intergenerational equity in order to engage, sustain and expand on positive things happening right now in communities. Intergenerational equity allows children, youth, young adults, adults and seniors to establish foundations for healthy, positive and empowering passions throughout an individual’s lifetime while providing sustained engagement for all members of a community.
  5. Obvious Interdependence—While people are increasingly understanding the interdependent nature of society, many don’t understand that our emerging Economies of Passion completely necessitate interdependence. Because of this, it becomes startlingly obvious throughout all facets of these economies, including each marker mentioned above. Jobs of passion require interdependence in order to exist and sustain; Population sustainability relies on interdependence, particularly as transparency and mutuality are made apparent; Nodes of passion require all hands on deck as individual own the collective good, and; since Intergenerational equity cannot happen in a vacuum can’t exist without attentiveness towards relationships, it is essential for younger and older people to rectify the imbalance of their interactions today.

These are the major markers of the emerging economy of passion for many reasons, not the least of which being that they are the most repeating factors I’ve discovered through my work. Other markers include Environmental Well-Being; Accessible Passion-Based Education; Apparent Culture; and Expansive Opportunities.

Experiencing an Economy of Passion in Action

In  November 2014, I sat calmly with some friends in the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art in Brazil. Invited there to speak at an education conference, my hostess took me to a beautiful park to share her community’s emerging Economy of Passion. It was there in the museum that she shared with me the power of The Tree School.

Located in the southern Bahia state of Brazil, this dynamic learning space was created by two local nonprofits, one working in Brazil and the other in Palestine. In each community, young people, adults and seniors were provided space to learn with each other. They were given access to tools and knowledge, provided with time and space, and granted explicit permission to follow their hearts and dreams.

As I sat in the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art, I was a member of a circle of Brazilian students who generously translated the conversation to English for my sake. They told me about the baobab tree whose rootball was suspended above the circle and is pictured above. It was a metaphor for the inherent connection between nations where Africans were enslaved for the benefit of Europeans, and the baobab trees that grew where those slaves were originally from.

As I learned more about this school, I saw all the markers of an Economy of Passion become more obvious:

  • The people facilitating The Tree School were living their passion while the people learning there were finding theirs;
  • The groups who benefited over the years ensured future students would continue coming;
  • The Node of Passion wasn’t actually the physical space, but instead the entire community where the learning happened;
  • At the heart of all actions was Intergenerational Equity, where a 60/40 split of authority and ability often fluctuated as needed;
  • Everyone involved was knowledgeable, committed and felt strongly about the ways they relied on each other for their creativity, well-being and sustainability.

As The Tree School and my professional experience have taught me, the emerging Economy of Passion will provide opportunities for everyone to establish sustainable connections to their hearts and minds, and to share those connections with the people around them and beyond them.


“No matter who we are, where we are or what we’ve done, we all have passionate possibilities for the future.”

Changing the World with Passion

Everyone can access the Economy of Passion, and increasingly, more people are whether they know it or not.

As we establish more access to more interesting things that grip our hearts and minds, many of us are enlivening parts of ourselves that were rocked to sleep by today’s consumerist economy. Too many people have become too reliant on other people doing things for them and doing things to them, and we have allowed ourselves to become more passive and less passionate everyday. We don’t have to live that way.

Instead, we can activate our personal passions by identifying what matters to us most, naming that out loud, and giving ourselves the time and space we need to activate, captivate and motivate our own attention. By doing this, we can become active masters of our lives who nurture and infuse the emerging Economy of Passion.

If you’re interested in becoming an active player in the future, embrace the markers I’ve outlined here and work to acknowledge the emerging Economy of Passion in your community. No matter who we are, where we are or what we’ve done, we all have passionate possibilities for the future. The Economy of Passion will engage those as soon as you become engaged. Can your future wait?


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