Passion is not a clean-burning fuel.

It may help you jumpstart something. It may help you win a race, get through a hard time or change careers, but it’s not much help if you want to create a sustainable life for yourself. And you’ll never catch me giving career advice that involves “Following your passion.” That’s a surefire way to become disillusioned, burned out, or disappointed—at the very least, because you’re not likely to be able to sustain the passion you banked on!

I’ve long subscribed to the wiser adage that it’s useful to bring our passion with us rather than follow it.

I witnessed a beautiful moment this week that reminded me of this. I was driving home in my wet bathing suit from the community pool, in a hurry to dry off and get on my next call. Taking a shortcut through a big, empty parking lot, I saw a school district van parked with two people standing outside. There was a young man who looked to have some sort of developmental disability and a middle-aged woman standing next to him. She was holding up her phone so they could both see it, maybe playing a favorite song or video, the student had headphones on, and they were both gently swaying. I caught her eye and we smiled at one another.

I cried the whole way home. I don’t know if she’d say this job is her passion, but there was certainly healing energy in that twosome. I knew I’d witnessed someone bringing their full selves to a deeply human moment, and I will take that over passion any day.

One of the messages I’ve deeply internalized over my lifetime is, “Make a difference.” This has been exhausting and resulted in questionable decisions, guilt, self-righteousness, and stridency.

Instead, what would it look like to prioritize presence over passion? What does it feel like to internalize a different message? Maybe one like Ram Dass’ encouragement— “We are all just walking each other home.” Or Anne Lamott quoting her preacher Veronica— “Sometimes the world feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward and that we who are more or less okay for now need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people…you sit with people, you bring them juice and graham crackers.”

The parking lot scene was juice and crackers. Maybe not systemic change, the beginning of a movement, or anything anyone but me noticed. But there was certainly passion there—the fire of human love and tenderness, a beautiful snapshot of someone showing up and doing their job simply because it was theirs to do that day.

I honor those nameless parking lot dancers. I honor myself for all the times I’ve chosen presence over passion. I honor you for the obligations you meet every day so you can provide for yourself and your family. This little Saturday message is my offering of juice and crackers—thank you for sharing it with me.