In today’s culture, much is made of finding one’s true passion or purpose in life. Some people describe it as something you find within yourself that you would sacrifice anything for. It gets you up in the morning, keeps you energized and leaves you totally absorbed. But the funny thing about passion is that we tend to associate it with success. We have this notion that if you follow your one true, singular passion, everything in life will fall into place and you will become successful. But is this really true? And how does passion differ from ambition?
Psychologists argue that passion is really an emotion, a powerful feeling that derives from doing something that gives you full satisfaction. In fact, passion is a feeling that can come and go, you can have more than one, and it doesn’t necessarily correlate with success, fame or money. For example, you can be passionate about making a contribution to society, helping improve someone’s life or creating change. All of these things can be labeled as passions, something that fulfills you, absorbs you but doesn’t necessarily correlate with recognition or financial success.
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Ambition, on the other hand, is better described as a personality characteristic. To be ambitious is have the desire or need to gain recognition, respect, power or wealth. Some argue that it stems from insecurity and the need to find one’s worth. Whether or not you are predisposed to be ambitious, it requires setting goals, dedicated effort and a willingness to work with failure.
There is, however, one noteworthy connection between passion and ambition. While a personal passion may become the fuel that inspires the vision for one’s goals, recent studies show that people who are passionate about what they do tend to display a more positive outlook, more easily employ creative problem-solving and are more resilient in the face of obstacles.
The following novels portray individuals whose passions fill them up and those whose ambition leave them empty despite success.
Sex, art and history in ‘Woman on Fire’
‘Woman On Fire: A Novel by Lisa Barr’ is an extraordinary, absolutely addictive page-turner about stolen Nazi art and one woman’s passion for seeking answers.
Jules Roth is a young, smart journalist with a passion for getting her story. Through sheer determination she manages to get assigned to an investigative piece for a leading Chicago newspaper about a missing art masterpiece called “Woman on Fire” confiscated by the Germans in World War II. Along with lead reporter Dan Mansfield, Jules has hope that they will not only discover where “Woman on Fire” has been hidden all these years, but also to return it to Ellis Baum, whose dying wish is to recover the painting that captures the only existing image of his beloved mother. But there is someone else who will do absolutely anything to get this artwork. Will Jules be able to find the painting while keeping both herself and those she cares about safe?
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Mystery, secrets in ‘Magnolia Palace’
“The Magnolia Palace” by Fiona Davis is a marvelously engaging, richly detailed and captivating work of historical fiction that captures the secrets, heartaches and passions of famous industrialist Henry Clay Frick and his inimitable daughter Helen.
In 1919, a beautiful, young artist’s model named Lillian Carter has already survived the death of her mother and the end of her modeling career, and is under investigation for a murder she did not commit. While she dreams of a new career in Hollywood, she must first find a way to simply survive. When a case of mistaken identity works in her favor, she lands a job as the personal assistant to Henry’s imperious daughter Helen. Over time, Lillian’s life gets deeply entwined in the Frick family’s tangled web of secrets, romantic betrayals and dangerous twists.
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Nearly 50 years later, another young British model, Veronica Weber, lands a Vogue photoshoot in the now-famous Frick museum that houses the family’s splendid art collection. When a sudden blizzard locks Veronica and a museum intern inside the famous residence, Veronica soon finds herself swept up in a hunt for clues that just may unravel the truth behind a decades-old murder of vengeance.
‘Girl in Ice’ a harrowing thriller
“Girl in Ice” by Erica Ferencik is a propulsive, utterly unforgettable, jaw-dropping thriller about one woman’s quest to learn to communicate with a young girl who has been thawed alive from a glacier.
Val Chesterfield is a highly trained linguist in the field of dead Nordic languages. Despite her career success, she struggles with crippling anxiety and lives in the shadow of her twin brother, Andy, a climate scientist in the Arctic Circle. When she learns of Andy’s unexpected death by suicide, she is not only bereft but also suspects foul play and is desperate for answers.
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When Wyatt, Andy’s research partner, discovers the impossible – a young girl frozen in ice but who has thawed out alive – he asks for Val’s help to learn to communicate with the child. She is desperately sick but can’t convey her needs in her language. Despite Val’s dread, her passion for language and for establishing human connection leads her to the desolate and forbidding Arctic to solve two unimaginable mysteries.
Book Smart is a monthly column by Nancy Harris of Scituate, a practicing psychologist and a former instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.
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