My friend Erin’s youngest child, Emily, has always been her “difficult child.” Emily is academically gifted but doesn’t always like to work hard. She’s had some behavior issues, including stealing from her sister Cara and acting out in school.

Recently Emily did a huge turnaround. She spontaneously brought out things of Cara’s she’d been hiding in her room and apologized for taking them. Her attitude became cooperative. She worked harder in school and at home. She seemed happy all the time.

So what caused this change? In a word-gymnastics. Emily went to a trial class, was asked to join a team, and began regular practices at the gym. Even before her first mini-meet Emily had changed her attitude about life in general. She was passionate about gymnastics and good at it. She seemed to view herself differently and see the world through a different lens. Her improved self-esteem made her happier.

Of course it wasn’t really gymnastics that changed the world for Emily. It was igniting a passion that made such a difference for her. Falling in love with something she was good at has changed Emily’s life and had an impact on others around her. Her family is thrilled. So are the family friends who’ve witnessed the transformation of this child. The kind of passion Emily feels about gymnastics is wonderful to witness. It makes you want to be part of it.

Hearing from Erin about the change in Emily has made me think a lot about the importance of that kind of passion in all of our lives. Most of us can name a passion we had as children, whether it was reading, dance, soccer or music. But how many of us, as adults, still spend time on something that we’re passionate about? Often we’re so weighed down by “shoulds” and the routines and responsibilities of everyday life that the idea of being passionate doesn’t seem to fit. Who has time for it?

Integrative medicine expert Joan Borysenko wrote, “When you’re the kind of busy that’s scattered and lacking in passion, it’s hard to achieve a laserlike focus. Your days can become a burdensome exercise in simply getting things done, slogging through a swamp of responsibilities.”

I talked about this with my friend Pam. “Well, I have fun sometimes,” she said. “And I find my family life and work rewarding. But passion about something that’s just for me? I think that’s something you grow out of. A lot of life is about just getting things done and being responsible. I don’t think there’s room for passion in real life.”

Tell that to my former neighbor Claire. She was an art major in college and had some success as an artist. But “real life got in the way,” Claire said. “I was tired of living in crummy apartments and eating off-brand tuna.” She went to graduate school and got a well-paying job she enjoyed that led to a successful career. “Something was missing, though,” she said. “I really needed an outlet for my creativity. I’d never considered painting part-time … for some reason I thought it had to be all or nothing. I was cleaning out my attic and I came upon my brushes and I just felt this longing.”

Claire’s been painting ever since and, she said, “It’s amazing how it’s changed my life-not just when I’m painting, but I am just a different person. Everything is brighter! I feel really complete, and people have commented on the change in me. It’s like I’m living life in color again.”

Interestingly, the way Claire has viewed her art has changed. “I used to be driven by trying to sell paintings. Now, I paint mainly for myself. I know I don’t have the time to do it as I did when I was young-and that’s fine. I do it when I can, and that’s enough.”

What’s your passion? Write and tell me about it.