(n.) a thing arousing great enthusiasm
Passion, it is a feeling that creates great joy and enthusiasm, a feeling that can let
people’s eyes sparkle when they talk about it, a feeling of energy. This is why I choose
‘passion’ as my first subject for my portrait series. I will interview three people
regarding something that arouses great enthusiasm within them. Their passion has
either been strongly presented in their past, is fully alive right now, or they possess an
ambition to realise their passion in years to come.
My first interviewee is Rana Farag. Some of you might already know her; she is
a second-year student of Media & Culture, and a member of our study association ‘Off
Screen’. I have only known Rana for 1,5 months now, but from the start she gave me
an impression that she is constantly moving, busy with creative projects and
maintaining close relationships with friends and her boyfriend. She has a great
energy, the origins of which I am curious about - what is behind this energy that keeps
her going? During the interview she surprised me with her passion, it was something I
never would have expected.
‘Just do it’
Words that Rana has been hearing her whole youth, coming from her mother who knows how to get things done. Rana’s mother, born near the big Egyptian city Alexandrië, rose to the top of one of Egypt’s biggest cotton companies, becoming CEO. This was an extremely uncommon role for a woman in Egypt, and still is now.
Caught up with her busy career, Rana’s mother was not interested in starting a relationship, let alone starting a family. It was Rana’s aunt, the assistant of Rana’s mother at the time, who introduced Rana’s father to her mother. ‘It was love at first sight’, Rana says. And with these feelings, the couple decided to leave Egypt behind
for the beautiful small village Nuth, located in the south of Limburg. Rana’s father already had a job and house there and considering the future possibility of children they both agreed to begin a new life together in the Netherlands.
One year later Rana was born. She grew up in a safe place and enjoyed her school life.
She could always get along with her fellow students, and formed a close group of
‘If I had to redo high school for another three years, I would’ve done it,
I had the best time of my life in high school’
This strong and safe place gave her freedom to develop herself. Rana was considered a
‘hipster’ at her school because of her bold fashion choices and her interest in
creativity. While some people were secretly drinking beer, Rana body painted with her
friends, and made mood boards and paintings in her free time. During this time she
also started with photography, which she taught herself; as with all things.
‘Many times I got so much information at once, I was like: never mind, I’ll do it my own way; I can read big manuals and watch 20 tutorials about how to use a photo camera, but I can also just push the buttons and find it out
This eagerness for discovery and learning new things, in her own way, is not just
something Rana has inside her; ‘it’s nurture’ Rana answers when I ask where she
thinks it comes from.
‘I grew up in two different cultures: the one of my family and the one outside of
them. Because of this, I got two different impulses and ways of thinking which I
didn’t know what to do with; so I told myself: I’ll figure it out myself, I’ll find
my own way.’
And so Rana did; she started working at age 15, to learn how life would be with a job,
what kind of new opportunities she would find and how it would feel to be
independent. After high school, she was interested in many different studies, from
interior design, to journalism, to earth sciences.
‘I always want to keep all my options open, so I wait till the last moment and
then I’ll make my decision’
In the end she chose to go for earth sciences at the university of Utrecht, a study in
which she could embrace the ‘environmental knight’ inside of her. Another ‘hipster’
thing about Rana, is that she sincerely cares for the environment. Unfortunately, this
choice didn’t last long, because the moment she found out the company Shell became the head
sponsor of her study association, she quit. And maybe the math and physics were a bit
much too. But Rana wouldn’t be Rana if she didn’t find something else to fill her free
time with. She started working at a real estate bank without any experience. When the
employer asked her to explain her own understanding of banking she answered:
‘The only image I have of a bank is the one I got from Netflix.’
Due to this sentence, Rana got hired. Rana worked at the firm for a couple of months
turning out to be successful and the constant winner of employee of the month. After
she took on a new project within the same company, she decided the job was too
much, and replaced it for a job at the Bagels & Beans. After two months, she left
Utrecht for good, and moved to Amsterdam where she started taking painting and
photography courses at CREA (the cultural study centre of UvA) .
Talking about Rana’s creativity and how she puts it into practice makes me think we’re
uncovering her passion. Considering she has so many hobbies, I was wondering if there
was one greater passion driving her. So I asked her:
V: ‘What is your passion Rana?’
R: ‘I actually don’t use the word passion.’
‘Oh’, I thought, this was not what is was looking for.
V: ‘What is the word that you would use?’
R: ‘Interest, or something like that? Uhm, I think ambition fits better than
passion actually, since, for me, having a passion means you’re really good at
something and that you want to keep doing it. And ambition is something you
want to work towards. Like for example, if I say photography is an ambition, it
means that I’m okay at taking pictures, but I think I can still improve a lot and
I also do it because I want to improve. But if I call something a ‘passion’, I
consider it is something that I’m already really good at and I care so much
about it, and because of that I’m doing it.’
V: ‘Ah okay, I get what you’re saying’
Meanwhile, I’m figuring out where I’m supposed to go to with this interview.
R: ‘I’ve been thinking about my passion, talking with Tristan (her boyfriend)
about it, and he also told me I have many passions; for examples, bees’
We both laugh, but then I realise she says ‘bees’
V: ‘Wait, what? Bees?’
R: ‘Yeah, so if I would talk about my passion in a sense of ambition I
would say I want to become a city beekeeper’
V: ‘Rewind, please.’
So apparently, Rana’s parents knew this cute older couple that helped them with
learning Dutch. Sometimes when Rana’s parents were busy, Rana stayed for a few
hours at their house. They introduced her to a lot of good books, but more importantly,
they introduced her to bees. The man was an ‘imker’, a Dutch word for beekeeper, and
he taught her a lot; for example - how to make candles out of beeswax. He also made
Rana aware of the extinction of bees in cities. He told her, that if she ever gets the
chance, she has to keep bees in the city. Ever since then Rana has kept this thought in
mind and turned it into an ambition. The best of both worlds would be if she’s able to
combine this ambition with her passion for creativity.
Even though finding out that Rana’s passion/ambition lays more in the future, I’m still
curious about who she is now. Throughout the interview, Rana gave me the
impression she is a hard working young woman who knows what she wants and
always keeps going, keeps pushing herself, going for the best. To see if my
impressions correspond with her own thoughts, I ask her wether she thinks she knows
herself, which she answers with a confident ‘yes’. She admits she has struggled with it
when she was younger, due to the two different types of cultures she grew up with, the
western culture and the conservative Egyptian one. Both cultures were different from
each other, which made Rana wonder: what do I actually want? This resulted in an
identity quest around the age of 16, ‘an age where you’re developing and becoming an
individual person’, according to Rana. She needed her space to think about who she
actually was and what she believed.
She feels like she has figured it out now, but sometimes, for example with the ongoing
conflicts in the Middle East, she struggles with her ethnic identity.
‘I question myself: with whom do I actually identify with?’
When I ask her if she feels a connection with Egypt, she says ‘yes, ‘cause I have to
say yes, haha.’ And when I ask her if she feels Egyptian, she also says yes, but admits
she denies it most of the time, because she feels more Dutch. Many people ask her this
question, whether she feels Dutch or Egyptian; expecting only one answer. Due to this
ultimatum question she finds it hard to answer and the struggle of identity pops up
‘I’m not 30% this and 70% that, I’m more of a combination of both cultures.’
Later I ask her about her characteristics, her good ones. After a little moment of
silence and a ‘hm..’ she quickly gives me an answer:
‘I can easily put myself in someone else’s situation; I’m empathetic. And also
because of the two culture impulses in my youth I can look at situations from
both sides. This also helps me to easily adjust/adapt to different situations, like
for example with ‘hospiteeravonden’ (house viewings). The first 5 minutes I
keep myself quiet so I can analyse the situation; once I have figured out what
kind of person they’re looking for, I’ll put my best qualities out there in a way
they would find interesting and in a way that I stay true to who I am. ’
V: ‘And how about being able to work really hard?’
R: ‘Yes of course, I work really hard, I push myself haha.’
I ask her if she struggles with this characteristic, because it takes up a lot of energy to
constantly push yourself, she answers:
R: ‘No, I enjoy pushing myself. Once I have something in my mind I just set a
goal, which forces me to achieve that goal.
For example, she bought a plane ticket to Paris so that she can run a half marathon in spring, even though she barely runs; but because of this ticket she has to start training and preparing herself now, which forces her to do it.
R: ‘I always make little checklists, because I get satisfaction out of ticking the
boxes after I reached a certain goal, it just feels good.’
I tell her I feel like she is constantly going and moving, which makes me wonder if she
ever stops, or had to stop.
‘Last year I had a pretty low level of energy, I think for a month or so. People
around asked me with concern if I was doing okay and questioned me where
Rana was. I didn’t know the answer, but later I figured it was during the last
month of my 3-year relationship with my boyfriend. On the day we broke up, I
felt so down and didn’t do anything, but this lasted for only one day. The next
day my friends took me for lunch and I realized that doing nothing doesn’t
work for me. I have to keep going, cause once I’m going, I cannot stop.’
During this period, Rana figured that keeping herself busy and doing many things at
the same time is her way of living her life, preventing herself from coming in a
downward spiral of feeling unhappy. In another period in her life, after she quit her
first study, she was not aware of this and she didn’t feel good either. She made an
appointment with her doctor who suggested another interview with him first to make
sure this was a real problem, before he would send her to a psychologist. ‘Never mind’
Rana said, ‘If it has to go this way, I’ll figure it out myself.’ And so she did.
V: ‘This realization is a sign that you know yourself; so do you also know what
your weak characteristics are?
R: ‘Let me see, uhm… My weak characteristic is that I’m easily insulted haha.
My mom always told me, that if you always do your best, you know that the
result you’re delivering is the best you’ve got and you have to be satisfied with
it. And if other people aren’t, then it is their problem.
‘But when people are not satisfied with something I made and with something I
put a lot of effort in, I feel like .. uhm hállo? This is my best result, what else do
you expect from me?’
We both laugh and agree it is painful when people don’t like something in which
you’ve put your personal effort.
R: ‘But also in relationships. So for example with Tristan, my boyfriend,
whenever I do something nice for him and he doesn’t show gratitude in the
short term, it feels like an insult; which results in me giving him an cold
shoulder and remaining quiet.’
‘.., but I’m aware of this, so most of the times the feeling of me being insulted goes by
unnoticed by others, because I already reflected on the situation and understand that
my reaction has something to do with me. But other times I don’t feel like rationalizing
my emotions and I just stay insulted, only for one night or so haha.’
When I ask Rana if people, in return, feel easily insulted by her she answers with a guilty yes:
R: ‘I’m pretty direct and I cannot lie, so I’ll always give my opinion. So when I
give my opinion to a stranger about something they do, they’re pretty surprised
and sometimes insulted, cause most people don’t share their opinion with
‘I’m aware of this and I know I don’t mean to be rude. Sometimes, of course, it
happens that I cross a line, but when people tell me: ‘Rana you’re really a
bitch right now’, I accept that, cause I was and I’ll just take it into account for
the next time.'
To me it looks like Rana is aware of who she is as a person, and someone who accepts
her strengths and weaknesses. The lessons she has learned from her mother taught her
a lot about how to become the person she wants to be: an independent young woman
who explores her creativity in many ways and has an ambition for keeping bees in her
future city garden. The more she keeps going, the more exciting and enthusiastic she
gets, and isn’t that what passion is all about?
V: ‘Thank you for the interview’