The Passion Backlash

If you read a lot of lifestyle blogs like I do, I’m sure you have come across the word “passion” a few times. We are encouraged to “follow our passion” or if we don’t know what it is, to “find our passion”. People with multiple interests are encouraged to merge their many passions into one over-arching mega passion, or be dextrous multi-passionate plate spinners.

The idea of following a passion has certainly caught on in the collective imagination, with many people are getting out of their comfort zones (or discomfort zones) and pursuing what they are passionate about. This is exciting stuff; its energising to think that one really can live a passionate life.

Having said that I’m more of your moderate, middle of the road kind of personality. I have things that interest and concern me, but I try to keep calm about it. I don’t generally describe myself as passionate about things because I’m not an exuberantly emotional person.

I have been looking through the job ads for casual and part-time work, and this is given me cause to question the marketability of my tranquil nature. I have seen a few jobs that I might be interested in, but then I come across this requirement:

Must be passionate about …..

Hmm. So if I want a job as a casual sales assistant in an office supplies store, I need to be passionate about stationery. Really?

Now I must confess I do like stationery. I have been known to get excited about a matching set of six well made highlighter pens in pretty colours. I do get it, that people like stationery. But its not one of my life’s passions.

It seems that employers are also attracted to the passion principle, and are seeking staff with a passion for their products. But I wonder if passion really is an essential criteria for a successful working arrangement. A declaration of passion seems like a lot to ask for in a job application, particularly if is a role that doesn’t offer high pay or a long term commitment in return.

This puts me in a tricky position because if I am going to be passionate about anything its going to be a value or a principle, rather than a physical object. For example I could get passionate about “authenticity”. That’s inconvenient. It makes it difficult for me claim that I am passionate about pens and pencils.

Actually think I’d make a pretty good stationery store employee if what they are looking for is calm and friendly competence. But I can’t pretend to be what I’m not. I don’t want to fake an over-inflated enthusiasm I don’t feel and it bothers me that job applicants are put in the position of having to distort their personality to fit in with a narrow corporate culture.

So here’s my dilemma. If I am passionate about authenticity and honesty, then I’m going to be tempted to use my blog to holdup a mirror to the values of our culture. Thats going to mean writing blog posts that make it difficult to get a job in a chain store. Unless that chain store recognises that casual and part-time workers are there to fulfill a worthwhile purpose, but it’s not necessarily a life’s passion, and they’re going to bring their own personalities and interests with them.

Related Links:

Lorilee Lippincott on Passion and Purpose.

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7 comments
  1. Linda! Marvy post! I’ll take proficiency over passion any day. In fact, in many cases, passion is a direct byproduct of proficiency. I have played the classical guitar for more than 25 years. I was not passionate about it in the first 2 years. But I am far more passionate about it this year than any other. Get really good at something and you may develop a passion for it. Maybe not. But it may be one’s only chance at passion, to work hard at something and actually be able to do it with some proficiency. I always smirk when a parent complains that their 8 year old just isn’t loving the guitar. Please…

    Have a grand one!!!

    • LindaMay said:

      Thanks. I’ve been angsting about this post all night. I think I need a “passion policy”. It’s not that I am against passion, or don’t have any passions, its just that I dont’ think its ALWAYS the best or only factor in making decisions about what to do. I’d like to have the option of doing things, like a part-time or casual job, for reasons other than out and out passion. Reasons like having a stable base income, learning a new skill, exploring a different industry and mixing socially. Passion seems like a big ask for an entry level requirement. Whether passion develops or not, you can still have a good time and benefit from the things you try if they are purposefully undertaken.

  2. LindaMay said:

    Here’s the first draft of my Passion Policy:

    Follow Your Passion is great advice for people who have a clear passion and a strong desire to pursue it, particularly if this is supported by some relevant talent and training, and there is no compelling reason to hold back. Having said that you also need to take into account risks, opportunities and meaningful impediments. Sometimes its just not the right time for personal, family or social reasons.

    This leaves people with no clear passion, people with multiple passions they can’t choose from, people with a passion but no talent for it, people with a passion but limited resources and opportunities, people with a passion with responsibilities for others they can’t walk away from, people with lots of interests but no passions, people living in political or economic situations that make their passion dangerous undertaking, and people with a calm and tranquil outlook on life. In those scenarios, its more complicated, and passion might not the to priority or the only deciding factor. A belief that ” Follow Your Passion” is the only pathway to a satisfying life can be very disheartening in these circumstances. Finding Your Passion is one strategy you could employ, but not the only one.

    Generally speaking, just because a piece of advice is excellent for some of the people some of the time; doesn’t mean its necessarily the best advice for all people all of the time. Follow Your Passion is a case in point.

  3. Tammy R said:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you Linda May. While I do love a few things, I am not going to drop everything else and just pursue that one thing. For example, I love writing. Why do I now love writing and just dreamed about it in years past? I was earning money, extremely tired, and building up a skill that would support me (teaching). Now that I’m no longer teaching full time, I am able to write more. Consequently, I love it. Some people might say, Follow that passion! Ok, I am. I am writing at least five days out of every week, sometimes for just a bit of time and sometimes for a couple of hours. Is that going to pay my mortgage? electricity bill? Nope! So, I teach, which I enjoy and it pays the bills.

    I also have other interests I’d like to pursue, but playing the tambourine isn’t going to pay the bills either! 😉

    Wonderful, thought-provoking post!

    • LindaMay said:

      Thanks for chiming in Tammy. Yes, we do need to pay bills and sometimes that means doing things that we are less than passionate about. (And ‘less than passionate’ can include a whole lot of positive feelings that are still good, but less intense than passion.) If we claim that the only things worth doing activities we are totally passionate about, then employers could equally conclude that the only employees worth hiring are people who are 100% passionate about their product or service. Thats what I find disturbing. If passion is an essential criteria for every job then it starts to feel like we are living in the Truman Show, where everyone has a fake smile and real feelings are screened out.

  4. Tammy R said:

    So true, Linda. Can you imagine someone attacking you with their passion? “Oh boy! This stationery is of the finest quality. Come here, sir. Just touch it! Isn’t it fabulous? Here, let’s just put six packets in your cart and drive it right up here to the cashier!” I do love seeing passionate people and know that our world would not be the same without them. The part that troubles me is when people are made to feel less when they don’t have a passion.

    • LindaMay said:

      Yes there’s something joyous and spontaneous about genuine passion thats a pleasure to experience or encounter. I think its the notion that passion can become a requirement that I am reacting to. Our passions are a precious commodity and need their own space to ebb and flow.

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