The problem with passion

The advertisement posted above the heads of my fellow bus commuters read, “Follow your passion.” The ad was for a career college. We hear that phrase all the time, follow your passion. The poster caused me to reflect on its implication. Which is, I think, that everyone has a “passion,” that we know what it is, and that success lies in acting on what we know.

As if one’s passion is a door with a sign on it that you simply open and walk through.

Perhaps you’ve had the experience, as I have, of sitting in a staff meeting wondering what the hell’s wrong with you. You looked around the room and thought, “Jeez, all these people seem so into it.” You wonder if you belong there.

A wise colleague once warned me against the mistake of “comparing your insides with everyone else’s outsides.” People in a meeting show their carefully curated outsides. That does not make them fakes. It makes them just like you.

It pains me that anyone is unhappy and restless because they think they’re lacking the critical ingredient of passion. Some people burn with an inner fire driving them to great things; the rest of us are fuelled by a steadier flame, something less dramatic, less ephemeral.

In place of passion we need a grounding of care. When you are responsible for something that matters, when for this stretch of time that thing depends on you and your team, an ethic of care begins to build and strengthen. You grow into it, and it in turn makes you grow.

In caring we achieve the inner harmony that brings joy at work. But this requires discovery, and discovery requires time, and time requires patience. It’s very different from the notion of a passion stamped on your soul for which there’s one matching purpose out there in the world. That’s a tall order leading to anxiety and frustration.

No one should take career advice from me. But I’ve gone outside the comfort zone of my supposed passions many times, and there I have found a universe of things I’ve come to care about deeply.

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