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The Problem with Passion

Greetings from Annapolis

You may have noticed there was no Friday blog post. I’m still on the road and have limited computer access. I still wanted, however, to leave you a brief note. Yesterday I was roaming a Barnes & Noble, and, naturally, I gravitated to the graduation table to check out the latest crop of student advice guides. I discovered that no fewer than four new books were centered on the following idea: the key to being happy after college is to identify your passion then go do something that fulfills it.

Here’s my problem with this concept:

  • Passion is generated by extended exposure to something that becomes an important part of your life. It’s not some magic score assigned to each job that describes, with great accuracy, how happy you’ll immediately become if you follow that path. (In reality, it’s really just a fancy word for general occupational fulfillment.)
  • As a recent graduate, you have not yet been exposed to any job long enough for you to know what might fit well with you and lead, down the road, to the type of general fulfillment people dub passion.
  • How, then, are you, as a newly minted graduate, supposed to identify a passion?
  • Conclusion: Passion-centric career planning reduces to well-intentioned guess-work — typically based on some rough — and highly limited — idea about what types of jobs seem like they should be passion-inducing.

Herein lies the advantage of lifestyle-centric planning: It gets you started down the right path without requiring you to have an expert-level knowledge of a large number of potential careers. It also relieves you of the stress of trying to identify some magical perfect job that will maximize this fuzzy metric. And finally, guess what? If you’re living a lifestyle you really like, pretty soon you might just start to describe yourself as “passionate.”

10 thoughts on “The Problem with Passion”

  1. If you are not seeking a job that will make you passionate, but you want a swank lifestyle, doesn’t this just deconstruct into finding a job with a nice bankroll or other perks?

  2. I don’t know if it’s always neccessary to spend some time on a job to identify your passion for it. Of course you might need time to get to know new things and those things might be very inspiring. But passion can also be about big dreams you have, great goals you want to achieve, and if you follow your dreams you don’t need to worry about the small steps in the process, do you?

  3. Totally agree. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life for a long time. I just kept doing things that seemed interesting until I could clearly identify my passions.

    Premature passionation can cause a ton of problems, especially if it causes you to choose a path that cuts off other possibilities.

    Think of all the doctors and lawyers who realize at 40 that they’re in the wrong line of work, but think it’s too late to do anything about it.

  4. I agree with Chris about trying lots of things as an important part of identifying what fulfills you.

    I’ve been reading a book on chasing your passions. This post definitely made me think about the pros and cons of the idea.

  5. @Chris & Daisy:

    I certainly agree. For most, “premature passionation” is dangerous. Lifestyle-centric planning during these early exploration stages can help you move in the right direction even when you don’t know what direction that is.

  6. @n311:

    I think the problem is that you’re interpreting “ideal lifestyle” as “swank lifestyle.” Indeed, your ideal lifestyle might be one that includes, for example, the feeling that you are making individual people’s lives better. The key is to capture what this lifestyle is like without having to capture a specific job.

  7. @Farfield:

    True enough. The word “passion” is relatively generic and can capture a lot of things. I think, for example, that the pursuit of an ideal lifestyle might invoke a feeling of passion. Where it’s dangerous, however, is when it’s interpreted as a specific job or line or work that will maximize your self-fulfillment. Demanding that you identify this type of passion right out of college is the fools errand called out by this post.


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