The Passionistas vs the Passion Skeptics


Passion by neil conway, on Flickr

A year ago, I began exploring the topic of passion. A good friend of mine was frustrated. He was looking for something….more…something not quite nameable. As we explored the topic, we decided he was looking for his passion – that elusive thing that makes you excited to get up in the morning. Work, and by consequence life (since we spend so many waking hours at work) had become dull, unchallenging, gray.

One day, after chewing over the many conversations we had on this topic, I asked him, “How many of your friends are looking for their passion?

Almost everyone,” he replied, without hesitation. “Why?

“Why?” I’ve been following that question for the past year. Whenever I met someone who appeared to have followed their passion, I talked to them. Anytime I stumbled across an article that spoke about passion, I bookmarked it. Now, as I look over the articles that I’ve collected, I see two basic camps: the Passionistas and the Passion Skeptics.

Passionistas: Be your authentic self. Your gladness meets the world’s needs. The world needs you to come alive. Failing is a part of learning, living, exploring, innovating, being an entrepreneur. Passion Skeptics: Don’t be so self absorbed. Focus on the world’s needs. Suppress yourself for your job. Failing hurts. Avoid. So don’t follow the “false idols of passion.”

The next series of blog entries will be dedicated to deciphering what all the hype is about, and whether or not, it is in fact hype. Since I’ve named my blog “renewable enthusiasm: finding, following, living and sustaining your passion,” I’m pretty sure you’ve figured out which way I lean. So to be fair, let’s start with the Passion Skeptics.

In the Harvard Business Review blog, To Find Happiness, Forget About Passion, Oliver Segovia states:

“…as the jobless generation grows up, we realize the grand betrayal of the false idols of passion. This philosophy no longer works for us, or at most, feels incomplete. So what do we do? I propose a different frame of reference: Forget about finding your passion. Instead, focus on finding big problems. (emphasis added)

In the New York Times opinion piece, It’s Not About You, pundit David Brooks writes:

“…graduates are told to be independent-minded and to express their inner spirit. Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.

Passion Pit with Tokyo Police Club - Warehouse Live

Is this where the Passion Skeptics are afraid we are going to end up? CC deneyterrio, on Flickr

“But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.

“But, of course, doing your job well often means suppressing yourself… being a good doctor [for example] often means being part of a team, following the rules of an institution, going down a regimented checklist.” (emphasis added)

Of course….??? People with passion can’t have regimented checklists? (BTW, I kinda hope my doctors had passion, because otherwise I’m not sure what got them through residency.)

As we look further into the blog-o-sphere, we start to see less punditry and more honest reality-checks from those who have been there.

In the blog, Signal vs. Noise, a weblog by 37signals about design, business, experience, simplicity, the web, culture, and more, an author writes, Forget passion, focus on process:

“The problem with the “follow your passion” chorus: We can’t all love the products we work with. Someone has to do the jobs and sell the things that don’t seem sexy but make the world go round….Part of this is recognizing that, despite its wonders, there are also problems with passion. For one thing, most people’s passions aren’t that unique…..Also, turning a passion into a business is a good way to kill the passion.”

And here’s where the tide starts to turn back towards the Passionistas:

“So does this mean we’re all doomed to a life of ditch digging drudgery? No. It’s about redefining passion. Instead of working with a thing you love, think about how to work in a way you love.”

In the blog, “Unicorn Free: thoroughly non-magical advice for creating and selling your own products,” Amy Hoy tells us, Don’t Follow Your Passion. I’m crushed! Why?

“It’s an age-old story: Boy meets passion, boy follows passion, passion turns out to be a mirage and/or actually a big pain in the ass, despite how rosy it may have seemed from a safe distance.”

She discourages against the “Cute Little Cafe” syndrome (you know, where you dream of opening up your own little coffee shop?) and to beware of the “Poop Factor” in our fantasies about following our passion (“running a café is as much about the coffee as raising a child is about snuggles. Yes, the coffee happens — and so do snuggles — but what really makes up the typical day is very little sleep and lots and lots of poop.”)

True to her blogs name, just as she denies the existence of unicorns and reminds us of the existence of narwhals, Amy encourages us to turn the mantra “follow your passion” into “practice open-eyed passion.”

Next up – what “open-eyed passion” looks like.  But first, as Jon Stewart would say, here is your moment of zen:

  • Skepticism is a phase; not an internal condition; out of the embryo of uncertainty grows the examination that produces a deeper, common, more genuine conviction. Paradoxically, it is the very questioning that causes the rubbing that polishes the pearl.” – Michael Levine
  • Skepticism is the first step towards truth.” – Denis Diderot
  • Doubt is the beginning, not the end, of wisdom.” – George Iles
  • Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge.” – Khalil Gibran
  • Curiosity is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

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