Why Passion Sucks

In blog after blog, the common advice given to young people is to follow your passion. Everyone, it seems, is supposed to discover what they are passionate about, and turn that into a way to earn a living. The underlying myth seems to be that because you feel something intensely, it is inherently good, and that that “goodness” will be deservedly rewarded.
Do What You Love

The message, destructive in its application, is that all feelings are good, and that we should allow them to guide our lives. Rational thought and self-discipline become our enemy. Spontaneity and abandon become the only measures of validity. Why bother to study anything to its logical consequence? That’s hard, and takes a lot of time that could otherwise be devoted to Facebook and internet shopping.

At a recent Profiles in Success award ceremony, I heard Cam Marsten speak on generational differences. He told the story of his daughter winning a ribbon for 11th place in a swim meet. His message was that we have raised a whole generation who expect to be rewarded for their feelings about something rather than their accomplishments. In this scenario, the worst possible outcome is that someone’s feelings might not coincide with the reality – that what they care about is not the least bit important to the rest of the world. 

Author Dan Pink had very different advice about following passion. His take was that we should concentrate on what we consistently enjoy doing. Save passion for passionate times, he says, and devote the bulk of your life to contributing consistent and steady value to your family, your organization, and your world. This makes a lot more sense to me.

I grew up in times in many ways similar to these. The mid-to-late ‘60s were years where we rejected all prevailing norms. Many of us embraced the idea that the only validation anything needed was that it felt good at the moment. Carpe diem became both a catch phrase and a cop out, validating any escape. Today, carpe diem is replaced with YOLOYou Only Live Once – to justify any distraction that dances past our over-stimulated amygdala. The pied piper is alive and well in every mobile device, distracting us from following a single thought all the way to its logical conclusion.

When did we cease to believe that success was the result of hard work and lengthy, consistent effort? When did our expectations of luxury replace our need for basic security? And when did we decide, as a nation, that we somehow deserve to be rewarded just because it feels good?

What are the lessons passed down from my generation of excess to the current generation where lack of excess is considered deprivation? When did all sports become extreme and normal life become dull? When did all rental apartments become “luxurious”? And when did normal lose any meaning?

Good Job

So here is an appeal to reject passion. Let’s slow down on the hype. Let’s instead embrace reality. Let’s find depth. Let’s seek joy rather than fun. Let’s support the re-emergence of consistency. Let’s bring our expectations somewhere back to the realm of achievable, where it’s OK not to recognize 11th place with a ribbon.

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