The Passion Deception: Why Passion Is Not Enough

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I had the pleasure of visiting my old high school recently to talk to some of the Matrics about life, their final year of school and their future plans in general. I spoke at length about what I call the Passion Deception. It sounds like a bit of a downer but to be honest, it’s real talk and the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.

passion deception

I feel like many talented youngsters have a pressing desire to do a job that makes them “tick”, and they are taught (myself included) from a young age that the profession you choose should be one you feel passionate about. I can understand why we tell people that too: talented youngsters can often do anything they want to, so “passion” becomes a good indicator of what to leave and what to dive into.

Let me be clear that I do not think that job satisfaction is a myth. It is a huge privilege to enjoy your work (as I do, MOST days), and that feeling of “passion” goes a long way to get you through otherwise hard days. But my problem with the Passion Deception is based on some core issues.

1. Passion is poorly defined

What is passion? Something that makes your heart skip a beat? Something that makes you eager to get out of bed? Because believe me, no matter how awesome your work, some days you’d much rather lie in bed and read than get up and go to work. How long does passion last? Your whole life? And how are you to know at the age of 18 that your passion is real, and that it WILL last your whole life? I mean, most of us at that age (myself included) were pretty rotten at predicting how long our romantic relationships would last! I’m sure we felt very passionate about THAT!

2. We are too loose with the term “passion”

Much the same way we profess our love so easily for a new musician or clothing brand or boyfriend, we are very loose with the things we claim to be passionate about. I always said I was passionate about people. Really though? Are you? People can really make you hate people sometimes. When someone refuses to take their ARVs and their newborn contracts HIV as a result. When men beat their pregnant wives to within an inch of their lives – and they go back to them. When patients die – whether because of poor choices on their part, or poor decisions made by politicians… are you SURE you love people??

Sometimes people are hard to be passionate about. I generally enjoy helping people to make healthy choices, and helping other professionals to help themselves and their patients without burning out. But I had to study for six years before I could articulate that. And on days when I don’t enjoy it, I still do it with fervour, because it is something I BELIEVE in.

3. Passion sets unrealistic expectations

If passion was the driving force behind our career choice, it becomes very confusing when we have a bad day at work. Does not enjoying my work today (or this week, or this month) mean I chose wrong? If I don’t feel passionate, did I make a big mistake and waste four to six years of my life? If I hated work today, am I ill? Frankly, it’s exhausting having to account for your feelings every day. Nobody feels full of zeal and energy every day, and just like we allow ourselves a day in our fat jeans chomping away at junk food, we should allow ourselves those days that we do not feel like Wonder Woman.

4. Passion is only one leg

Important though it may be, your career cannot function on passion alone, exactly because of #2. As a member of the workforce, it is your responsibility to do your work well, even when you do not feel passionate. So when I really don’t feel like work (this usually happens at 03h00 when I am on call), what keeps me going? For me it’s the fascination with the human body and honing my skills, combined with the knowledge that although I’m working ungodly hours, I’m certainly not doing it for free.

5. Passion doesn’t keep you warm at night

It might give you a fuzzy feeling, but if you make a financially stupid decision based on passion, you may find you hate that decision a few years from now. Not everybody cares about money, but you have to be sure that you will earn a living wage and that you can afford the things you want.

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I’ll write more tomorrow about the advice I give youngsters in narrowing down their career options to something that they can be happy and successful in. Spoiler alert: my advice certainly does not include throwing passion out of the window!

In the meantime, please share your thoughts on the use of “passion” in determining one’s future. Did it feature in your career choice? Have your feelings changed? Do you think I’m speaking a lot of nonsense?

16 thoughts on “The Passion Deception: Why Passion Is Not Enough

  1. What you stated above makes a lot of sense! The term “passion” definitely left me feeling confused and derailed in college when I was deciding whether the path to medicine was something I would be truly happy about later on – days when science classes bored me made me doubt whether I would truly “passionate” about working in the medical field as I couldn’t be bothered by cell signaling at the time – which made me feel guilty. I think a heavy emphasis on passion – especially at an early age when you’ve barely become an adult – is more burdening than empowering.

  2. It’s so true! There is a deception where passion is concerned as it relates to career choices.

    It’s a factor, don’t get me wrong but I wouldn’t categorize it as a huge factor. When choosing a career we have to be mindful of the pros and cons of firstly the career and secondly our strengths and weaknesses and then whether we can wake up still enjoying our decision. I know a lot of people who went to medical school because they were passionate about the salary rather than the actual work, however, they aren’t the worse doctors, surprisingly I believe through the course of their training they found something that they liked and that appealed to them in conjunction with the pay. For me it’s not all about passion, but about waking up and still being intrigued by what I do, able to grow daily, and to work my brain-with the new advances in medical technology almost daily, I’m excited for what’s to come and glad I didn’t just choose based on “passion” alone.

  3. These are all great points, and a great reminder as to what really drives me in my career. I think I’ll feel a little less burnt out once I know where I’ll be doing residency (the anxiety is agonizing) and am actually getting paid.

  4. I use that word scarcely.
    I remember being a passionate reader, especially when it comes to the human state and body was a pro for applying to med school. One year of med school proved me wrong. You gotta be patient, extremely so. Not one of my virtues! And I no longer enjoyed reading as I did in my teens. ( does that mean I’m a healed nerd by the way?)
    Passion is just a force. One force. One player. One need to put in mind what other factors/players can do to it. I love Obygyn! Every pit of it as a speciality but I’ll never apply for residency in it simply because the environment ( aka doctors) is .. Let’s say not something I want to deal with.

    • “Passion is just a force” – I love that, you’re so right! I agree, I enjoy many specialties but there are many that I wouldn’t do because the work environment won’t be healthy for me.

  5. AGREE!!! I hate the idealistic technological age boom of “do what you love and the money will follow”, well, no, not really. Not if what you love is writing or the arts, because it’s HARD to be successful at that on a recognisable level and earn bucks. BUT I do agree that if you can enjoy what you do, the majority of the time, it makes working for a living a little easier. I do enjoy what I do, and I did follow a passion (which luckily for me, happened to be business!), BUT I also think you can incorporate your passions into your career, for a bit of respite. I like to write, but know I’ll not earn the living I want to being a writer (sadly), but I write blog posts, news stories and corporate communications as part of my job, so every now and then I get to bring some of what I like doing to my job. It’s the small things like that which make a difference. SO much goes into what makes you happy at work, and to be happy at work you have to know yourself. Are you an office person or field person? Can you do shiftwork? Do you want to work with people or machines? If you can get a job to fit your personality, instead of squishing your personality to fit the job, you’re on to a winner. You could pay me a ton of money, I’d never be OK with working off shore, at heights, or doing shift work. I like my 9-5. R x

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