Travels with Myself

A Journal of Discovery and Transition
Doug Jordan, Author

23.23 Motivation and Passion 3

Let’s start this post, much as I did with the last on Motivation, decrying another overused word: passion. Perfectly legitimate word, but when over-used, or exaggerated – as so much of marketing and gov talk is these days – it becomes a tiresome cliché.

If you’re a LinkedIn Member, go there and scan a few résumés. You can start with friends and associates but it might be healthier to your relationships if you just search out résumés of people you don’t know. I’m betting it won’t take you more than half a dozen before you encounter somebody waxing on about their ‘passion’. And usually it’s an arcane aptitude for some classic business skill or other vague humanistic attribute. In my Human Resources professional career I’ve read thousands of résumés. In my early days in recruiting (40-50 years ago!) I don’t think I ever encountered anybody who had a ‘passion’ for accounting, or glassblowing. ‘Passion’ seems to be a more recent phenomenon: people have a ‘passion’ for market research, or ‘people’. 


As a career counselor I’ve coached hundreds and hundreds of people in finding a job, and in most cases, not just a job, but a career choice. I’d spend many hours with them uncovering their personality preferences, their career identities and values, Career Anchors (Edgar Schein), their marketable skills; I’d coach them in the challenging arts of getting all that interesting stuff down in a compelling résumé. I hope to god I never encouraged them to pursue their passion, or confess it in a c.v.

We (well, most of us anyway) want to feel a sense of commitment in our lives, to feel that what we do with our lives is relevant and purposeful. When we lose our sense of self-worth and purpose, we become jaded and depressed, and likely in decline. In that sense, having something that passes for passion isn’t a bad thing.

You’ve heard me on this theme in previous blog posts: the road to happiness is to know your strengths, seek opportunities to utilize them, especially in some purposeful, even altruistic, way, and put yourself in a state of ‘flow’ as frequently as you can. (I suppose for some people there are other ways besides purposeful work to find nirvana, like drugs, but I don’t recommend that. And others have a whole other concept of how to get into Flo.) 

In your career and life endeavours, choose jobs and assignments that give you the best chance to use your talents, to be the best version of yourself. 

But is that ‘passion’?

‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ Or so goes a classic expression. I don’t know who to attribute that saying to (Mark Twain?) but I agree with it.

Here’s another, which I don’t agree with: ‘do what you love and the money will follow.’ That might actually be true but what is not said is how much money?  I love to write, and while it gives me a lot of satisfaction, the achievement of fame and fortune has proven highly elusive. The money has followed but it doesn’t even cover the costs and certainly not the rent.

Purposeful, sure; but ‘passion’?

The word passion has a number of meanings, and all of them contain an element of the extreme: the passion of Christ (death), the passion of Lady Chatterley (sex), a passion for beauty (nature). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines passion in the instant sense as, 2) an intense desire or enthusiasm for something: the English have a passion for gardens; • a thing arousing great enthusiasm: modern furniture is a particular passion of Bill’s.

Here’s the OED’s take: An aim or object pursued with zeal; a thing arousing intense enthusiasm.

My own take is that passion, in a career sense, is more than a transitory emotion, it is sustained motivation over the long term. You may seek to ‘incentivize’ me in the short term with some sort of bribe (or threat) but you can’t co-opt me into long term commitment. Eventually I’ll give up, or go elsewhere. 

Regrettably, perhaps, most people are not passionate about their careers. Nevertheless they rouse themselves daily to go to work. It takes some level of sustained motivation, for which they deserve credit, but is this passion? In Maslow’s hierarchy, it is usual that people face a life-time of work (to earn income, or some unit of exchange) to satisfy basic Physiology needs, and Safety and Security needs; but these conditions don’t meet the usual definition of having a career. ‘Careers’ are more in line with Belongingness and Esteem Needs (social, prestige, feelings of accomplishment). But even this is not passion, to my mind at least. These don’t meet the requirement of ‘intense desire, enthusiasm, zeal’, over a long time. Intense desire for a few hours may be a passion of a sort, but to me that is more like an episode of Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow, not career.

People compellingly motivated by Self-Actualization are most likely to find themselves in a career of passion. But these are few and far between. Try to think of people whose work or calling could be labelled a passion. (And be careful in your examples because many people who appear passionate about the work may be masking other motivations.) 

Genius people who apply their exceptional talent, may live passionate lives, their work/careers all-consuming. These people often fall into the creative endeavours, or tap into their math and music intelligences; some may have genuine passion for social causes. Think Beethoven, Einstein, or the polymath missionary, Albert Schweitzer. Or perhaps Stephen Hawking with his life-time passion for understanding black holes and the singularity.

Against these careers of passion, few of us can make a similar claim. We generally content ourselves, at best, to being continuously motivated to meet, or defend, Esteem needs, with the occasional burst of passion.

If you have the word passion on your résumé, maybe you should reconsider. Doing your best is good enough.

Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata, Canada

© Douglas Jordan & AFS Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of these blogs and newsletters may be reproduced without the express permission of the author and/or the publisher, except upon payment of a small royalty, 5¢. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Like this article?

Get notified when a new blog is posted. Join the mailing list now!

AFS Publishing

T   613 254-5315

Copyright ©2018 AFS Publishing

Sign Up and Receive Updates

Get notified when there is a new blog post and receive other updates from AFS Publishing.