The Passion Trap

Passion is constantly touted as “the thing” that every employee, CEO, and entrepreneur needs to succeed.  When someone is successful we attribute it to their passion.  In fact, successful individuals attribute their own passion as the factor leading to their great accomplishments.

There is reason to disagree.  In fact, the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” by Cal Newport, debunks the very idea that passion leads to success.  Rather, what leads to great success and career satisfaction is becoming insanely good at a rare and valuable skill set.  And, he has research to back up these claims.

Sometimes, the belief that we must have passion can even get us stuck.  I call this the passion trap.  The “trap” is set when we become convinced that if we aren’t passionate about something then we should reverse course or wait it out.  So we get stuck.  In fact, this train of thought can become the excuse for not doing what we need to do.  We procrastinate and become indecisive.

Let’s say you are considering a major career change or even considering starting your own business. There are a thousand variables to consider when embarking on such a change.  One variable is that you aren’t sure whether or not you will enjoy the new kind of work you’ll be doing.  You ask, “will I be passionate about it?”

This is where we get trapped.  There is no way we can know if we will be passionate about something we haven’t tried yet.  And, frankly it doesn’t matter.  It just becomes an excuse for not acting on what needs done.

The better question to ask is, “will the work I’m going to do be meaningful?”  In other words, will it make a positive difference in the lives of others?  Passion is focused on “me” and “my feelings.”  It is essentially a selfish point of view.  But the truth is that none of us live in a bubble.  It is impossible to find lasting happiness in something that doesn’t make a difference.  Believing the work I do makes a difference for others is much better than fretting about how much it will matter to me.

An artist has little hope of generating passion for her work if there is no one around to appreciate the art.  The writer has little hope finding joy expressing the written word if there is no one to read his work.  It is when the artist or writer’s work makes an impact on someone else that the magic happens.  So, do something that makes a difference in the lives of others and there will be happiness and passion, if you must call it that, in the work you do.  We gain a love for what we’re doing when it helps other human beings.

Finally, make no excuses.  If you have a goal, don’t cite a lack of passion as the reason you are giving up.  Much of the time we must do things we despise.  We must push through things we don’t like to do because we want an end result more than the pain it will take to get there.  If we get consumed with the idea that we must be passionate about something, we will fail when the passion is somehow lost.  Rather, push through, fight through regardless of whether you feel passionate or not.  It is the only way truly great things ever get done.

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