Work & Passion

For those of us fortunate enough to describe our passion as our work, and vice versa, there seems to be a familiar pattern: working around the clock.

Being passionate about our work typically means that we enjoy what we do—read: it can be difficult to stop doing it! But there’s apparently a downside to this: A nonstop expense of energy for a protracted amount of time is not sustainable.

Why? There is no discipline—no balance, no recharging. Our work, and perhaps our enjoyment for it, might start to have diminishing returns. Our health will inevitably wane. The place that we collect inspiration will only come from the job at hand.

What if what we are singularly calling our passion—work—might instead be a confluence of activities that have more enduring qualities?

In the past, I might have said something similar to, “my work is my passion.” I easily worked around the clock but my stamina ran out. After catching my breath, I discovered that it wasn’t because I was passionate about sitting in front of a computer for hours. Unpacked, it was the translation of abstract ideas into something concrete and actionable for somebody else. I liked the act of storytelling, collaborating with others, and continually learning. There were a lot of factors that went into my compulsion to work. I was actually passionate about some of them; others, not so much.

Divorcing “work” from “passion” allowed me to pursue the various mixture of things that I enjoyed separately from showing up to a job. If it was continually learning new things or translating ideas into action that got me excited, how might I pursue those interests outside of a job. I might try writing. I could learn to play guitar; try to learn how to partner dance; become an educator; learn to be an exceptional husband. The aspects of work that I found I would do if I weren’t being paid existed in the world in a variety of ways.

Passion is flexible.

A note for freelancers:

The real trick that cult of work = passion plays on us, is the desire to create “passion work” to share on social platforms. The idea of creating work to share is genuine. It might be might be fun to create, but it comes at a price when tethered to social media. What will people like? What won’t elicit a good reaction? Why do I receive less “likes” than the next person? What’s on trend? Feedback on these platforms usually comes in the form of personal praise guised as critique—which might say more about status affiliation than it does for improving work. When there is negative feedback, it again comes in the form of personal attack rather than for pushing the work forward. When the original intention was to spend energy on creating, a significant mental expense is used for filtering instead. A flick of a thumb isn’t worth the time invested. 

Here are some clarifying questions I found useful for liberating passion from work:

  • Why am I compelled to make work a part of my identity?
  • Do I share my work to signal, or attempt to build, status in my community?
  • Am I passionate about what I am doing, or am I addicted to the reinforcement I get when I share my work?
  • How might I dissect my passion for work into more clear intentions, i.e., what is it that I would do regardless of pay, status, or recognition?

Chances are we will get burnt out on work no matter how great it is because routinely burning the midnight oil or comparing ourselves to others is simply unsound. Identifying and understanding the various bits that we are passionate about—as opposed to lumping them all together—opens up worlds of ways for finding inspiration and fueling our affections.

Get outside. Read a book. Learn a new trick on a skateboard. Pick up an instrument.  Cook a new meal and share it. Learning is after all, durable, flexible, and sustainable.

︎ Means and Ends /  Critique and Dance ︎