Why Passion is the Wrong Word

Uncategorized Jan 15, 2021

One of the most discussed concepts in personal development is passion. People discuss passion as if it’s a principle of success. In fact, in my first book, Love Your Life and It Will Love You Back, I use the word passion quite often. However, my understanding of passion has changed and evolved over time. 

 If you look at the definition of passion, it is an uncontrollable emotion. I believe one of the principles of success is having as much emotion discipline as possible. Let’s face it. Sometimes you don’t feel like putting in work. Sometimes you have other issues in the back of your mind.  Sometimes you don’t feel like getting out of bed, dealing with people, going to the gym, sitting in traffic, disciplining children, starting any conversation with “we need to talk,” or firing people.  Ah… the joys of life.  All these activities need to be done by somebody and unless there’s something wrong with you there’s no way that you will be excited about performing these activities. Given the choice, some would rather have a root canal than performing these activities.

 In order to achieve success, you must spend some time doing activities that you just don’t want to do. Some of these activities may cause anxiety. Some of these activities might be scary.  Some activities may be boring. Some activities may be really uncomfortable. Some of these activities may be annoying. Some of these activities may be monotonous like eating chicken breast for the tenth day in a row. Part of success is simply doing activities that you just don’t want to do.

 When people use the word passion, I believe what they really mean is two concepts rolled up into one. The first is dedication. The second is enthusiasm. These are definitely two concepts that are needed for success. Dedication is working on your goal with discipline and diligent work. You need to go after your goals give it time, dedication, and energy. In addition, in order for you to achieve your goals, you need to involve others, get people excited about what you are doing. This could be selling you ideas or products. It can be recruiting others to join your team.  It can even be the energy to a meeting, a sales call, or even an interview. One of the ways to sell yourself is to project energy and enthusiasm.

 Other factors that are needed for achieving your goals and success are discipline, diligence, focus, being able to navigate challenges, being able to engage others, and many more tools.  Passion can get in the way of the work necessary to accomplish your goals.

 My view of passion is that it is whimsical. We are in a place where our desires, entertainment, comfort, and convenience are over-valued while discipline, compromise, and being uncomfortable are under-valued. Passion can be interpreted as just doing what we want, when we want, and how we want to do it. This is not a success, it’s petulance.


Your Goals and Dreams Need to Be Flexible

There needs to be a compromise about how you think life should be and the way it is. Your goals rely on society, other people in your circle or just logistics. A person with an idea for a company must consider the viability and the place in the market. A coach in sports must understand the sport’s landscape and coach within those parameters. In the documentary, Comedian, Jerry Seinfeld describes two jokes that he wrote one of which he loves and one of which does not like to tell. However, the one that he loves does not do well with the audience while the one that he does not like got a laugh every time. Passion, oftentimes, gets in the way of taking the right action and promotes being comfortable and happy all the time.


Emotion vs. Evidence

Another danger that passion can present is that it forces you to follow emotion rather than evidence. Seinfeld’s emotions told him that the joke that he preferred and was fond of was better while the evidence told him that another joke was better. Human beings want to follow their instincts, but for good instincts to be valuable they have to be based in evidence and not just raw, unfettered emotion. There can be a gap about what we think is the right way and what is actually the right way.


Motivation Ebbs and Flows

No matter how excited you are about something whether that’s a business idea or a new relationship, there’s going to be times where it will feel like work and nobody’s motivated to do work all the time. A big part of passion is being excited and motivated all the time. That is not realistic. There are times when you are going to be motivated by your work, but more often than not you are going to experience roadblocks, frustrations, apathy, and just plain old laziness. No matter how you much you like something, there are times where it can feel like a job. I absolutely love writing, but there are times when I have to write and I just don’t feel like it. In these times, it’s work.


Feed the Ego

When you are working on any goals, they often need to be paramount to your feelings and ego.  There are many things that can feed the ego. Examples of feeding your ego include going after immediate pleasures, wanting to have fun all the time, avoiding tough conversations, or even seeking praise all the time. When you go after these indulgences it may get in the way of your actual progress. In order to actually get things done, it is important to delay gratification.  Passion gets in the way because it entices anybody to go after fake progress instead of real results.

 One of the most common ways passion is used is in a romantic context. Passion may be good for a couple of weeks or a couple of months, but even romantic relationships takes work. Some of that work is challenging. Guess what?  Even in a romantic relationship some conversations start with the words, “we need to talk.”


Who Do You Want to Be or Who Do You Want Others to Be During a Crisis

 When something goes wrong in our lives we want guidance, leadership, and emotional discipline. How you deal in adversity is an indicator of who you are as a person. When adversity hits, you want to deal with people who are emotionally stable and almost stoic. If you are great in a foxhole, there’s going to be a greater chance that you will take those characteristics and be great in other situations.

 The first time I heard the counter argument to passion was Larry Winget. In a PBS special, he said that he hates his job. He pointed down to the stage and said that speaking is not his job. If he’s lucky, he might speak one hundred hours a year. He went on and said, “I love my 100 hours. I tolerate the rest.” Larry is a multiple-time bestselling author and international speaker.  I got a chance to interview Larry and I asked him about passion. He gave me a very insightful answer. He said imagine that you have two surgeons. One is super passionate and the other is more skilled. Which one would you choose?

 There are a couple of scenarios when passion makes sense. The first is there will be times when all the evidence and all the people in your life will say that a path does not make sense.  Quitting a high paying job to start a non-profit, dating someone that is the total opposite of you, or going against all rational logic to do something just because it feels right are examples where blind passion might be the best path. Another scenario is you just need that second or third wind just to push through. Passion is the caffeine of success or the jumper cables of success. Passion is good to get you going, however, success happens when you are consistent, diligent, enthusiastic, and you put in the work.

 If you look at Phil Jackson, Greg Popovich, or Bill Belichick, three of the winningest coaches, passionate would be one of the last words to describe them. They were always emotionally consistent. They stuck to their own philosophy, made adjustments, put in the work, and accomplished amazing feats.

 One of the reasons that I see passion getting in the way of success is the fact that it has stunted my growth and success. As soon as you committed to a goal or a dream, then when you are working on the endeavor most of the time what the endeavor needs is paramount to your emotions and your feelings. There will be a time when you can let your emotions run rampant just like there are times when a championship team can hoist a trophy and play in the confetti.  However, most of the time is spent working.

 Success is mostly about taking the right actions and avoiding the wrong ones. This takes discipline, dedication, and enthusiasm. It’s unlikely that you will be excited to work on your goals all the time. During these times, you just have to grit your teeth and just do the work.  This can be writing when you are uninspired, taking a walk when it’s cold outside, dealing with uncomfortable situations even if you are having anxiety or fear, starting a conversation with “we need to talk”, or any other uncomfortable situation. Passion oftentimes gets confused with diligence, dedication, and enthusiasm.




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