Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Myth of Passion

If you're a casual reader of this blog, you already know I'm no fan of self-help advocates or "life coaches." One reason is that they don't really help anyone other than the author/coach, who lines his pockets by hawking oversimplifications to innocents too unfortunate to know better.  Another is that, for the most part, their "solutions" simply don't work. 

It turns out that in life, the most effective means of solving problems is by actually solving your problems yourself.  Buying a book, popping a pill,  listening to a CD/podcast or attending a seminar might create the illusion of your being on the way to solving your issues, but none of them really do anything to adjust the situation and make you happier.  They just adjust your wallet and make you that much poorer.

Nevertheless, the self-help and life coach businesses are booming, mainly because most people would rather pay their way out of our problems than work their way out.  And the biggest problem is that most people aren't buying into truth.  They're buying into myths.

Of all the myths, the most dangerous has to be passion.  It accosts me daily in the twittersphere, where groundless quotes of inspiration can be founding teeming with quixotic quasi-poetry offered up by life coaches barely qualified to vote, let alone advise others about life problems.  Yet that doesn't stop them from perpetually parroting  prose about passion as if they were prophets of Providence.

Okay, so that was a little overwritten.  But I continue:

"Work is nothing without passion," notes one.  "If there's no passion, there's no point," spouts another.  And then there are the legions of lemmings who quote famous people -- mostly out of context -- in order to motivate their fix-it-for-a-price followers:  "Steve Jobs, in his address to Stanford's graduating class...."

Let me set the record straight:  Passion is a great thing.  It's the reason why men build great bridges and, more frequently, pay exorbitant prices at expensive restaurants while on dates with beautiful women.  If you've ever experienced real passion, you know what it is and where it lives.  And while it can be said that passion has driven men to do amazing things, the harsh reality is that the one thing passion doesn't do is pay the bills.

I've been around a fair amount of time and not once have I ever seen anyone, anywhere be compensated for his passion.  In business plans, on  spreadsheets or at the conference table, there is no mention nor remuneration for passion.  There is no line item on page 12 in the budget for passion.  Yet all across America, there are thousands of people barely scratching out a living because they're "following their passion" instead of getting down to real business.  They use passion as a salve to soothe their fears of failure and rationalize their inertia, never realizing that it's that very myth of passion that's causing them to fail.  If you doubt that, think about the last time you heard anyone rhapsodize about passion driving his success who wasn't already at the tail end of his career.  Sure, for them it's easy to lay it all on passion -- they're retiring.  They're done.  They can afford the luxury of rewriting history and making it about all passion because they've long since forgotten those times they threatened to quit if they didn't get a raise.

You, on the other hand, have bills to pay.  And last I heard, grocery stores aren't accepting passion in lieu of double coupons.

Actually, in business, passion is far more likely to get you fired than promoted, because more often than not, passion is the euphemism for a completely irrational, highly-motivated nut case -- and nobody wants those hanging around while everyone else is trying to succeed.  If you want the real news, it's this:  businesses are not about passion.  Careers are not about passion.  Careers and businesses are about performance, and the sooner you staple that concept to your frontal lobe, the better off you're going to be.

Now before you get all Rod McKuen on me, let's take a minute to point out that passion, by itself, is not a bad thing.  In fact, I believe that well-placed passion is a really good thing.  But passion is an intensely private, emotional thing.  A human thing, not given to rationality.  It's far more appropriate in a bedroom than a boardroom, which is why you never hear a CEO gasp breathlessly, "Wow, that was some PowerPoint presentation, Bob...will you stay for breakfast?"  Businesses want masters, not martyrs.

While we're on the subject, I should also point out that not every business is even compatible with passion.  When my sewers are clogged, I guarantee you that the guy who shows up wearing hip waders isn't singing The Impossible Dream as he dips his arm into unimaginable filth.  Don't try to tell me he's passionate about sewer stoppage.  And don't try to sell him on it, either, especially on a Sunday when he's earning triple overtime.

The late Malcom Forbes once uttered, "Business is war."  And he was right.  Business is about strategy, tactics -- and if you really want to stick a tag on it -- results.  But one thing business is not about is passion.  Yet time and again, I hear self-help advocates, life coaches and old, mega-wealthy CEO's equating "your level of passion to your ability to succeed."  

And that creates a huge moral, ethical issue for me, as it should for you.  Here's why:  

All across this great nation, millions of young adults are swallowing as much faux guidance as they can eat, in hopes of finding shortcuts that will lift them into successful and rewarding careers.  And most of them subsist on a steady diet of hack, baseless myths of passion, with the erroneous expectation that, as with Tinkerbell, if they're really passionate about it, they'll succeed.  

Well, this is their wake up call.  In the long list of attributes that comprise success, passion ranks pretty close to the bottom, way below smarts, luck, knowledge, talent, connections, parentage, culture, education, social class, persistence and yes, hard work. 

In the business world, passion and two bucks may get you a cup of coffee, but it won't even qualify you for a job as a barista.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would say they've really expanded the meaning of the term "passion." I mean, if you pursue success in business with the same dogged determination that Cassanova used to seduce women, you'll probably be successful, because it means you'll go way beyond the effort most people put forth.

I have to agree with you - passion alone does nothing. It's the action which they are describing as passion that gets results.

1:18 PM  

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