Passion is Not Linear

Passion1 is one of those interesting human phenomena where we too often confuse cause for effect.  The usual story about passion goes something like this:

  1. You have a passion. Either you have had it all your life (presumably since you were in the womb), or perhaps you had a life changing experience where you all of a sudden developed a passion.
  2. Your passion leads to motivation, which allows you work and think about your passion night and day.
  3. Over time, you naturally learn more, become better than all the other soulless individuals without passion.
  4. You now reap the rewards of following your passion.

Sounds like quite the motivational story, even if it’s not true.  The real flaw in this line of thinking is that it’s linear — it’s not.  The process is not so simple that after step 1 is nicely wrapped up, you go onto step 2. Once step 2 is finished, proceed to step 3.  With step 4 being the culmination of this grand process that you started when you decided to follow your passion.  The only thing missing is to pass Go and collect $200 (maybe that’s step 4 though?).

Like most things dealing with humans, things are rarely so linear.  Scott Adams has a great presentation on this idea titled Passion is Overrated and Goals are for Losers, quite the title.  One of his main points is that:

“Just maybe [success] causes passion.”
— Scott Adams

Of course it’s a bit harder to think about how this might play out because steps 1-4 are no longer sequential.  They’re mixed up, twisted and intertwined.  If we look at passion as a scale from 0 to 100, the process probably goes something like this:

  1. Start doing an activity (passion = 0)
  2. Have fun doing the activity (passion = 5)
  3. Keep doing the activity (passion = 6)
  4. Get praised for being good at the activity (passion = 10)
  5. Take a class on the activity (passion = 12)
  6. Figure out how much better other people are than you at activity (passion = 7)
  7. Work damn hard to improve your skills at activity (passion = 10)
  8. Get praised for how much progress you made from hard work (passion = 15)
  9. Repeat steps 5-8 until it becomes a full-fledged passion.

Notice that step 1 is not suddenly knowing your passion.  That’s more like the last step.  The first few steps take you from apathy to liking, then with some work (and success), perhaps from liking to liking a lot.  Repeat that over many years.  At some point along the way, if you’ve worked hard enough and you’ve had enough successes, you’ve might end up with something most people call a passion.  One of the most important points is that it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.  You can see in step 6 passion actually drops.  This is probably more realistic.  The people who actually develop passion have the discipline to persevere through the lulls and down moments.  This is why you need both discipline and a system.

Pretty words and Hollywood movies have a way of making you believe that the world is a simple place.  Passion is one of those nice simple ideas that is the panacea to all your woes.  Unfortunately, things rarely are so clear-cut, they’re usually much messier.  That’s why it’s important to not get fooled into such simplistic thinking by thinking at the next level.

Having said that, I’m going to go watch the latest romantic comedy.  It’s supposed to be good because of the great acting and realistic portrayal of love…

  1. I’ve written about passion a few times (here, here and here), so why not again? []