Not my words: Passion, passionate

sunset-summer-golden-hour-paul-filitchkinWay back in my girls’ grammar school, Mrs Salmon was our wild, passionate teacher. Her wild hair, wild gestures, and wild Welsh ways made her undeniably passionate to us tame creatures and when she taught us, she praised us for being passionate about the seventeenth century, for having a passion for the sonnets of Shakespeare, for being passionate Horace fans, until we were convinced we were.

The description fitted her and she used the description to motivate us. That’s fine.

What bothers me nowadays is the way the word is bandied around by almost everyone to describe themselves at work. It’s no longer enough for anyone to like their job or work environment, they have to be passionate about waste disposal, filling perfumed liquids into bottles, doing accountancy. Companies, too, are passionate about fulfilling our needs. On the one hand it’s boastful. My passion is presumably better than your passion. On the other hand it’s universal. If everybody is passionate about everything then surely the term has been devalued.

There is nothing wrong in taking a pride in your work, in doing your job to the best of your ability, in enjoying what you’re doing, but there is something forced about being passionate 24/7. What are you trying to prove and who to? Why does the level of hyperbole surrounding work rise as the actual working conditions worsen?

I once taught exhausted employees in a company which had huge banners hanging on its walls with slogans like “Passion For Success.” It was my richest and biggest customer and of all my customers it treated its suppliers the worst. It paid shabbily, for a start. The prestige of working there was supposed to be payment enough. It’s a clever role reversal, when you think about it. Once we were once paid to perform a job, now we are made to feel grateful for being allowed to indulge our passion in their company. And as more and more people scrabble for what used to be called “regular” (i.e. secure) employment, the word “passion” begins to sound like a synonym of “desperate”. Creatives are regularly expected to work for nothing, so passionate are they about their craft.

Big words – small jobs.

You may well be genuinely grateful to be working where you are. You can become wholly passionate in your task, whether you are doing the housework or reorganizing a large global concern. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has talked about that state of flow, where pure enjoyment, adrenaline, passion, takes over. Action has always been seen as therapeutic.

Yet I am arguing that too much passion is bad for us. This constant call to be “passionate” all the time has the effect of making us feel guilty when we are doing the boring stuff, even though dull routine is normal in every job. It puts us under pressure by making unrealistic expectations seem normal. Instead of motivating us, our passion is demoralizing us.