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What is Passion

Common to most peoples’ thoughts about passion are the following three foundational beliefs:

  1. To feel passionate about something is to be engaged and fulfilled by working on it, and to feel a desire to return to it whenever possible.
  2. In the course of your regular life you will develop passions for various pursuits.
  3. You will live a much happier life if you can align your studies as a student or career as a graduate with one of your passions.

Here’s the hypothesis I’ve been developing recently: (1) and (3) are true, but (2) is false. And it’s this common misperception that allows “passion” to wreak so much havoc.

Redefining Passion

Based on my own anecdotal experiences working with students and young graduates, I would offer the following alternative definition of passion and where it comes from:

Passion: The feeling that arises from have mastered a skill that earns you recognition and rewards.

Belief (2) from above posits that passions exist a priori of any serious engagement with a pursuit; they’re some mysterious Platonic form waiting for you to discover. This is a dangerous fiction.

My alternative definition claims instead that passion is the feeling generated by mastery. It doesn’t exist outside of serious hard work.

h/t: Jason Stotts's On Purpose


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2. In the course of your regular life you will develop passions for various pursuits...

Belief (2) from above posits that passions exist a priori of any serious engagement with a pursuit; they’re some mysterious Platonic form waiting for you to discover. This is a dangerous fiction.

My alternative definition claims instead that passion is the feeling generated by mastery. It doesn’t exist outside of serious hard work.

To claim this statement is false or fiction appears too broad as it seems contrary to what happens when we experience new ideas throughout life. I had passions - much stronger than interests - as a child before I developed the skills. As I master the skills, I didn't feel more passionate about the subjects. There are also childhood passions which I never pursued (yet still feel strongly about today). There are passions that I developed very late in life about topics of which I hadn't any exposure as a child. I'll agree that hard work can increase your feelings about a subject, but asserting passion requires mastery appears light on causality.

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