Dear God, I hate that word.
I’ve already talked about irritating clichés and jargon, but passion is perhaps the one overused word that I despise the most. It seems to be the vogue term of our age: the be-all, end-all and cure-all. Apparently, you can do anything as long as you are passionate. Conquer the world. Become a millionaire. Excel at your job. Find inner happiness. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Furthermore, it seems that every company out there wants people who are ‘passionate about what they do’ to work for them. Recently I have noticed this a lot, as someone looking at entering their first career. Almost every graduate job appears to specify ‘passion’ as a key requirement, regardless of the actual industry. This can leave me and my fellow students in something of a pickle. How do you show passion for a career that you have very little prior exposure to? Or one which involves sitting in front of a screen analysing data for most of the day? Indeed, being passionate about certain jobs might make you sound a bit mental, to be honest. Passionate about tax? Hmm. Or the ballpoint pen industry? Right. Or even about excel charts? Oh dear.
I am not necessarily mocking these particular professions and industries, by the way. What I am criticising is the application of the term ‘passion’ in relation to them. I believe that we now overuse this word to the point when it has almost eclipsed any other positive epithet. You are either ‘passionate’ about your career/field/industry, or you find it boring and uninspiring – there seems to be no middle-ground any more. This is a bit of a twenty-first century fad, as far as I can tell. Nobody that I know of my parents’ generation seems to be brimming with passion for their career, but most appear to get on well enough. If asked, they will often say they enjoy their job, find it interesting or even rewarding, but ‘passion’ is never a term that enters their vocabulary.
The unspoken ‘passion or nothing’ emphasis has been rather worrying for me, as someone who – as of this moment – cannot really think of any field that I am passionate about. This is as true of academic study as it is of potential careers. I study English Literature at university. I really enjoy reading, I’m pretty good at it and generally find the intellectual challenge stimulating and rewarding. At times I can even find it inspiring. But I could not say that I am really passionate about English Literature – and I am a bit sick of being told that I should be, to be honest. Why can’t finding something interesting suffice anymore?
Let me give you an example. Recently, as contextual background for an extended essay, I have been reading a lot of historical work on the early Church in post-Roman Britain. Was I enraptured by it? No. Was I filled with passionate energy by accounts of the Pelagian Heresy and the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon pagans? No. However, I did find it intriguing, and was quite happy to sit quietly in the café for a few hours reading various books on the subject and taking down notes.
Similarly, I am not looking to ‘follow my passion’ when it comes to careers – principally because I don’t have a clue what this mystical ‘passion’ is. Instead, I am hoping to find a career that I can find stimulating enough so that I can make a success of it and reap some rewards; material, intellectual or otherwise. I’m not going to pretend I am passionate about this or that business, because in all honesty I won’t be. Maybe one day I will discover my ‘passion’ and strike a new path and follow it. Maybe, as Cal Newport suggests, I might even become passionate about the career I choose. Maybe. But until then, I’m happy to settle for a job that is engaging and rewarding.
Some people are passionate about a certain area of life – truly so. I’ve met a few. Some of them – especially those who are extremely creative – are indeed following their passion. Good luck to them. But I am pretty sure I am not the only young twenty-something who doesn’t really have a single driving passion yet and just wants to get on in the world. It would be nice if everybody would stop demanding that we spend time being passionate, and ask that we be bloody good at what we do instead.