Alicia Karwat Alicia has over 15 years of corporate experience and has been helping professionals, managers and executives identify and develop extraordinary powers they didn’t even know they had, for over 5 years. To find out more view Alicia's full bio or visit Alicia's website

Behind the Passion

By Dr Alicia Karwat, KeySteps Pty. Ltd. April 2010

I have been thinking about writing a post on passion for some time. As a career coach I meet many people who talk about passion or rather about a lack of it and their quest to find a passion at work as a means to a meaningful life. I certainly agree that being passionate about your work can add a good deal of meaning to your life, but, I cannot see why our passion has to be placed at work in order to lead a meaningful life. The word passion in the context of work is overused and often misused.

I think about my clients in my coaching practice who are unhappy at work and often say “If only I could find work that I would be passionate about, I would be happy, fulfilled and have a meaningful life”. They obviously believe that the meaning of life comes through work. It is an unproductive and self-limiting belief that leads to placing your life on a back-burner and waiting for the moment “I will be happy when …”. This has a relatively low chance of being fulfilled as confirmed by the vast research on happiness and by the nature of the labour market and jobs available.

What does it mean to have a passion? According to Wikipedia a person is said to have a passion for something when they have a strong positive affinity for it. Passion can be expressed as a feeling of unusual excitement, enthusiasm or compelling emotion towards something. Certainly, this is a feeling that gives a meaning but it is not clear for me why the meaning in life has to be defined by a passion for what you do at work.

We, at least most of us, work to pay the bills and when this is achieved we work to maintain a desired life style. I have yet to meet a person who lost their job and their main concern was that they lost their “life purpose”.  Most think about paying bills and maintaining their preferred life style. Some would like to use the opportunity of the retrenchment payout to explore what else they could do for a living. When faced with retrenchment, somehow, the passion at work usually ceases to be high on our agenda of concerns.

When you talk to entrepreneurs you are most likely to hear about a passion to develop a business rather than a passion for a specific service or product. They have an idea, make it commercial and often move to the next idea, and the next business opportunity. I have recently read about a person who made a successful transition from an investment banker to baking cakes. She said that everybody assumed that she had a passion for baking cakes but in fact it was her desire to run her own business. For her it was a dream to create something from nothing.

I have just attended a conference organised by the Career Development Association of Australia. The highlight of the conference was a keynote address by Li Cunxin, “Mao’s Last Dancer”. Li was selected to be trained as a ballet dancer when he was 11. He was taken from a remote village in China and extreme poverty and undertook very difficult and full of physical and emotional sacrifices training. When asked if he had a passion for dancing he said “I hated it”. What was driving Li was his love for his parents and the desire to get them, and him out of the poverty. Li knew that it was his chance. The rest is history. He became one of the world best ballet dancers, and he developed a liking for dancing once he became good in it. By his own admission he was not the most talented to start with.

Li’s story illustrates well the Latin origin of the word passion, meaning to suffer or to endure. We tend to forget that in the process of following your passion you will experience a lot of suffering and endurance. We often hear “Follow your passion and the money will follow”. This is a myth. Money follows the demand and supply principle and it is a bonus if your passion is there too.

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