October 14, 2009

The other day someone asked me what I am passionate about. The context of the conversation was this person telling me how there are several, very specific people who clearly changed the course of his life to get him where he is now, and me being unable to recognize these people in my life because I grew up in a town where everyone went to school and college and got a job. So that’s what I did – went to school, college, and got a job. But back the passionate question – I said I don’t know. Then proceeded to feel awful.

I feel like saying I don’t know to that question means that I’m not passionate about anything which, in turn, means I have no larger ambition for my life. Just to clear up some facts – I am young; I do have time to figure out what I’m doing in my life; I know that I do have ambition and motivation. So how come I can’t answer the question? Or more importantly, if I could answer the question, does it change where I am and what I’m doing?

This conversation I had proceeded to take the turn about whether I liked my job. I do and I don’t. The day-to-day work, I don’t love. In all honesty, I don’t think anybody can really love working with spreadsheets and stuff like that. But I do love the idea behind what I do. I absolutely, fully and completely, am behind using technology to make things better (wow – that’s super vague). This realization, which has mostly come while writing this post, was a bit of an eye-opener to me. I always thought (and I know this sound extremely naive) that doing what you love meant you did what you love every day – like actually physically did a specific activity you love. And I guess it seems more that I love not what I’m physically doing but rather the end result.

End note: When I began this post, I was actually still pretty upset about not being able to say I’m passionate about something. It brought to mind the idea that if you love everything, it really kind of means you don’t love anything. And while I might not love my job, as long as I’m happy and find the time to do other things that I love, then what does it matter? Now that I’m done writing, I feel like I get it so much more, and I feel so much more comfortable with where my life is. The fact that this happened while writing is a little bit more amazing to me than the fact that I figured it out in general.



  1. I find it weird that there are those who talk so fervently about their “passion,” or their “ambition,” or their “goal in life.” Is it really something to be proud of that your interests are simple enough to be described by a word or two?

    • I don’t think I’ve met someone who can actually sum it up in only a word or two. But it’s the idea that they’ve got something more than the normal stuff. But more than that, the idea needs to be paired action. If you’ve got a “passion” and don’t do anything about it, that’s worse then not being able to come up with something you’re passionate about. Or maybe I’m just jealous that they can verbalize it and I can’t.

  2. Okay, so I’ve thought about this before(and I should really write this on my own blog instead of filling up your comment box). But I suppose there’s some kind of an internal human need to be able to properly define ourselves. I guess it gives a sense of control/direction/stability to be able to say “This is what I’m about, and this is where I’m headed.” But I’m not so sold on the idea that this is somehow a better way to live.

    Life is so multi-facet, and is layered with so many subtitles and distinctions. It just feels so superficial when you try to define yourself by specific activities, or specific people, or specific events. To me, it just makes more sense to accept that you’re complex enough that words cannot begin to describe who you are, and what your life should and shouldn’t be filled with.

    I guess my point is that I think in a lot of sense, you’re better off than your friend for not being claim some kind of a passion. By keeping an open mind and uncertainty about yourself, you’re always leaving the possibility to grow and change yourself for the better. Whereas I feel like your friend has already stifled himself by identifying himself by specific people and specific things.

    I of course don’t know your friend, so if he ever read this, he’s going to think I’m an arrogant ass. But the way I see it, being able to define your passion doesn’t really change you for the better, and it closes a lot of doors on what you could be. So why bother with it?

    • Gonna have to disagree here Min..

      On your central point, that you might be better off in a state of uncertainty because that leaves you open to new possibilities: I don’t see how that’s true at all. If I say I have a passion for playing computer games that doesn’t mean that I’ve shut out the possibility of one day discovering that I like to take walks in the park. Similarly, if I’m certain that I dislike classical music, while that may indeed drive me away from actively seeking new recordings of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, that doesn’t mean I might not one day happen to hear a recording of Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons and like it. If anything, some sense of certainty is only going to aid me to discover new things that I am likely to enjoy based on what I already know I do.

      On to your second point of being better off not defining yourself: Yes human beings are complex, yes no two people are exactly alike, and yes a full description of the entirety of a person’s existence in words is likely to fail painfully short. But that doesn’t mean description is impossible, or unhelpful. Labeling my boss as a workaholic tells you that a) I think he works too long and b) he probably enjoys it. Saying my boss has a passion for his work doesn’t take away from him as a person, but instead more fully fleshes him out as an individual as opposed to a random bum on the street.

      As someone who feels like life should be about passion, my question to you is this: Do you feel like you don’t have any passion for anything? If the answer is no – if truly, there’s nothing you look forward to, there’s nothing that you enjoy deeply, there’s nothing worth getting excited abut – then why the hell are you still alive? 😛 To search for something you might become passionate about?

      • I think you might be misunderstanding my argument. I didn’t say you should be apathetic about everything. In fact, I’m saying the exact opposite: that you should “look forward to” and “enjoy deeply” all(or most) aspects of your life. Why do you feel like you need to restrict yourself to just a small number of things?

        Regarding your comment about your boss. It is one thing to describe and define the things and people around you by labels. That’s a necessity for survival. It is an entirely different issue to label yourself in such a way. If the only way your boss can describe himself is by his work, then yes I believe he is stifling himself and the opportunities in his life.

      • I think you might be mis-stating your argument. You didn’t say you should be apathetic about everything. You said that laying claim to a passion precludes you from enjoying others. Why do you feel like identifying with a group of things restricts your ability to identify with others?

        Regarding my comment about my boss. It is one thing to identify a trait of him. That’s a necessity to categorize things. It is an entirely different issue to say that that was the only way he could describe himself. When describing something you tend to mention whatever stands out the most, but you seem to be saying it’s not necessarily a good thing that you can point out what stands out most about a person.

      • Okay, if you’re going to treat this like a high school debate, then I guess we’re done.

        Sorry about the spam Kai.

      • No worries. I like all the comments.
        I think what I was getting at got summed up in last comment. It’s about having something that stands out. And that can change over time, but shouldn’t I know what that is about myself at any given moment? It seems so easy to pick out that part of someone else, and it’s hard to do it for me.
        And I do see how having a passion might restrict you. Using the computer games/walk in the park example – having a passion for computer games is going to impact who you’re around, what you do on summer days, etc. So your exposure to walking in the park is limited to if that activity just happens along your path. Whereas if you’re interested in 10 things, with none of them really standing out, you’re probably going to have more diversity around you on a regular basis and have opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t. But clearly, it mostly depends on you as a person.

  3. Your last paragraph reminds me of what my adviser once said: writing a paper will clarify ideas in your mind.

  4. I could probably say I’m passionate about photography. But passionate sounds like too strong a word. I strongly enjoy photography, but I think I’m passionate about my wife.

    I don’t know – do you HAVE to be passionate about something?

    I’ve been thinking along the same lines as you, Kai, and thinking there was perhaps something wrong with me. Everyone says you should do [for a living] what you love to do. But there is NOTHING that I would like to do for a living. I tried photography and it killed the fun. I have tried programming and, again, it killed the fun. I don’t think it’s possible for work to be fun. That’s why it’s WORK. Even testing video games would not be fun as you’d have to go over teh same part over and over and keep notes about what caused a glitch. Like you, I really like the concept of what my office is supposed to accomplish, but the work it takes to get there is boring as heck.

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