What is Passion ?

Steve Jobs, in his famous commencement speech at Stanford spoke about the need for people to follow their passions. Ever since then (and perhaps even before), passion has become the “buzz” word, the linchpin you strive to live your life around. The queer thing about passion is the following : If I were to give career advice to someone, I would tell them to follow their passion, and both of us would go back satisfied. However, none of us would go back any wiser.

Passion cannot be something subjective. The answer to question, “What is Passion ?” cannot be, “Passion is life”. Instead of defining what passion is (something which is easier to quantify), I would like to look at what pursuing your passion means. In other words, I will examine what Steve Jobs’s abstraction really means. There are two rules which determine whether you are truly passionate about the activity you are pursuing :

Rule 1 : You would enjoy pursuing the activity even if there was no reward associated with pursuing that activity. 

Rule 2 : You strive to salvage a tangible reward in an activity which satisfies Rule 1. 

Rule 1 is fairly intuitive. The real question is why Rule 2 is critical ? The most important aspect of pursuing your passion is to be able to “love what you are doing”. If you enjoy painting for example, but are unable to make a living from painting, you have not successfully pursued your passion since you have to depend on something else to live your life. Painting is then just a hobby, a passion of yours, but until you satisfy Rule 2, you would not be pursuing your passion.

I would like to point our two implications of this definition. The first direct implication of this definition is why only a few people end up pursuing their passions. Ultimately, to be able to pursue a passion, you necessarily need to make ends meet by doing something which is essentially a hobby of yours. More often than not, you wouldn’t do the work you get paid for without the pay and you wouldn’t be paid for the work you would do for free.

The second implication of this theory is why we can never judge whether someone is truly passionate about what she is doing. Often the reward of doing something is implicit in the work you do, and apart from the person himself, one cannot judge whether a person would work were it not for the reward. For example, any work which one does for an organization has a reward (monetary or otherwise) associated with it, and thus it become difficult to segregate the aspects of Rule 1 and 2. Moreover, as an observer, it is impossible to judge whether someone pursued an activity with a reward in mind, or generated a reward through an activity he pursued.

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