Finding Love Instead of Passion at Work

Are you passionate about your job? Or, do you love your job?

These might sound like the same question, but they’re not.

Seems like we’re bombarded every day with messages about how we should equate our job with our passion or find side hustles based on our passion (which we can grow into a business that becomes our job).

But what if you’re passionate about a job that isn’t passionate about you?

I know plenty of people who are passionate about the work they do and who they’re doing it for. And their jobs are wringing them out. 

You’ve seen this too. These people often work for some of the sexiest brands in the world. One of my friends, let’s call her Beth, worked as a director of digital content for one of the biggest movie studios in the world. Beth was passionate not only about creating content, but also about working on iconic entertainment brands. She worked 70 to 80 hours a week with colleagues who yelled at each other all day. She was expected to work holidays and rarely took even a few hours for herself. Five years, a divorce, and some serious health issues later, Beth was burned out. She discovered the job didn’t care for her nearly as much as she cared for it.

Maybe you know someone who hates a job that loves them. This one sounds weird, but I promise it exists. I know you know someone who stayed in a job they disliked because they were good at it.

Another friend of mine (let’s call him Mike) is head of product marketing at one of the largest software companies in the world. He’s been with the company for 12 years. Mike hates his job, but he’s proven to be quite skilled at all the things that define it. He’s at the top of his game. The company clearly values him. So Mike directed his real passion for food and wine into starting a foodie magazine and blog on the side. For five years, Mike has been desperately trying to turn his passion project into a profitable business so that he can leave the job he hates.

Beth and Mike both felt passion for their work. Neither had love.

Passion is a “strong and barely controllable emotion.” The word comes from the Latin “patior,” which means “to suffer.” Passion is a longing desire for something, where intrusive thoughts idealizing the nature of the relationship can persist. We want to know everything about the thing we are passionate about, and we want the thing we are passionate about to know everything about us. Passion usually comes early in a relationship. It is always intense. It cannot persist.

Now, this isn’t to say that passion for our work can’t be healthy, rewarding, or fun. But if our relationship to our job never evolves to what psychologists call “compassionate love,” then we may constantly confuse the form of what we desire to do with the function of what we love to do. 

Beth’s passion for creating content for an iconic entertainment brand was unrequited. She discovered that the job she loved was creating content that impacted people. She found compassionate love for her work – as well as less yelling and more money – as the director of brand journalism at a large financial services company.

Mike discovered that he wasn’t in love with starting a publishing company. He found love by rearchitecting his product marketing job and accepting that the software company wasn’t his passion. His job at the software company gave him the fuel to feed his true love of experiencing and feeding his love of food and wine. And because of that relationship with work, he wasn’t required to make a profitable business out of the thing he loves.

A quote usually attributed to poet Lord Byron says, “Love without passion is dreary; passion without love is horrific.” When it comes to work I wholeheartedly agree.

When we haven’t found love, all that passion becomes unremarkable. Intensity is just Tuesday. Passion becomes the fire that burns us out. But when we truly love what we do, those moments of passion, when we obsess, and completely lose ourselves in the intensity of the activity, are remarkable. Passion becomes the fire that fuels us.

Choose your fire carefully.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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