Passion Gets You Started; Perseverance Lets You Finish
Is Passion Enough?
You graduate from college with great hope and ambition. You seek opportunities that will allow you to do what you’re good at while also contributing to society and making a difference. You feel excited to wake up everyday and you enjoy your work. You’re making accomplishments and getting recognition for them. But one day, you wake up and it all seems bland. The spring in your step is gone and you can barely drag yourself out of bed. Your achievements at work no longer bring you motivation and you’re beginning to question why you do what you do.
Does this sound familiar? If you’ve ever been passionate about anything then you have likely also experienced the burnout that comes after. It is a gruelling process to discover one’s passion, experience the wonderful heights of working on it, only to lose it. You begin to feel empty; where once there was so much drive now there’s just a gaping hole. Sadly, this story happens more often than you think.
In “When Passion Leads to Burnout”, Jennifer Moss writes about how passion can become obsessive and ultimately self-destructive. She interviewed David Whiteside, who has a Ph.D. in organizational behavior and is research director at Plasticity Labs, who said “despite the clear benefits of feeling meaningfully connected to your work, our data suggests that there are often real and undiscussed complications of purpose-driven work on employees’ health that can be related to the experience of burnout long-term.”
It seems that too much of a good thing can be bad after all. Although passion is important, it’s not all you need to keep you going.
What is Passion?
Passion is one of those words we often hear get thrown around but we rarely try to pin down what it means to us. As a matter of fact, depending on the context, passion can mean different things. In this discussion about pursuing success and achieving goals, passion is defined as “a strong feeling toward a personally important value/preference that motivates intentions and behaviors to express that value/preference” (Jachimowicz, Wihler, Bailey, & Galinsky).
Given this definition, we see that we always identify passion as important in one’s work because it motivates us based on values and preferences we hold dear. This highly romanticized notion of work is what university students often hear when studying. It’s what is purported to be the Ideal, that one should work first and foremost because it gives them meaning and purpose.
Passion, A Potential Death Trap
Inherently, there is nothing wrong with the idea of seeking meaning and purpose. In fact, it’s an optimistic perception of work that characterizes success as alignment with one’s inner principles and superordinate goals. But the fact that this is an ideal means that there’s a wide spectrum in the field of work that deviates from this mold. And while it’s healthy to promote passion seeking and pursuing what the heart wants, it can as easily lead to the death trap that is feeling empty and worthless when one does not have it.
You see, what people don’t tell you is sometimes, you will have something you’re passionate about, and other times, you will not and that’s completely ok. But our society has so romanticized the notion of passion that when this “strong feeling” leaves or ebbs, we find ourselves wanting and deficient as if we should always be obsessed with a greater cause, and not being in love with an idea or pursuit makes you somewhat lesser of a human being.
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay
That couldn’t be further from the truth. In its nature, passion is an emotion; and like every emotion, it comes and goes. Emotions are a result of signals fired in the nervous system. Though they can be sustained through long periods of time, it is also entirely possible that they are fleeting. When the nerve impulses responsible for the feelings of happiness and sense of satisfaction you experience stop firing, then you stop feeling motivated and you become less passionate.
If you’ve ever experienced feeling excited and fired up to do an activity or start a project at one point only wake up one day and feel like you would do anything but that activity or project, then you know what I mean when I say passion comes and goes.
Besides coming and going, passion is also unreliable. Because passion relies on emotion and feeling, it can only motivate a person into action and pursuit of one’s goals while it’s there. However, when it leaves, one will no longer feel motivated to perform or go after one’s goals. This is problematic because it takes away one’s control over his or her performance; this also means that if we rely on passion and let it motivate our actions, then our chances of success are very slim.
The Importance of Perseverance in Achieving Success
It is near impossible to succeed when relying on something beyond your control. After all, regardless of how one defines success, success is not accidental. Success is something one achieves with full intention of designing one’s life in a particular way. This is why we cannot rely on something as unpredictable as emotions to drive success. Instead, we must rely on behavior, particularly perseverance, which is within our control to help drive success.
Passion Gets You Started; Perseverance Lets You Finish
Passion stirs one’s emotions and motivates him/her to start. In this respect, passion is but a spark. It motivates a person to do something, however its volatility makes it an unreliable fuel that keeps you going till you achieve your goals. That’s where perseverance comes in. With self-discipline and conscientiousness, one can persevere despite lack of motivation and it is this power that keeps a person moving forward.However, what happens when one loses passion along the way when pursuing a goal? Is perseverance enough?
Is Perseverance Alone Enough?
The difference between doing something with purpose and doing something doggedly lies in the existence of passion. With passion, what one perseveres in doing aligns with the principles and goals one has set for him/herself. Without passion, one is no different from a dog following its master. In both instances, results will come, however, the value of the results are worlds different. With passion, one’s work is meaningful and the results lead to fulfillment. Meanwhile, without passion, one’s work is empty and without direction; hence whatever results it yields are also empty, meaningless, and not rewarding.
While there’s nothing wrong with not feeling rewarded, directionless work is a lot harder to endure than one that is meaningful. Just imagine running on a treadmill. Would you run on a treadmill just because someone told you to, or would you run on a treadmill because doing so will make you healthier or shed some weight? Having a goal linked to an action always makes the act/ job more bearable to undergo. In fact, a lot of the time, without an internal motivation, most people don’t even get started on a task, and if they do, they don’t last. After all, why do something if it won’t do you any good?
Both Passion and Perseverance are Needed for Success
This is why the formula to success and achieving goals does not consist only of passion or only of perseverance. A person needs both passion and perseverance to keep going and eventually achieve that which s/he set out to do. From this understanding, the idea of grit emerged.
Photo from Ted Talks
In 2016, Angela Duckworth conducted groundbreaking research on grit, claiming it as the measure of one’s likelihood to achieve success. “Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals”. This changed the way we see work and achievement because it provides us a construct to help understand how we persist despite difficulty while still maintaining a sense of purpose.
Today, Duckworth’s contemporaries seek to refine measurement of grit by more faithfully implementing its definition and making passion more visible in the questionnaire used to measure grit (Kaufman; Jachimowicz, et. al.) I think this is a great effort to help us overcome obstacles and go after goals we hold dear. In our results oriented work, perseverance may make us resilient and good workers, but passion gives us purpose and makes our work and our lives meaningful.
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