Saturday, April 20, 2013

Is passion overrated?

Post from MR about an Ivy League grad who asked "what should I do with my life?"

From a young age we're taught to follow our passions. The myth goes, just follow your passions and you'll live a happy, fulfilling, wealthy life. But Max brings up a good point - what if you don't know what your passion is? It seems like you either have a passion or you don't. Tyler admits he doesn't have a good answer to the question. The best he can do is tell Max not to worry about it, "passion isn't a value in and of itself." At first this answer sounds like a cop out. But the more I think about it the more I like Tyler's answer. Why are we assuming that having a passion is a good thing?

As I started writing this post I browsed some quotes about passion. After reading a few dozen quotes something struck me, this whole idea that passion is a good thing is a relatively modern idea. When talking about passion modern writers and thinkers usually say something along the lines of Hegel: "Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion." But classical writers and philosophers write about passion very differently, usually something along the lines of Cicero: "He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason." Clearly these two writers have very different views of passion. To what extent these reflect social values of the time, I'm not sure. But I would guess that modern thinkers embrace passion, or at least view it more highly, than the Greco-Romans did 2000 years ago.

So has this passion thing gone too far? Are we teaching too many children to follow their passions? Is there more to life than finding and living your passion?

I've never had much of a passion. I certainly do a lot of things with passion but I have yet to find that one thing that I feel I was put on the Earth to do. And I suspect I never will. For a long time I've viewed this lack of passion as a problem. What if it isn't a problem? If I was following a singular passion I might have never explored music, economics, Roman history or the writings of Montaigne. What if my lack of singular focus has resulted in all my intellectual and social exploration? As Cicero wrote, passion requires irrationality, a certain lack of reason. No doubt the world certainly needs people who see the reasonable thing to do but decide to do the opposite. But if too many people follow their passion and decide to be writers or artists or play sports who will run our factories, build our bridges? Perhaps Hegel is correct, nothing great is accomplished without passion, but I would add that plenty of good is accomplished without passion.