It always weirds me out when people say they want to do work they’re “passionate” about. I’m going to try to articulate a bit why I think that’s not only weird, it’s probably hurtful.

To begin with, “passion” is an emotional state. Emotional states are fleeting, and they’re a bad basis for making major decisions. Feel free to pick what you want to eat on your birthday based on mood, but please choose your regular diet and nutrition regimen based on information, logic, and reason.

All the best relationship advice out there says that while yes, it’s super awesome to feel “sparks” or “butterflies” when you meet someone, you definitely shouldn’t make long-term life-altering decisions based on that. Ask that person out because you feel butterflies when they walk by, yes! But buy a house and have three kids with them for… you know, much better reasons.

People say they want work they feel passionate about, but that’s simply asking too much of the world. First, you have to decide: what does that even mean?

What makes you feel passionate? About anything? You’re imagining a world you’re not prepared to define. Most people feel “passionate” about money, status, and not paying too much in personal costs for either. And I’m going to tell you something deeply uncomfortable: if you want to feel passion but you don’t know the answer to “for what,” then that probably describes you, too.

“Meaning” is not synonymous with “passion,” but meaning is what you should be pursuing. If I only work out when I feel “passionate” about it, then I’m definitely not going to get as much out of it as I will if I respect the meaning.

If you bring your own passion to something meaningful, that formula will tend to create a self-sustaining cycle. If you want other things from that, you can create them – things like money or status. That’s not nearly as hard as you think it is, but it almost always requires you to be really focusing on something meaningful and pursuing it. Passionately. The arrow points the other way; work doesn’t give you passion. Passion gives you work.

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