Passion is over rated and useless


Allow me to start with being a nay-sayer, in a way, to Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford. At least to how we interpret that speech. You might have watched it on YouTube. That “Stay Hungry” video. The Follow Your Passion, or Be Passionate about work speech. That isn’t “really” what Jobs said, and nor does his source material. And, I am saying being passionate about work is a waste of time or energy.

That bothers you, doesn’t it? That is what we have been taught and is often repeated to us at work. That is what HR keeps telling you, and keeps stretching passion at work to engagement with the organization and hopes for reduction in attrition. Allow me to just point out that there is plenty attrition happening in organizations showing high engagement scores. One should question – what happens to all the passion, the energy and the emotion that people seem to display? There, obviously, must be a disconnect somewhere.

You may ask, how can one possibly work without any passion? How does one achieve without passion? The thing is, passion towards your organization or leadership is very different from that towards work at hand. You have noticed, surely, that you do better when you are calm, when you do not get influenced by anxiousness or are able to be unmoved by pressure. Have you not felt, being in the zone? That would be the state of स्थितप्रज्ञता  (state of being sthitaprajna, loosely defined as ‘unperturbedness’ ).

The virtuous circle driven by self awareness

The virtuous circle driven by self awareness

In short, less passion there is, better we work. “When we let loose our feelings, we waste so much energy, shatter our nerves, disturb our minds, and accomplish very little work. The energy which ought to have gone out as work is spent as mere feeling, which counts for nothing. It is only when the mind is very calm and collected that the whole of its energy is spent in doing good work …”. You get the general idea. Being calm is however, not the same as being inactive. The idea is to focus on the work rather than expending your inner qi on just being passionate. The next question, then, is how does one redirect the energy to work while being dispassionate?

There are different ways of looking at this, using different terminology. While the nuggets are about the same, some arrange it linearly and some circular; I postulate, it is a virtuous spiral in six simple steps which deserves your attention and effort.

1. Intent

Start with the basics, figuring the purpose or the intent behind the action, effort or task at hand. What is the outcome expected, from the task? Are the task at hand and the outcome aligned to each other? This ‘intent’ is different from what your personal goal might be, and thus highlighting the first possible place of disconnect.

2. Empathy

Be aware of the environment you are operating in, the environment in which the task needs to be executed. Does the environment support the execution of the task? The other key element is the inclusion of stakeholders, and empathizing with what their expectations of the outcome might be. Should their expectations not be aligned to the outcome that you foresee, then (obviously) you have trouble looming ahead.

“…as I read of persons who become frozen in snow; all such, they say, want to go to sleep, and if you try to drag them up, they say, “Let me sleep; it is so beautiful to sleep in the snow”, and they die there in that sleep. So is our nature. That is what we are doing all our life, getting frozen from the feet upwards, and yet wanting to sleep.”

3. Planning

What do you include, what do you exclude? Don’t get driven just by passion.  Just hope, desire, passion may disconnect you from the present, and are unlikely to get you the required outcome. Planning, likely will. Slow down, weigh, evaluate to arrive at the choices. Planning involves looking at data and connecting the dots, meticulously, making the right choices and arranging them in the right temporal order.

4. Elasticity

When one plans, does one go as far as one is capable? How about looking at stretch goals, beyond what one has done in the past? We often succumb to “good” and neglect the option of “better”. Take the risk, look beyond personal limitations, accept the vulnerability, tap into your creativity and be curious.

5. Perseverance

Ensuring outcome, with something new isn’t easy. I should know. I have been an entrepreneur four times (like many of you); have succeeded and failed. But, one would never succeed if one did not persevere. It ain’t over till the fat lady sings. Keep at it.

6. Letting Go

The silicon valley mantra “Fail Fast” is the first half of this desired behavior. This doesn’t mean giving up, but moving on – emotionally unencumbered by learning from the failure, and not repeating the same mistakes. Habits are difficult to let go, but we succeed when we practice enough. This is as much about flexibility, as about judgement about when to let go.

… finally

The diagram above shows a spiral, because the steps do not necessarily feed each other repetitively; the last step of letting go helps pivot into a larger realm. Hope the above provided a different view point to Job’s commencement address.

Of course, getting to this level of practicality will take effort and practice. How about giving it a dispassionate go?

  1. Practical Vedanta : Swami Vivekananda : Advaita Ashram
  2. Chandogya Upanishad : Divine Life Society
  3. An Interface between VEDANTA and Management- an Empirical Analysis : Information and Library Network Centre: B .Chandra Mohan Patnaik and Ipseeta Satpathy
  4. Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech 2005 : Stanford University
  5. The Art of Accomplishment: Six Principles from Vedanta : Prasad Kaipa, Ph. D., The Mithya Institute for Learning



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