Giving passion the heave ho

What do I want to be when I grow up? Should I apply for that job or not?

What if higher ed is my purpose and I won’t let myself be excited or passionate because I think I am supposed to want something else? Like a non-profit job or something more cause-y? (Survivor guilt is real.)

Passion. Blerg. That nebulous gold standard that higher ed professionals think is a prerequisite to advancement, success, and fulfillment.

Usually, I am able to rein myself in and talk myself down from the passion precipice. Some days it takes longer than others. Thankfully, yesterday was an easier day. Because deep down, when I shut out the noise, here is what I know to be true.

You can be good at something and not have it be your passion.

I know plenty of colleagues who aren’t passionate. They are professional, timely, honest, committed, organized, focused. They come to work every day. They do good work. Then, they go home and live their lives. Wake up. Repeat. And really, working on a college campus isn’t such a bad place to not be passionate! Most campuses are beautiful. Here in the Midwest I get to witness the changing seasons. I work with young people who challenge me. Higher ed is relatively stable. I am fortunate to have health insurance and retirement benefits, and vacation.

What does passion even mean? Who says? When did passion become the measuring stick of higher ed professionalism? Who makes all these silly rules and why do we believe them? I am calling your bluff, higher ed.

In his pithy and profound book, Let your life speak, Parker Palmer wrote:

“Trying to live some else’s life, or to live by an abstract norm, will invariably fail- and may even do great damage.”

Abstract norm (passion). Great damage (self-doubt, survivor guilt, fear, anger, self-loathing).

What if I get a new job and hate it? What if I get a new job and don’t hate it but still do good work? There is no passion switch. It’s not like some magical position will be created just for me (or you) and then all of sudden I’ll wake up and say, “Now I am passionate!” One of the priests from our parish, Fr. Joe, used to say, “You don’t do one thing once and then say, Oh, now I am holy! It’s a process!”

I am choosing to give passion the old heave-ho and flipping the script for myself. I will no longer let other’s expectations of my passion dictate what I apply for (or not), how I choose to operate on a day-to-day basis (or not), and how I choose to see myself.

Passion and work are not mutually exclusive. You can have one without the other. Passion doesn’t automatically make you effective. You can be good at something and not have it be your passion. I think that is threatening to some people in higher ed. It confuses them because they drank the passion propaganda and believe that they have to be passionate to fit in, to be effective, to be professional, to be liked and relatable.

I wrote this post last night and didn’t hit publish because the passion demons (kind of like dementors in Harry Potter) got a hold of me and I chickened out. “What if some future employer finds my blog (doubtful) and they don’t like what I wrote and then they don’t hire me?” Yeah, what if? There is nothing I can do about that. And, if we hire people for passion instead of efficacy, efficiency, professionalism, relationship-building capacity, potential, education, and experience…well, then, I think our profession has bigger problems than lack of passion.

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