Don’t be Passionate


“Passion—it’s all about passion.

Find your passion,

Live passionately.

Inspire the world with your passion”

People go to Burning Man to find passion, to be around passion, to rekindle their passion. Same goes for TED and the now enormous SXSW and a thousand other events, retreat and summits, all fueled by what they claim to be life’s most important force. Here’s what those same people haven’t told you: your passion may be the very thing holding you back from power or influence or accomplishment.

‘Because just as often, we fail with— no, because of—passion’

Early on in her ascendant political career, a visitor one spoke of Eleanor Roosevelt’s ‘passionate interest’ in a piece of social legislation. The person had meant it as a compliment; but Eleanor’s response is illustrative. ‘Yes’, she did support the cause, she said. “But I hardly think the word ‘passionate’ applies to me.” As genteel, accomplished, and patient women born while the embers of the quiet Victorian virtues were still warm, Roosevelt was above passion. She had purpose. She had direction. She wasn’t driven by passion, but by reason.

George W.Bush, Dick Ceney, and Donald Rumsfeld, on the other hand, were passionate about Iraq. Christopher McSandless was bursting with passion as he headed ‘into the wild’. So was Robert Ffalcon Scott as he set out to explore the arctic, bitten as he was with ‘the Pole mania’  (as were many climbers of the tragic 1996 Everest climb, momentarily struck with what psychologists now call ‘goalodicy’).That all of these talented, smart individuals were fervent believers in what they sought to do is without dispute. It’s also clear that they were also unprepared and incapable of grasping the objection and real concerns of everyone else around them.

The same is true for countless entrepreneurs, authors, chefs, business owners, politicians, and designers that you have never heard of—and never will hear of. Because they sunk their own ships before they’d hardly left the harbor. Like every other dilettante, they had passion and lacked something else.

To be clear, I’m not talking about caring. I’m talking about passion of a different sort— unbridled enthusiasm; our willingness to pounce on what’s in front of us with the full measure of our Zeal, the ‘bundle of energy’ that our teachers and gurus have assured us is our most important asset. It is that burning, unquenchable desire to start or to achieve some vague, ambitious, and distant goal. This seemingly innocuous motivation is so far from the right track it hurts. Remember, ‘Zealot’ is just a nice way to say ‘crazy person’.

A young basketball player named Lewis Alcindor Jr., who won three national championships with john Wooden at UCLA, used one word to describe the style of his famous coach: ‘dispassionate’.  As in not passionate, Wooden weren’t about rah-rah speeches or inspiration. He saw those extra emotions as a burden. Instead, his philosophy was about being in control and doing your job and never being ‘passion’s slave’. The player who learned that lesson from Wooden would later change his name to one you remember better.

No one would describe Eleanor Roosevelt or John Wooden or his notoriously quiet player Kareem as apathetic. They wouldn’t have said they were frenetic or Zealous either. Roosevelt, one of the most powerful  and  influential female activists in history  and certainly America’s most important First Lady, was known primarily for her grace, her poise, and her sense of  direction. Wooden won ten titles in twelve years, including seven in a row, because he developed a system for winning and worked with his players to follow it. Neither of them were driven by excitement, nor were they bodies in constant motion. Instead, it took them years to become the person they became known as. It was a process of accumulation.

In our endeavors, we will face complex problems, often in situations, we’ve never faced before. Opportunities are not usually deep, virgin pools that require courage and boldness to dive into, but instead are obscured, dusted over, blocked by various forms of resistance. What are really called for in these circumstances is clarity, deliberateness, and methodological determination.

But too Often, We proceed like this….

A flash of inspiration: ‘I want to do the best and biggest —- ever, be the youngest —-The Only one to—–‘. ‘The firstest with the mostest’.

The advice: Okay, well, here’s what you’ll need to do step-by-step to accomplish it.

The reality: We hear what we want to hear. We do what we feel like doing, and despite being incredibly busy and working very hard, we accomplish very little. Or worse, find our self in a mess we never anticipated.

Because we only seem to hear about the passion of successful people, we forget that failures shared the same trait. We don’t conceive of the consequences until we look at their trajectory. With the Segway, the inventor and investors wrongly assumed a demand much greater than ever existed.

With the run-up to the war in Iraq, its proponents ignored objections and negative feedback because they conflicted with what they so deeply needed to believe. The tragic end to the into the wild story is the result of youthful naiveté and a lack of preparation. We can imagine Napoleon was brimming   with passion as he contemplated the invasion of Russia and only finally became free of it as he limped home with a fraction of the men he’d so confidently left with. In many more examples we see the same mistakes: overinvesting, under investing, acting before someone is really ready, breaking things that required delicacy—not so much malice as the drunkenness of passion. Passion typically masks a weakness. Its breathlessness and impetuousness and franticness are poor substitutes for discipline, for mastery, for strength and purpose and perseverance. You need to be able to spot this in others and in yourself.

The critical work that you want to do will require your deliberation and consideration. Not passion .It’ll be far better if you were intimidated by what lies ahead—humbled by its magnitude and determined to see it through regardless. Leave passion for the amateurs. Make it about what you feel you must do and say, not what you care about and wish to be. Then you will do great things.

Author: Adv. Maher Farzeen Ilyas

(The Writer is currently a permanent faculty member of UOL (Department of Law) & and having expertise in Islamic Jurisprudence especially in Family Laws.)

-Writer’s view may not necessarily reflect views of the Moderate Thoughts Research Center.


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