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Post No.: 0827passion


Furrywisepuppy says:


Personality is often considered far more important than academic performance when it comes to post-academic success – it’s arguably about assertiveness or dominance balanced with tolerance, sociability (it’s ‘who you know, not what you know’), self-acceptance and responsibility, along with achievement via conformance balanced with achievement via independence; depending on the context.


I suppose there isn’t just one definition of ‘post-academic success’. Yet is it right for it to be usually more about being able to schmooze, sweet-talk or wing it, and about ‘who you know, not what you know’? And does this mean that most academic courses don’t actually fully train people to be successful in the workplace?


Passion, as a part of one’s personality, or at least attitude, is also often specifically presented as something that’s more crucial than anything else as an employee or entrepreneur. With enough passion, you’ll apparently be self-motivated enough to learn whatever you need to learn to succeed if and whenever you need to. This passion will supposedly conquer all obstacles that may come your way. It should translate into putting your all into each and every working day, or training session if one is an athlete, because you’re hungry. And it’s ostensibly much harder to teach or instil passion than academic knowledge too.


Passion is perceived by some to be even more vital than skills, qualifications and experience in this fast-moving world. Well there’s ‘good’ experience and ‘bad ‘experience i.e. not all experience is useful or is still presently relevant, and it may mean we are stuck in old outdated ways or with bad habits. This world and the markets change fast nowadays and people who don’t think with preconceptions – including those who might actually have limited rather than extensive experience in an industry but who have enormous curiosity – could offer fresh perspectives and come up with something novel?


Most of all it’s about having heart and energy, which can be contagious to those around oneself if one is part of a team too.


…But, as usual, it’s more complex than that. Harmonious passion is a healthy intrinsic joy in an activity; whereas obsessive passion takes over our lives at the expense of other fulfilling activities. The latter is more likely to express when we aren’t satisfied with other areas of our life; and rather than intrinsically driving us to excel – it merely pushes us to desire to extrinsically appear better than others and to avoid failure because of our insecurities under social comparisons. The key I suspect is to take an activity seriously but to not take yourself too seriously, and to spend more time cultivating other interests, hobbies and relationships too. There’s more to life than work or any other particular single activity. Woof.


More critically, the notion of passion or a fervent self-belief or faith in what one is doing is often overused because people frequently present these attributes as a substitute for doing thorough research or an honest risk assessment. They become substitutes for facts or sense. Or substitutes for talent or competence – as if simply wanting something more makes one deserve it more. Or they’re often used as excuses if one is caught spreading BS claims – as if proving something with hard evidence doesn’t matter if you really have deep faith in it. Relatedly, potential is arguably an overrated notion too – the world is not divided between those who can or can’t, but by those who do or don’t.


An unwavering passion and belief in what one believes is what zealots and hardcore conspiracy theorists exhibit. Terrorists have an extremist passion for their causes too! Adolf Hitler was ultra passionate about what he believed in and wanted to do! He was also go-getting and ambitious, probably thought ‘life’s too short so go for it’, believed that ‘nothing is impossible’, that one should ‘never give up on one’s dreams’, he didn’t let anyone tell him ‘no’, and other popular clichés(!) And if something like a mountain should be conquered simply because ‘it is there’ then maybe a country should be invaded simply because ‘it is there’ too?! Therefore such mantras don’t themselves make an endeavour honourable. They cannot be used to justify one’s actions or behaviours. And they’re often inspirational-sounding but trite and oversimplistic advice once you analyse them!


The Theranos – a health technology company that was mired in scandal – downfall has hopefully taught or reinforced lessons such as the dangers of relying on blind positive thinking in believing that one’s product really works or will be made to work; of overconfidence; doing whatever it takes to chase a higher social status through financial success and avarice; of investing in something that sounds too good to be true without checking the alleged proof first whether regarding the technology or seeking externally-audited financial statements; and investing in something just because other big-name wealthy people have already invested in it, because of the media hype or because of who was on the board. It may make one feel slightly better to know that one wasn’t the only fool but how one gets fooled matters (one company, MedVenture, had real expertise in the medical tech sector and asked the right questions, and ultimately didn’t invest).


‘Fake it until you make it’ was misapplied to mean lie or BS until you make it. However, such practices are par for the course in business, especially in high innovation sectors. Things are routinely passionately over-hyped, and a common trick in business is to pretend you’re more popular (which is inferred to mean more trustworthy) than you really are. ‘Fail fast’ and releasing a minimally viable product might be okay with a piece of software, but we shouldn’t accept any bugs with medical products that affect lives. Dreams are sold and bought into. People are told what they want to hear. Detractors are silenced or sacked for not being ‘team players’. NDAs are aggressively used to maintain secrecy, where whistleblowers are hunted down and threatened i.e. a culture of fear and ‘how can one win unless one has more expensive lawyers than theirs?’ Tough questions are evaded, data is withheld, ostensibly to protect one’s intellectual property – but of course to someone who’s considering committing fraud, a norm of secrecy is quite convenient.


Investors often judge the person and his/her ideas, but can put excessive faith in the passion and ambition (and perhaps even physical attractiveness) of a person and too little consideration into the competence and feasibility of the ideas i.e. judging a book by its cover. If you don’t quite understand what someone is promoting, you may instead be persuaded by their passion for it – substituting the question of ‘is it a good idea?’ with ‘do they believe in it?’


Being a maverick who believes in oneself isn’t always a great thing either – former (extremely brief) British Prime Minister Liz Truss ignored the advice of umpteen experts in 2022, and the British public paid the price for it. Elon Musk did a similar thing during his first months at the helm of social media platform Twitter.


Protecting proprietary trade secrets is also a reason why it can be hard to find out much detail about a company’s new ideas and products. And aggressive lawyers are hired to protect a company’s reputation, to scare anyone from inside or outside who might spread some negative publicity about the company or products (similar to how an authoritarian state behaves). Whether it was a case of deliberate deception from the very outset or it developed into one as the reality couldn’t match the hype – millions of dollars were lost.


Anyhow, things probably won’t change! Businesspeople who fluked it by evidence of the ‘secrets’ they try to impart onto others – like ‘fake it until you make it’, ‘say yes to everything’, ‘live each day as if it were your last’ (which would lead to taking overly risky and unhealthy short-term choices) or ‘if you fail then it’s only because you lacked enough positive thinking’ (we should believe in ourselves yet not venture into arrogance or delusions) – are listened to with less critical scepticism because they’re seen as successful people.


Others are ignored no matter their level of knowledge, especially those who failed (unless it involved a high-profile fraud case like above), even though we know that greater lessons can typically be learnt from failures. We must be cautious when we hear stories about entrepreneurs who believe in ‘faking it to make it’ through their passion, or modelling the image of success to persuade investors and customers into believing in them. We must be cautious of billionaire cult figures as with anyone else.


It’s almost become a cliché for an individual or business to claim to be passionate about this or that anyway – it’s no longer a point of difference or a unique selling proposition because almost everyone claims to be passionate in what they (want to) do.


Employers still love passionate workers though because genuinely passionate, intrinsically-motivated workers can be exploited since they’re more likely to work harder and for longer for lower pay! For the rest, they’re expected to, pretend to, show passion in jobs they aren’t passionate about!


Whether passion is considered a vital motivator – instead of something like duty or serving the greater good – is cultural though. Mainly ‘Western’ cultures value passion, whereas ‘Oriental’ cultures value duty. ‘Western’ employers frequently seek passion from job candidates, but this means that they can be biased against introverts who are more reserved or people from other cultures who express their passion not through explicit emotional displays (which can be easily faked – especially just for the interview) but though their dedication and work.


Motivation, rather than passion, can make the difference in wars – highly motivated fighters defending their own country will typically easily defeat conscripts who aren’t entirely sure why they’re fighting in a foreign land. Passion should lead to motivation, but wanting something badly doesn’t always translate into putting your life on the line for it.


If you have high conscientiousness, rather than passion, then you’ll have a great chance of being competent at anything you desire to do because you’ll care to do a first-rate job; which means you’ll care to learn and train how to do a first-rate job. (I personally find it bizarre why some people don’t want to do a top-notch job at whatever they decide to do, including colouring in neatly within the lines of drawings or making things straight, unless one is a kid or has a problem with one’s eyes and/or coordination.) One needs to care more than others, more than want something more than others. Passion should not be considered as a substitute for discipline, hard work, skill and perhaps experience. (Well if it’s an acceptable substitute for academic performance – one could question why someone didn’t have the passion to achieve highly in academia too?!) Desire should lead to action, but it’s really about the action rather than the desire that counts. We hear of too many companies that claim to care passionately about the environment but their actual actions contradict that.


Having said all that about the cautionary tales of passion – people do want to hear your passion, people will more likely follow those with a great passion for something, and so it helps to emphasise your fluffy passion in what you believe in; especially if you work in the ‘West’. Play the game – see Post No.: 0814! Expressions of passion do work wonders for PR. It’ll help garner you votes, jobs, sales and followers. Yet from the other side, we must learn from cases like Theranos and the Nazi Party, where enterprises or manifestos have been loftily hoisted beyond where they should’ve been, through getting caught up in someone’s passionate fervour.


Woof! You can tell us where you personally stand on the subject of passion in the context of work, business or politics by using the Twitter comment button below if you’d like?


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