March 19, 2014

Crimes Of Passion

Today I am doing something I almost never do -- a guest post. The post was written by my good friend, Marcie Judelson (@MarcieJudelson) for her blog Chronic Fatigue. She has given me permission to reproduce it here.

My topic today is something I feel very passionate about; namely, the egregious overuse of the word "passion".

I can remember when I was quite fond of "passion". Once upon a time, "passion" was a term mostly reserved for expressions of romance and desire. As in "10 Ways to Put the Passion Back in Your Marriage," steamy Harlequin Romance novels, and swarthy Argentine Tango dancers. What's not to like?

One could also be passionate about a cause or one's art. We expect artists, dancers, and musicians to be passionate about what they do.  They operate in the rarefied world of Art, where passion is practically a prerequisite. I have no problem with that.

The problem is that today, suddenly everybody is passionate about everything. Passion used to be an extraordinary commodity. Its scarcity was part of its allure. But no more.  Now passion is plentiful.

Passion has lost its power. And has become something else: a tepid cliche.

I trace the overuse of the P-word back to the 1980s. Specifically, I blame advertising, and wine advertising in particular.  All of a sudden, it wasn't enough to just make wine.  Winemakers had to be "passionate" about their "craft".

That's when passion met its P-word partner: pretension.  And it all went to hell from there.

Soon, passion crept into food.  The more we fetishize food, the more passionate we get.  You can no longer simply like dark chocolate, coffee, or Greek yogurt.  You have to be passionate about those foodstuffs. Or fashion. Or yoga. Or your favorite brand of toaster waffles.

Being passionate about hair products and sundried tomatoes is bad enough. But now, passion has infiltrated Corporate America. In short, the P-word has been co-opted by the HR Industry. This is especially true in tech, marketing and other creative industries. And this is where it gets ugly.

Have you perused job listings lately? If so, you already know that practically every posting now includes the exact same requirement:  "Must be PASSIONATE about _________" (insert something excruciatingly boring here that no one with functioning synapses could possibly be passionate about.)

Do a quick search on or any other job site and I can guarantee you will find the P-word mentioned in virtually every posting.  Never mind...I'll do it for you.

Here's a recent sampling:
"Must be passionate about customer experience"
"This job requires a passion for great storytelling"
"You are motivated, a team player, and passionate about sales technology"
"Must have a passion for creative excellence"
"Requirement: A deep, loving passion for the Lyft community. Join our creative team and tell the story of our passionate community" (Note: Lyft is a ridesharing company in San Francisco for people who are apparently passionate about driving around with strangers.)
And then there is this actual job posting for the CEO job of the yoga wear company, LuluLemon:
"You are passionate about doing chief executive officer type stuff like making decisions, having a vision, and being the head boss person."
There's so much passion in these postings, it makes me numb.

Passion in the workforce used to mean something fun and exciting -- like someone in Accounting was making breakfast for someone in Quality Control. Now it's just a condition of employment. Sort of like not having a prison record.

This is disturbing on many levels.

When you equate "passion" with work, it elevates the work itself (and the company doing the work) to a level of importance and faux altruism that is rarely, if ever, deserved.

I recall seeing a job posting for a well known local gaming company. It included this gem: "You are passionate about creating games that can change the world." So now I guess the geeks writing code for "Grand Theft Auto" will be getting seats on the Security Council.

What's worse, and more than a little troubling, is that the new corporate requirement for "passion" just happened to coincide with the Great Recession and record joblessness.

At the very same time millions of highly qualified, experienced people found themselves out of work, employers decided to up the ante. It was no longer enough to be skilled, dedicated, conscientious, and a hard worker. Now, you had to be "passionate" about doing your Excel spreadsheets or proofreading 6 pt. legal copy.

Why the sudden lust for "passion?" I have two equally cynical theories.
Cynical Theory #1:  "Passion" is code.  It's Corporate Speak for "must be willing to work around the clock and enjoy cold pizza at your work station." This is why job postings for start-ups require super-charged, prodigious levels of passion.
Cynical Theory #2: Companies are trying to screen out old people and attract low-salaried (or no-salaried) Millennials. Employers know that while many of the current crop of twenty-somethings may still be living with their parents and dining out on Groupons, they imagine themselves as uncompromising passion puppies. They won't stoop to accepting just any job. Oh no. These special young people need to be passionate about their work. It's a generational entitlement.
So much for my bitter theories. At this point, I'd like to offer up some historical perspective.

Passion, as it relates to work, had its birth in the classic 1970 bestseller, "What Color is Your Parachute?" At that time, "following your passion" was a radical — and very appealing — notion. It certainly was to me. I bought every edition of that book — as did millions of others. But now those dog-eared books sit on my bookshelf, mocking me.

Many of us never found our passion. At least not outside the Simmons Beauty-Rest. And in many cases, our parachutes never deployed.

Then, just as our colorful parachutes were deflating, Oprah arrived on the scene and single-handedly created her own Passion Industry. More than anyone else, I blame Oprah for creating the passion for passion.

O, The Oprah Magazine, is chock full of articles such as "Find Your Passion", "Take the 'What's Your Passion?' Exercise" and "Live Your Passion." The assumption being that if you are truly passionate about, say, knitting afghans, you can simply ditch your claims adjustor job and make millions with an online startup called "KnitWits." You go, girl!

But what if you don't find your passion? What if you don't have the moxie, the luck, the spare time, or the trust fund to find your passion in a career? Can you still like your job, without being "passionate" about it?  Is that acceptable today?  Can a job be...dare I say it?... a job?

Maybe you can channel your passion into other things. Perhaps it's even better when your passion isn't your job. Because then the things you truly love aren't tainted by the harsh realities of boorish bosses and klutzy clients.

By now you may be thinking that I'm just not a very passionate person. But, Dear Reader, I can assure you that you're wrong. As a matter of fact, I'm passionate about many things.  Cutting through bullshit is just one of them.


Tom Donald said...


Jim Fraser said...

Marcie is spot on with Theory 1 and Theory 2. Theory 3 says: 'the American Way is to take perfectly wonderful words and hollow out their meaning, rendering them useless to Man'. See 'awesome', a word that, as the brilliant Chris Miller observed, should only be used when some awe is involved.

Sharp said...

Great have summed up my entire confusing 20's. I'm just on the edge of being a millennial, being 30, and for the last 10+ years I've been obsessed with "finding my passion". It's like it was drilled into us growing up that we needed to find something we're passionate about, no matter how mundane, always supplemented with many examples of people who have succeeded and now "skip to work everyday" because all they did was follow their passions. It's made me feel like I'm not passionate about anything, because I'm yet to skip to work everyday!

So thanks for this, you've helped me feel sane again..

Dazzlr said...

There's a move from from the 'Follow your passion' rhetoric towards a interest in Mastery of tasks and Craft skills.

Cal Newport makes fair points in his book, 'So Good They Can't Ignore You.'

john p woods said...

I always thought it was just about finding something you are good at.

Cecil B. DeMille said...

For employees, I would settle for people who just plain care. Care about making the work as great as we can. Care about the details. Care about each other enough that we're not up until 2am every goddamn time we have a client meeting. I don't want someone to be having hourly orgasms in their cube - it's counterproductive in any industry that isn't porn.

As for usage, passion is overused, as is love. Love was once a very important word, but our society is prone to hyperbole. We can't describe something as it is. We have to describe it as something fucking amazing or what's the point? Pisses me off. "Best blog post ever!" Fucking really? No.

That's the wellspring from which a lot of it flows. We have no respect for words nor are we anchored, as a whole, to reality.

Sharp said...

I'm afraid I disagree, becoming a master specialist node in a giant system to be used as a tool isn't my idea of passion, particularly in the sense of how the word passion used to be used

Larry Asher said...

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, wisely noted in a recent WSJ interview that, "success causes passion more than passion causes success." In other words, it's easy to be passionate about things that are working out, and that distorts our impression of the importance of passion.

Patrick Scullin said...

I followed my passion, until I realized it was lost.
Nice post.

Dale Cooper said...

you can also add the phrase "I reached out to" to this list.

Randy Kershner said...

Love it. Thanks for sharing this guest post. Marcie now has a new follower. Bob, always enjoy your posts, as well. Carry on!

Joe said...


British comedian, David Mitchell, had this to say on the very same subject:

Some truly preposterous uses of 'passionate' here...

Marcie Judelson said...

Joe - that is absolutely HILARIOUS! Thanks, you made my day.

Linked Media Group, Inc. said...

Nicely done Marcie: loved the segue from "What Color is Your Parachute" to Oprah. Can't wait to hear about a startup designing a "bullshit filter" app with a $1B valuation. #tongueincheek

dave trott said...

Judy and Bob,
Sorry this is a bit late, only just seen it: