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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Passion Versus Practicality: Do What You Love

Guest post written by Daniel Oon Wei Rhen
The Pencil Box
We’ve all been hearing this advice with alarming frequency, be it on buzzfeed, personal blogs, collegehumor.com, the radio, popular TV series etc. – which is “you should always do what you love in life.” This advice has become so ubiquitous that it has gone on to take the form of a catchy one-liner, do what you love (usually abbreviated as DWYL or #DWYL).

Personally, I find this advice to be potentially disastrous. It is easy to misconstrue the message as a simple case of “finding one’s passion,” as if each one of us have this pre-existing passion waiting to be found, and once found, money and success will naturally follow suit. Real life is a lot more complicated than that, and most of us do not have this “passion” to begin with. We have interests and hobbies, yes, but the passion that we feel when we are doing something we like is different from the deep passion that accomplished individuals feel after devoting their entire life into perfecting their craft and building a formidable career.

I think what Steve Jobs meant when he said “you’ve got to find what you love […] don’t settle” during his Stanford commencement address is not simply to find one’s passion or to follow one’s passion. It is a lot more nuanced than that. I think it means that one should decide on an interest/passion and devote an incredible amount of time and energy into cultivating that passion. Steve Jobs did not suddenly discover his true passion in the Apple computer. He stumbled upon it by accident when he was trying to think of a clever scheme to earn $1000. At that time, he was actually “passionate” about eastern mysticism. But even then, he knew about the astounding potential of the Apple computer, so he made a conscious decision to devote all of his time and effort (with his buddies in his parent’s garage) into developing the iconic Apple computer that we know of today.

This is not to say that we should not invest in our passions or that our career trajectories should be decided solely upon monetary gains. All said and done, life is not a zero-sum game. We are, after all, human, with all of the complexities, emotions, passion, zest and hunger for fulfillment that comes with being human.

Do What You Love What You Do

That being said, what is implicit in the mantra “do what you love” is the idea that when one is working on something that one loves; it is a lot easier to devote a lot of time and energy into being the best at it. I think most people misinterpret this message and end up living a life of perpetual job hopping, never finding that one true passion that will bring in all the money, fame and success. What comes with pursuing one’s passion is a lot of hard work, discipline, tenacity, perseverance and grit. It is not easy to spend 60-80 hours a week working as a sous-chef at a 5-star restaurant under a verbally abusive boss all the while being paid a pittance, nor is it easy to spend countless caffeine-induced, sleepless nights writing a thesis on Heidegger’s conception of intersubjectivity.

There is no such thing as discovering a deep-seated passion lying dormant within oneself. The secret lies in cultivating a passion that you have consciously decided upon, and putting in the hours and hard labor into it. Once you are really, really good at what you do, monetizing your passion wouldn’t be difficult. Then you would experience true passion, which comes with having gained the respect and autonomy as a leader in your chosen field. It is easy to focus on the successes of others, but not acknowledge the countless hours that these highly accomplished and driven individuals have put into cultivating their passion.

Daniel is a first-year student at Curtin Sarawak who has a penchant for all things related to Sociology, Government and Analytical Philosophy. He spent two years in a boarding school in India and four years in America. Daniel has traveled widely and is always down for a spontaneous trip to an obscure part of the world. He loves cooking and treasures the company of good friends. Daniel enjoys writing and has contributed to The Pencil Box (www.jclathepencilbox.org), a community of high performing college students who are interested in spending their time away from classes to develop world-changing ideas.
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