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 the word "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 a somewhat rare commodity. Its scarcity was part of its allure. But no more. Now passion is plentiful.
Alas, 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 toilet paper.
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 the job listings lately? If so, you already know that practically every single job posting now includes the exact same requirement: "Must be PASSIONATE about _________" (insert something really boring here that no one in their right mind could ever be passionate about).
Do a quick search on Indeed.com or any other job site and I can practically 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 an upstart ridesharing company in San Francisco).
And then there is this lulu...an actual job posting for the CEO 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 kind of makes you want to puke.
Passion in the workforce used to mean that someone in Accounting was having a steamy affair with someone in Quality Control. Now it's merely a standard job requirement. Sort of like not having a prison record.
This is disturbing on so many levels.
First, there's the aforementioned pretension. 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 designing code for "Grand Theft Auto" is on the same level as curing cancer. Right.
That's bad enough. But to me, what's worse is that the new "passion" requirement for employment just happened to coincide with the Great Recession and record joblessness.
At the very same time when 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. As if writing a hundred cover letters, filling out endless, impersonal online applications, and jumping through hoops wasn't enough.
Why the sudden "passion" requirement for employment? 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 an extra high level of passion. (Note to job seekers: Beware of that other ubiquitous job requirement, "Must thrive in a dynamic, fast-paced environment." Careful. Those words are an almost surefire guarantee that you will be eating cold pizza at your desk on a regular basis).
In other words, once employers were in the driver's seat, and could pick and choose from thousands of qualified applicants, they decided to screen out anyone who couldn't pass the Passion Test. But just how often do employers return the passion? We all know the answer to that one. How do you say "pink slip"?
Cynical Theory #2: Companies are trying to 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 won't stoop to accepting just any job. Oh no. These incredibly special young people need to be passionate about their work. It's a generational entitlement.
So much for my useless, and somewhat bitter, theories.
At this point, I'd like to offer up some equally useless 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 in the workplace. 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, of course you can simply ditch your boring Accounting 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 spare time, or the trust fund, to find your passion in a career? Can you still like — or even love — your job, without being "passionate" about it? Is that even acceptable today? Can a job be...dare I say it?...just a job?
Maybe, like a lot of us, 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 love aren't untainted by the harsh realities and demands of business.
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 the bullshit is just one of them.