The problems with passion

Posted on: May 9, 2011

Many years ago I bought a wonderful book called the best software writing II…  torn between the world of technical architecture and developing skills to articulate myself in a way others could appreciate, and even respect, the sentiment behind the book spoke to me. For, in specialising, we cannot help but sometimes lose footing in one world as we gain acceptance and comfort in another.

Ron Jeffries’ piece in the aforementioned book is the one that grasped me best from Joel’s Spoelsky’s compilation… and still does now. So I am taking the liberty of re-posting it here.. for anyone who has never read it. Please do. Before I let myself, momentarily, address the problems with passion.

Ron Jeffries:

I was born for passion, passion in my work and the people relating to it. I have great success in building teams with a mission and getting things done, and some great failures in the trying. I’ve had people love me and had people hate me, and while I prefer the love by a wide margin, I kind of prefer either to indifference. Because I’m not about making indifference, I’m about making a difference.

That’s what I think this movement is about: making a difference. That’s what I want it to be about: making a difference.

Here’s what I try to be, and what I like to find in those around me:

  • I want to stay the course with the people who converse with me, not just drift away as if no longer interested.
  • I want to argue passionately without rancor, let you call me names in the morning and drink in peace and affection with me that night.
  • I want to hold others in the true respect that allows them to be what they are, act like they will, while working as hard as possible to influence them to try other things.
  • I want to give my ideas away, confident that my little gift will come back to me manyfold.
  • I want to try every way I can to communicate with my colleagues, to get my ideas across and to get their ideas back in return.
  • I want to honor the passion that people feel, to honor the strongly held beliefs and ideas of others as much as I honor my own
  • I want to crash-test those beliefs and ideas hard against each other, confident that even better ideas will come out of the testing.
  • I want to assume that we do this from love, that we care about each other, and that we welcome the crackle of real passion, real work, the real interaction of ideas.

I do my best to be that kind of person. And I want to be with other people like that. Thanks for being around.

So, this is all good right? It speaks to the kind of world in which we want to live, the kind of people we want to be? Maybe.

But in reality?

My post here is in part prompted by this missive on passion by someone with a little less misty-eyed enthusiasm about the whole thing:

Dan Rockwell:

Acknowledging that passion may cause blindness is a good beginning

Well – so – aside from blindness… what is the problem? Where do I start…

The problems with passion

  • You will probably not fall into the right boxes. And this will make people uneasy
  • Friends and even family will talk to you and shake their heads, probably in pity, remarking .. you’re so busy… however do you find time for yourself (er, this is myself)
  • When you go for job interviews, people will comment on how interesting your CV is. They will keep you in rooms for hours and hours while they wheel different staff in and out to gawp at the circus attraction that is your life. They will be very enthusiastic about everything you have to offer – we are not talking handshake after… we are talking hand pump.. verging on kiss, kiss. But when you go away, they will reflect, and they will not call
  • You hate Ugly Betty [insert show] right up until the moment you get right into it and watch episode after episode until 2 in the morning
  • People steal your ideas.. big, small.. and make huge profits from them, because you know you’ve another one around the corner (see Tim Berners Lee for how that one works out)… you’re not that bothered
  • [Other] men / women will remark with a knowing glance… well I could never wear a silver jacket… or  never walk in those heels… (that’s right, because I’m never lending them to you)
  • You talk too fast
  • You expect an incredible amount from yourself – and sometimes almost as much from everyone else. This can lead others to feel they are letting you down… it can even lead your date to whimper, “are my dreams boring to you?”
  • You talk too much
  • You defy conventions that you didn’t invent. This means you may be the last to know what LMFAO means and the second last to join Quora
  • You write emails / blog posts that are wa-a-a-ay too long
  • You over-promise. Then in an attempt to out-do yourself, you also over-deliver
  • You love shiny things. To the point where you empathise every time a beautiful, misunderstood, solitary magpie, crosses your path
  • You may have worthy goals, but they are endless, they multiply as soon as you score
  • You sometimes mis-judge and think people are as excited as you are
  • You protect and play nice with the weak.. but can’t help but challenge the strong (to the point of career-suicide)
  • Your feet are not just sore from dancing all night [in heels], they are irrevocably deformed
  • People ask if you’ve ever thought of setting up on your own – even when you are sitting there, begging, interviewing, for them to give you a job
  • People mistake your kindness for weakness
  • You mistake your weakness for kindness
  • Your secret theme tune is something like The World is not enough… you have warm fuzzy dreams about Sinatra [My Way] playing at your wedding/ wake
  • You hate infographics… until the moment you get really jealous and want to make them, lots of them
  • You don’t have a pension.. you never stayed around long enough to build up a fund. You’re hoping when you’re old someone who stole one of your ideas will come back and gift you with a massive guilt cheque
  • That Lupe Fiasco track about those words you never said – that could never be you (although you sometimes wish it were, some of the time)

I still love the Ron Jeffries piece, but six years later I feel it’s as good a time as any to remark on the reality of passion… the crashing lows that come with the big dreams and the soaring highs.

It is, as Sinatra sang.. the tale of a lion’s ‘share of losing.’ It is banging and banging your head against brick walls that will sometimes, maybe never, ever yield.. but smiling and thanking them for taking the trouble to make huge, gaping, dents in you.

This, my friends, is an acknowledgment that passion is not always comfortable, or desirable, or welcome. It does not always open doors, it can sometimes slam them in your face.

I won’t ruin this post with a happy ending. For the point of passion is not the end, it is the struggle, the wind in your hair, turning your nose up at the downhill coast.. gritting worn-down teeth for the uphill slog. Passion is the act of crashing into the world all around, with love, and hope – knowing, of course, that you are doing it ‘your way.’


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