Passion - Why you won't 'find' it



True to form, I missed my romantic cue - I didn’t write this ahead of Valentine’s Day on February 14th. Not to worry, why declare my love on only one day of the year? Passion in my personal life or passion for my work, shouldn’t I have it in abundance all year round?

If you’ve been to a Brave Starts New Member’s Welcome you’ll have learnt we issue a cautionary note about expectations of finding, or even having, a passion for work.

Sunday Times columnist Matt Rudd addressed the issue of passion in his 22nd January article, “For years I’ve been searching for my passion. I’ve looked everywhere – in the loft, down the back of the sofa, under the flowerpots. Nothing. No passion…Annoying.”

And that’s from a national, weekly newspaper columnist – a ‘dream job’?

But as Rudd notes, you must, they say, “find your passion”. A Yahoo search will return 34,600,000 results for ‘find your passion’. Good luck.

Psychologists have defined passion as “a strong inclination toward a personally meaningful and highly valued activity that one loves, finds self-defining and to which substantial time and energy is invested.”

That sounds familiar, but questions remain. How will we know if we are passionate about something if we haven’t tried it? The reality can belie the idea. Is being passionate about something even healthy?

Don’t laugh - which comes first, the passion or the effort? Michael M Gielnik, of Leuphana University of Luneburg, et al. studied 54 entrepreneurs to examine that question. Most theoretical frameworks propose that entrepreneurial passion drives entrepreneurial effort. They found that entrepreneurial effort predicted changes in entrepreneurial passion. Furthermore, that effect was affected by progress and autonomy.

In other words, if you choose to put enough effort into anything and it goes well, you could become passionate about it.

Being passionate about something is generally associated with positive effects of wellbeing. However, psychologists generally taken a dualistic perspective on passion.

In their meta-analytic review, Thomas Curran et al. note the distinction between ‘harmonious’ passion and ‘obsessive’ passion. Harmoniously passionate individuals do not feel compelled to do an activity but, rather, engage out the sense of identity and enjoyment. On the other hand, obsessively passionate individuals feel compelled to engage in an activity out of a need to self-validate and garner social approval.

Passion – how is it for you?

Adding to the complexity of the question is whether all of us are equally capable of a level of heightened emotional response that can be described as ‘passion’. Need that be a bad thing.

As Matt Rudd said in his musings, “The smallest bird in the garden, it brought me the most joy and made me miss my train…I don’t know whether this amounts to passion or meaning or even fulfilment, but I enjoy it…And that’s enough.”


Gielnik, M., Spitzmuller, M., Schmitt, A., Klemann, D. & Frese, M. (2014). "I Put in Effort, Therefore I Am Passionate": Investigating the Path from Effort to Passion in Entrepreneurship. Academy of Management Journal 58(4) pp. 1012-1031.

Curran, T., Hill, A., Appleton, P., Vallerand, R. & Standage, M. (2015). The psychology of passion: A meta-analytical review of a decade of research on intrapersonal outcomes. Motivation and Emotion  39. Pp. 631-655.

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