Passion for Work: A Double-Edged Sword

Last Updated May 4, 2011 2:02 PM EDT

Passion a Double Edged SwordAll good things in life are double-edged swords. Wine is great, but too much too frequently is bad news. The same is true of all our positive attributes. Self-confidence is critical to business success and personal happiness, but overconfidence can be equally destructive.

Passion for work is no exception.

So, where do you draw the line? Lots of people are fond of saying, "all things in moderation." While I think that rule may work for some people, it doesn't apply in the slightest to the passionate among us - scientists like Einstein, entrepreneurs like Jobs, artists like Van Gogh - to name a few famous examples.

It's a tough problem, to be sure. But a play I saw in college, that left quite an impression on me, may provide some insight.

Equus is the story of a 17 year-old youth who blinds a bunch of stabled horses with a spike and ends up being treated by a shrink. The boy's passion for horses turns out to be a contributing factor in his heinous acts. In contrast, the shrink realizes how barren and pointless his own life has become and comes to envy the boy's passion.

Okay, a stable girl, sex, and nudity had something to do with it, but that's beside the point.

As a sort of passionate youth myself, it's not surprising that the story stuck with me. Looking back on it now, I can see the fallacy in the story. The shrink was neither passionate about his job nor his marriage. So his envy of the boy is understandable, if not of his own making.

The boy, on the other hand, was the victim of bad parenting. Sorry, that's another non sequitur.

In any case, passion is indeed a double-edged sword. It's not easy to control or, as they say, feel "in moderation." Nor should you, in my opinion. That said, if you find yourself on one side of the equation or the other and you're not sure what to do about it, here's some advice that may help.

If you find you're going overboard or feeling too passionate about work, your career, whatever, the answer isn't to become less passionate about that. The way to achieve balance is to seek out other things you might also be passionate about - love, family, racing, philanthropy, writing, friendship, art, whatever. And yes, it works.

If, on the other hand, you feel a void, as if something's missing in your life, the answer isn't to go out and maim some horses. Let me take a stab (sorry, no pun intended) at solving the problem. In all likelihood, and almost certainly on some level, whether you're consciously aware of it or not, you know what it is that's missing.

If it's in your personal life, like you feel stuck in a lifeless marriage or something like that, I'm sorry, but that's not really my thing. But if there's something you've always wanted to do and you don't get out and do it, I've got a prediction for you. Someday, you're going to be old. You're also going to be bitter. That's a bad combination.

You see, Robert Browning once said, "... a man's reach should exceed his grasp." It's a powerful statement that's come in handy for many an important decision in my life.

It doesn't mean you should perpetually reach for the stars. That would be ridiculous. It does mean, however, that unless you've reached enough, you're not going to be happy. How much is enough? That's subjective. You'll know. And whether you succeed or fail is irrelevant, in my experience. It's reaching that matters. So go out and reach.
  1. Are You Missing Your True Calling?
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  3. Should We Measure Success Like Donald Trump - by Wealth?
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