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  • Brendan Stec

Be more than passionate

Passion, passion, passion. Mentors encourage us to "find our passion." When we interview for a job, we stress the passion we have for our goals and our career. We look up to passionate entrepreneurs, passionate artists, and passionate leaders. Because passion - unrestrained and fiery emotion - is the best force to push through all of life's obstacles, right?

Well - let's take a closer look at what it means to be passionate. For every passionate Steve Jobs, there is a passionate Elizabeth Holmes defrauding investors and misleading thousands of Americans. Napoleon Bonaparte's undisciplined passion drove him to march on Russia in 1812, where his 600,000+ army of men nearly perished within one year due to mass desertion and malnourishment. Christopher McCandless's excursion "into the wild" - full of passion but lacking preparation - quickly turned disastrous. The problem with passion is that its unbridled and unfocused nature encourages rash decisions and emotional planning, while humble concentration is the much better alternative.

Martin Winterkorn, former chairman and CEO of Volkswagen AG, was completely passionate about stealing market share in the large American car market in the early 2010's. But with American emission standards being much stricter than in Europe, Volkswagen needed to design stylish, sporty vehicles that also released very few emissions. Under Winterkorn's pressure to deliver a killer product at any cost, Volkswagen engineers built "defeat device" software into nearly 500,000 sold vehicles. This software allowed all of the vehicles to pass the EPA's emissions tests, all while spewing 40 times the permitted levels of toxic nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere. Passion can compel individuals to follow dangerous or irrational paths, even if these decisions come at the expense of human lives.

To get to a final destination, passion will provide plenty of fuel but no direction. Individuals who rely on passion alone can quickly be led astray just like Christopher McCandless or Elizabeth Holmes. That's why purpose - focused motivation - is so much more important. Purpose is saxophonist John Coltrane practicing scales for hours each day, or physicist Albert Einstein constantly practicing his thought experiments in the patent office. Purpose is a thoughtful goal followed by practice, practice, practice until we get there. And that's more concrete than mere passion.


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