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The Cult of Passion Orthodoxy: Northfield Library Round Table

The “passion” philosophy puts a lot of pressure on those without a clear passion calling to identify one, with the implication being that if one identifies the wrong passion, they may end missing their true calling.

The Cult of Passion Orthodoxy: Northfield Library Round Table

Editor's note: The Library Round Table features several guest columnists from the  Northfield Public Library. This piece is from Jamie Stanley, reference librarian.


Guidance counselors, career advice books, news media, and other people often advise young people thinking about career choices to “follow their passion”. This advice is fine, for the small group of people who know their passion. It also presumes that all others have a pre-existing passion, if only they would have the courage identify it and devote the time needed to match it with a viable livelihood.

The “passion” philosophy puts a lot of pressure on those without a clear passion calling to identify one, with the implication being that if one identifies the wrong passion, they may end missing their true calling. Finally, there is the possibility that they may experience an existentialist crisis if they find themselves unhappy at work and wonder if they have misidentified their “passion”. This train of thought can lead to anxiety and/or job hopping.

The alternative to the cult of passion orthodoxy is the belief that the traits that lead people to love their work are general rather than specific. Decades of research on motivation have concluded and affirmed that these traits include a sense of autonomy, a feeling of competence, that is, being good at what you do, and that what you are doing is having a positive impact on the world.

While these traits can be found in many jobs, they do have to be earned and building the skills to acquire them requires time and sustained effort. At the inception of any new academic or career venture a feeling of ambivalence for your work is normal. The sense of fulfillment will grow as one grows more competent. It is important to remember that once you choose a particular path, the hard work you put in thereafter is what matters and that your passion for the work will deepen.

Autonomy, mastery and purpose are integral to the human condition. The Northfield Library has a great collection of print materials, e-books, and audiobooks to help you learn more about motivational psychology, and how to apply these concepts to your life. To learn more about this subject check out:

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. New York, NY: Riverhead Book, 2009. Call number: 153.1 PI

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge. New York: Doubleday/Currency, 1990. Call number: 658.4 SE

How to be Useful: A Beginner’s Guide to Not Hating Work by Megan Hustad. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. Call number: 650.1 HU

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2008.

Call number: 302 GL

Psychology Today Magazine. Available in print in the library.

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1993. Call number: 153.85 KO

The Sixty Second Self-Starter: Sixty Solid Techniques for Motivating Yourself at Work by Jeff Davidson. Adams, Mass: 2008 Call number 650.1 DA

Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best From Your People by Edward M. Hallowell. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business Review Press, 2011. Call number: 658.3 HA

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Perfomers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin. New York: Portfolio, 2008. Call number 653.9 CO

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How by Daniel Coyle. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2009 Call number: 153.9 CO

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