Is passion necessary to achieve career success?

Published on: Aug 16, 2021

When considering important decisions regarding one’s career, passion is the new magic word. More and more people are no longer looking at their job as a mere source of income, but are trying to find fulfillment in their profession. We often hear that work done with passion is not work at all, as it involves less stress and tends to be easier. From this perspective, one might conclude that people who are passionate about their jobs have higher levels of performance than other workers. This raises the question of whether passion is necessary to lead a successful professional life. This post will look at what passion is, how passion affects everyday professional and personal life, and what consequences it has on people’ s individual lives.


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For most people, passion is a familiar concept, but one that they cannot clearly define. This is certainly due to the fact that passion is intangible and is often described as an emotional state. Thus, it is useful to first refer to a commonly used definition. Vallerand et al. (2003) define passion as

a strong inclination toward an activity that people like, that they find important, and in which they invest time and energy.¹

Thus, an activity can only be performed passionately if the acting person attaches a value to the activity and uses the available, own resources to perform it. However, as part of their influential work, the authors developed a model that distinguishes between two different types of passion: obsessive and harmonious. While the internalization of an activity into one’s identity occurs autonomously in harmonious passion, it occurs in a controlled manner in obsessive passion. External factors may create pressures that lead to internalizing certain activities because of the outcomes associated with them. In this case, individuals no longer control their passion but allow it to control them.² This dualistic model has been referenced by a variety of authors in recent years and forms the basis for research studies in a wide range of disciplines.

Before considering the implications that arise from the two types of passion, we will first consider how passion affects work life. Following the definition above, individuals who have integrated their work into their own identity pursue their work with passion. In general, being passionate about one’s work leads to higher performance output, as stress levels are lower and it is easier for the acting individuals to focus on the work or they are less prone to distractions and excuses. However, it should be kept in mind that passion is not necessarily reflected in behavior or performance. Nevertheless, it also makes sense from an employer’s perspective to foster employees’ passion and offer them inspiration. In practice, however, this becomes challenging, as it is difficult for external parties to influence the passion of individuals, as it usually comes from within. However, more and more people are looking for activities they can enjoy and assign meaning to as part of their professional activities. Thus, one approach for companies would be to invest in an environment that fosters these factors.³

Passion is only meaningful in the work environment if it is associated with an economic benefit for society. Otherwise, the corresponding activities are more of a hobby than a profession. Passion in the context of work therefore remains a luxury for many people, which they consider unrealistic. In addition, it should be emphasized that obsessive passion in particular also brings negative consequences. To be successful, passion should be paired with a rational mindset. In particular, the ability of critical thinking is a key prerequisite for harmonious passion. While harmonious passion can be considered a significant component of career success and job satisfaction, obsessive passion has the potential to destroy one’s career. When individuals are consumed by their own work, it can lead to conflicts between work and other activities. When obsessive passion reaches such a high level that non-work activities and interpersonal relationships are neglected, this has a negative effect on well-being in the medium term. Harmonious passion, however, allows a clear boundary to be drawn between work and personal life so that these conflicts do not arise. Thus, while harmonious passion has a positive impact by promoting flow and creating a positive affect toward an activity, obsessive passion can increase the risk of burnout and impact both personal and professional life.

Almost all people have a passion. The problem with this, however, is often the lack of economic value, so that the activities that are carried out with passion constitute a hobby. In recent years, however, many new opportunities have emerged for individuals to turn their hobby into a profession. One example are various YouTube channels and other social media platforms. Individuals or small groups of people professionalize their hobby and combine it with components from the entertainment segment, so that an economic value is created here and one’s own passion can be used to earn a living. However, this path is not an option for everyone, and it would not even be possible for everyone to earn a living in this way. What seems to be more problematic is the environment in which we currently operate, as we are constantly being told that we need to monetize our passion. This can create a certain pressure that could have a negative impact on our lives and our decisions. Even though many people claim to be passionate about their profession, it can be assumed that these individuals are more likely to perform individual components of their professional activities in a coercive manner. Keeping this in mind, individuals should not be discouraged if they are dissatisfied with individual facets of their work life.

Nowadays, it has become normal for people to change jobs continuously instead of spending their entire working lives with one organization. Regardless of what one thinks of this development, it also creates new opportunities. This circumstance allows individuals to try out many fields of practice, fosters curiosity, and usually opens up new opportunities. Rather than committing to one area early on, individuals could experiment, and such job rotation potentially increases the likelihood of finding a profession that involves activities that are performed passionately. In addition, it is likely that one’s personality changes over time, so individual passion could also be subject to a process of change. If a person’s identity changes, the activities that were integrated into the previous identity are likely to change as well. Overall, while harmonious passion can be understood as a driving force in work life, obsessive passion could pose a threat to one’s career. Unless individuals want to jeopardize their individual well- being and social contacts, the focus on passion should remain within limits. Otherwise, the disadvantages may outweigh the benefits created by passion.

In answering the question of whether individual passion is necessary to be successful professionally, we must first distinguish between harmonious and obsessive passion. It is undisputed that we find activities that are carried out with passion easier than others. However, passion should remain controllable, so that professional and private aspects can be separated. If this is the case, passion can be a source of energy that positively influences one’s career. However, if passion takes control of the person and his or her actions, this inevitably results in conflicts that affect the individual’s well-being. When making important career decisions, it is beneficial to take one’s passion into account as long as the decision-maker is aware of the risk associated with obsessive passion.

¹ Vallerand, R. J., Blanchard, C., Mageau, G. A., Koestner, R., Ratelle, C., Léonard, M., Gangné, M. & Marsolais, J. (2003). Les passions de l’ame: on obsessive and harmonious passion. Journal of personality and social psychology, 85(4), Page 757.

² Vallerand, R. J., Blanchard, C., Mageau, G. A., Koestner, R., Ratelle, C., Léonard, M., Gangné, M. & Marsolais, J. (2003). Les passions de l’ame: on obsessive and harmonious passion. Journal of personality and social psychology, 85(4), 756-767.

³ Pollack, J. M., Ho, V. T., O’Boyle, E. H., & Kirkman, B. L. (2020). Passion at work: A meta‐analysis of individual work outcomes. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 41(4), 311-331.

⁴ Bushardt, S. C., Young, M., & Beal, B. D. (2018). Understanding Work Passion: An Important Element for Career Success and Improved Quality of Life. Journal of Organizational Psychology, 18(2), 23-29.

⁵ Vallerand, R. J., Paquet, Y., Philippe, F. L., & Charest, J. (2010). On the role of passion for work in burnout: A process model. Journal of personality, 78(1), 289-312.

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