"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"Isn't there anything you're passionate about?"

At a happy hour, one of my new Petting Zoo colleagues asked me this question: "Aren't you passionate about anything?" I was somewhat taken aback. Why, what could ze mean? Do I have to be passionate about something? If so, am I supposed to proselytize?

 I'm not sure I've been passionate about anything since my earliest years as a graduate student before academe's shine wore off. I think there was maybe that paper I wrote back in 2004. I was very passionate about turning that into my very first peer-reviewed publication. And then I published a few more and nobody cared. The butterfly flapped its proverbial wings and nothing happened. Oh, and I was pasionate about teaching, too. For a while. Until it became impossible to continue doing it without being a financial burden on other people.


Passion hasn't really been particularly useful as a life strategy for me.

 My goals these days are much simpler and less stressful than being passionate about something: 1) not be bored, and 2) earn a living wage while not being bored.

 So far so good!


  1. I went to a post-academic networking group awhile back, which was overall a very helpful experience, but there was one woman there whose advice to people just transitioning out of academia and not sure what to do next was "just follow your passion!" So not helpful as career advice. I think it's exhausting to have to be passionate about one's job all of the time, and in some cases (*cough* academia) it is used as a way to exploit people. Your goals sound quite sane and reasonable.

    1. Oh, yeah, that follow your passion crap is SO not helpful. It's what got us into this mess in the first place!

  2. The relevant kind of passion is the slow burn that keeps you calmly going about your business pursuing your goals on a daily basis for years or decades, and is rare. People who yap excitedly at cocktail parties about how passionate they are about their important goals are a dime a dozen, and tend not to make sustained progress actually achieving them.

  3. Thanks for the linke and mention. Passion was nice while it lasted. Which wsa most of my life up until that point. I think I'd gotten used to it and begun to take it for granted ... until it turned sour and poisonous. Now I'm learning how to get on without it and maybe figuring out what it's really worth being passionate about in the first place. We'll have to see where that leads ...

    The person who asked me that is a public interest lobbyist and really is passionate about the issues ze lobbies for. Ze works 12 hour days regularly and loses sleep at nght over things most of us just shake our heads over and whine about but don't actually try to do anything about. It wasn't a totally shallow question, but it's not something I can relate to well right now.

  4. I think more important is one's intellectual interest outweighing the bullshittery that comes with any job.

  5. It's funny. I said something exactly along those lines to Passionate Public Interest Lobbyist. Not the bullshittery part but that it was intellectual interest (not the academic kind -- more along the lines of how, from a practical standpoint, do you get democracy to work better?) that got me into doing the work I am doing rather than passion for any one issue or set of issues. Ze seemed genuinely mystified, but then that's why we have people like hir and people like me all working in the same program -- this one is going to take all hands on deck and efforts from all different directions.

  6. The 2 Year Life of the MindSeptember 28, 2012 at 8:43 AM

    Great points about passion! JC also posted on hir blog about passion and it's been a very important concept for me to ponder as I work on leaving academia. The fear that somehow once you leave the "friendly" confines of the stone walls that the rest of the world is uncaring, not passionate, and generally stupid is a myth that continues to be perpetuated. Passion is NOT the goal and is too intense to be used as a daily emotion. I believe it's the jet fuel that moves us forward when we need the extra motivation, but there are other things that keep us humming along (like regular unleaded - boring but keeps things moving).

    Passion IS exhausting and, imho, should be reserved for people and hobbies. As a money making strategy, it seems in direct opposition to the daily tasks necessary to make that money. The constant friction of the two would be enough to burn out anybody. Isn't that the issue in academia?

    I would love to adopt your goals for the job search and I will save them as my mantra and quote them again here (because they are so right): "My goals these days are much simpler and less stressful than being passionate about something: 1) not be bored, and 2) earn a living wage while not being bored."

    That about sums it up for me.

  7. Glad you find my goals helpful! By all means, reappropriate for yourself :)

    The fact that passion is too intense for a daily emotion doesn't stop Passnate Public Interest Lobbyist. Ze is all passion all the time. And at just under 5 feet tall, ze spins around the office every day like a little tornado. Having hir around definitely helps keep boredom at bay at least!

    I actually admire PPIL, but I have no desire to be hir or be like hir.

  8. The 2 Year Life of the MindSeptember 29, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    Wow. I guess you'd have to be if you worked as a lobbyist. Passion is 99% of the job (the other 1% is schmoozing and paperwork).

    I'll be sher's fun to watch though!

  9. Ze is a former journalist turned lobbyist (career changing is pretty normal outside academe!), and we have to collaborate on writing tasks sometimes. So not just watching but getting used to different personalities and work styles. Again, a perfectly normal thing outside academe!

  10. I don't think "passion" is what I'm looking for, but I do want to find a career in which I am satisfied and successful. My problem with "passion" is the suggestion that you solely focus on one thing and ignore all other aspects of your life, including your health and finances. I do, however, believe that I can find a job in which I have a balance. While I'm fine with having a job just to pay the bills right now, I don't want to spend the rest of my life at jobs that don't have significant meaning for me. I've been reading The Pathfinder lately, and it's informed the view I have on careers. It's not for everyone, but definitely worth a shot.

  11. I'm passionate about sleep... Doing it, not studying it.

  12. LikewizeZzzzzzZzzzzzzzzzZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzZzzzzzzz!