Work Versus Passion – Puppy and The Plough


“A strong passion for any object will ensure success, for the desire of the end will point out the means”
– William Hazlitt

Imagine the last time you had to work on some dreary task – something you truly dreaded.  Go on, close your eyes and do it.  I bet just now, merely thinking about it changed the way you felt – your emotions. You may even have furrowed your brow, grimaced, tensed up your muscles or pursed your lips. Just thinking about it likely changed your body language.

Now close your eyes and think about a time you were doing something you loved.  Perhaps a hobby, sport, or working towards a dream of yours. How does that make you feel?  I bet your body language and feelings changed again.

That difference in attitude is the difference between how we approach doing something because it’s work (something that you have to do) and doing something because it’s your passion (something that you want to do) – and we’ll explore that a little in today’s post.

Note that in this case, when I say work I don’t necessarily mean your career. There are plenty of people in jobs and careers they love.  I’m taking my definition of work from the general productivity sense of “stuff I don’t want to do – but have to.”

The Puppy And The Plough

Pulling A WeightI was thinking about this recently, and the best analogy I could think of is working is like pulling a plough.

The plough is cold, hard material – it has no feeling, no desire to go anywhere, and you don’t want to pull it!  However, if you want to get anything accomplished, you have to muster up the motivation and determination to pull it anyway.   That’s what work is like – you don’t want to do it, but you suck it up and get it done.

Passion on the other hand is like walking a puppy.

Have you ever taken a puppy out for a walk?  You can barely control it! When you’re inside the house, as soon as it hears your pick up the leash it starts running in circles in anticipation.  It gets excited.  It starts clawing at the door trying to get out. As soon as you get outside, what happens? It tries to run up the street. It runs to the next tree.  It practically pulls you behind it,  and about all you can do is guide it in the general direction you want to go.

Now that’s what following your passion is like.  When I”m working on an exciting piece of software, or writing a new song on guitar, or even writing new articles for this website – once I get started, the project practically does itself.  I get in a zone – I forget to eat, I forget to shave, I literally will start falling asleep at the keyboard sometimes because I have to force myself to sleep!

Work Versus Passion – Energy Levels Over Time

Another way of looking at this is considering the long term impact of work.  In the short term, we can put up with just about anything – but what are the long term ramifications? I think they look like this:


Work: Over time our “energy” (motivation and actual physical energy) goes down over time the longer we work on something we don’t want to do.  What keeps us motivated to keep working? I think it’s small accomplishment boosts from payoffs. For example, occasionally we’ll get paid, earn a bonus, get a pat on the back – or perhaps we reach a short term goal because of the work we’re doing.   Nonetheless, the general trend is downward – and without enough payoff, we’ll eventually reach a point where we can’t stand it anymore. The work in and of itself is not rewarding.

Passion on the other hand I’ve found generally increases my energy over time – almost regardless of progress. When I’m passionate about something, I go to sleep and wake up even more motivated to work on my projects than the night before.  When I accomplish a small goal, it helps to further fuel my momentum – but with passion, the general trend is upward anyway – and (I didn’t show this in the graph) this helps push me through short term setbacks without losing enthusiasm.  The activity itself is rewarding, and I continue doing it even without bonuses to motivate me.

Note that these are extreme examples.  For me, most of my passions involve some amount of work, so it’s not always exciting. For example, I don’t especially like some aspects of software development, like tracking down frustrating bugs, but these short term instances of work don’t impact my overall passion for it.

Final Thoughts

What do you think? What are you passionate about? Share your thoughts with me in the comments, over email or over Twitter!

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