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Passion vs. Craftsmanship

Posted by Priscilla on December 9, 2013

passion.jpgEach succeeding decade brings with it a new theme.  We are now in the middle of the theme of PASSION. Visit any bookstore or browse Amazon for any length of time and you will see the theme of passion on display:  The Passion Test: The Effortless Path to Discovering Your Life PurposeThe Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Putting Your Passion Into Print: Get Your Book Published Successfully!,  to name just a few. I add to that list the book I came across this week : Steve Olsher’s What is Your What? The premise of the book is found in Olsher’s subtitle: Discover the ONE Thing You Were Meant to Do.

We are naturally drawn to the idea that we are born with one purpose, one gift, one destiny. It gratifies our hearts to think that there is one special niche for us. Literature is full of this idea. Heroes go on quests. For fun? No, to fulfill the one thing they were born for--to save the maiden, to restore the kingdom, to destroy the ring. Disney perpetuates the idea. There is one prince, one task, one outcome. We are drawn to finding our one passion because when we do, we convince ourselves, we will be happy. Behind every quest we begin is the driving need to find happiness.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be happy. In fact, it is right and good. A desire for happiness is, bottom line, the basis for religion. Even Christianity is built on the foundation that there is a possibility of happiness for us. Despite a cultural tradition that Christians are long-faced nay-sayers, true Christians know the meaning of festival, revelry, and delight. They go after happiness the way others go after power.  But: is our decade’s theme the true path to happiness? Will following our passion solve our ills and half of those of our neighbors?

I think not.


  • Passions conflict. Following our passion may cause more harm than good to those who live with us. What happens if my passion to build boats overrides the material needs of my family? What happens if I insist on quitting my job to write, but bills go unpaid? My concern for those who must live with our passions pales, however, next to my concern for us, the passionate ones.
  • None of us is made with a single arrow in our quiver. None of us is robotically programmed. The problem with finding our one destiny or the one thing we were meant to do is that is narrows us from being interesting, multi-faceted men and women into being a job. Am I the teacher, or am I a fascinating woman who loves politics, loves words, loves living with an open home -- and who just happened to enjoy teaching for  twenty years. Am I the Head of School (or head of any company) because I’m great at vision and planning and solving problems, or am I a life-long learner?  Who and what is the real me?
  • Passions grow and diminish. I have passion now for things I never thought about in my twenties. Should I cut off the possibilities in the future and seek only to fulfill the purpose I have in the present? I know a man who has a passion for  making music. But he also has a passion for helping people come into truth and freedom. Which passion should he follow?  For how long?

Cal Newport, in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, tries to debunk the idea that we ought to follow our passion. According to one reviewer, Newport insists that it is more important to become a craftsman (with rare and valuable skills) than to follow passion or seek to know our one and only destiny. There are several things I like about Newport’s premise.

1.  He recognizes the truth that nothing is ever wasted.

Every experience we have, every person we meet, every job we hold adds to us skills, understanding, knowledge, and wisdom. It is the gradual accumulation of these experiences that makes us passionate about something. We may think our law degree is wasted time and effort, we may wonder why we took two or three years out of life to go to seminary, but because nothing is ever wasted, we will someday be able to put those trainings to use in a way that no one else can.

2. He says that introspection is overrated. 

I believe introspection is dangerous. When we focus our thoughts on our thoughts, or focus our passions on our passions, we are like a fox chasing his tail. We go nowhere other than in circles. Worse, we cut ourselves off from others, from the world around us, and the world above us.  We become most thin.

3. He recognizes that we are creative individuals.

As created and creative beings, we change and develop over time. Becoming a craftsman and considering our craftsmanship when identifying our destiny is more productive than landing on a single passion. Craftsmanship is fluid. It takes into account the whole of our lives.

My daughter, a recent college grad, interviews for jobs and is often asked, “What is your passion?” or even “Do you have a passion for [x career]?” She was ashamed to answer “I don’t know,” and “No.”  But I believe that her lack of passion is wonderful, for it has given her new skill sets in disparate fields. It’s not unlike the power of a liberal arts degree over career training. She can think, she can imagine, she can turn on a dime.  She has the ability to be so good, her future employers won’t be able to ignore her.

What does this mean for the writer?

I believe it means this:  do not be quick to own writing as your passion. For writing is nothing more than setting marks and shapes down on paper. Instead, be a generalist. Take an interest in everything and everybody. Recognize that you have multiple passions and that as you change and grow over time, so will they. Out of a life fully lived, you will find enough material and enough truth to keep putting marks onto paper. Some of those marks will reach reader’s hearts and because you are a true craftsman, the readers will want more from you. Then, you will move into your destiny. Then, you will find happiness.

What do you think?



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