Passion is a Lie

I rushed through college. With all those classes flying by, there wasn’t much time to breathe — and yet there were a few things I learned.

My very first collegiate pet peeve: “It’s because I’m so passionate.”

I heard this all the time, often for the silliest of reasons. Dislike a political rival? Tell everyone who will listen that you’re better, because you’re passionate. Blow up in unrighteous anger? Defend yourself by proclaiming your passion. Desperate for attention? Scream out to the world how passionate you really are.

Professed passion smokescreens deep faults, and helps keep you in denial. In this sense, passion is a lie.

Passion itself isn’t a lie, because deep, unfailing devotion has its place, as does zealotry. When the cause is just, and when the tangible benefits are few, passion fits in. Passion, however, is no excuse for a lack of self-control.

Maybe that’s because I really don’t know passion as much as everyone else says they do; I don’t feel that strongly about anything, especially what profession I want, even now. I’m 21 years old — I don’t know what I want to do with my life, and I certainly won’t pretend to have some deep, unending passion for anything I don’t love or hate absolutely.

When I graduated college, I thought my years of hearing passion in the form of an excuse were over. Then I started the credential program, and got a peek at the profession of teaching.

On the very first day, in an context I was familiar with.

“It’s because I’m so passionate.”

I remain skeptical. In college, I learned this passion is a lie.


  1. Q

    I can’t decide how many teachers who say that are full of crap, and how many are sincere, but I can certainly empathize with your own lack of so-called passion. Since you seem to hold a somewhat similar world-view to myself, allow me to share an abridged version of my reasons for wanting to teach (this is the version you probably won’t hear in my interviews…)

    First and foremost, on a very base level, I want to teach for selfish reasons. It’s not about the kids, it’s about me. Of course I do care about the kids a great deal, but I would never, ever teach if I didn’t feel that it was a personally fulfilling job (this attitude also speaks to why I generally jump through hoops instead of trying to get around them—it’s easier to accomplish my own goals that way). I find people to be extremely fascinating. As a teacher, I get to interact with thousands of individuals, and even better, try to work out the ideal method to bounce my ego off of theirs on a daily basis. Even when my great love for my particular subject mellows, I can’t picture ever tiring of the endless carnival that is the human spirit. Thus, a job where I get to participate in the development of a young mind is extremely appealing to me.

    I’m also addicted to learning and personal development. I will be a good teacher not because I care ever so much, but because I want to learn as much as I can as well as I can, and I want to know how to apply that knowledge in the most effective way possible. I want this because I feel good when I learn new things. Fortunately, that desire perfectly correlates with one of the qualities of a great teacher. Figuring out the most efficient way to facilitate learning is also a fun challenge. I don’t mind if I mess up at times because I can always try again tomorrow (which is not to say that I don’t take student achievement seriously, I just don’t let mild failures bother me). That exploring one of my favorite subjects (history) is especially meaningful to my efficacy is icing on the cake.

    I’m not sure if it’s because I’m some kind of sideshow freak, but these motivations seem rather uncommon. I’ve heard plenty of the “passion” talk, of course, but the other side seems mostly to consist of the professionals whose language couches a different sort of passion to which I find myself equally indifferent. What’s wrong with working in a given career simply because you like it? Frankly, because of my own attitudes, I expect to be a very good teacher for a very long time. I won’t sacrifice my own well being out of a slavish devotion to the kids, and I won’t burn out because of an insatiable drive to be the perfect teacher. I definitely won’t ever be the tenured deadbeat in room 2C. I will simply love my job…

    ..Until I don’t; at which point I’ll move on with no regrets.

  2. But is liking the profession enough excuse to stick around, or do I really have to love it, like all of the “passionates” say?

  3. I certainly don’t think passion should be an excuse for unprofessional behavior or for comparing yourself to other teachers and, of course, trying to make yourself look better than the other teacher. That to me is passion misplaced or perhaps abused, like a “Sense and Sensibility” issue.

    I don’t think anyone would go into the teaching profession unless there were some aspect of the profession that appealed personally as a career. At the beginning, I didn’t want to be a teacher, but it does have its benefits. For my extroverted personality, it meant that my job would be active, challenging, constantly changing and growing, and offering a daily opportunity for public speaking and performance. It is a great profession for those who enjoy interaction. And, as mentioned by “Q,” the career requires constant learning and professional development. Even with a doctorate, you can’t afford to just let the professional development go. It is a lifelong learning career.

    However, beyond just the benefits to myself, I think that every teacher should at least feel a little twinge of passion for students. In the end, it should be more about them than about you. Their education should be just as important to you as your own. (Sorry if that offends.) When you are educating kids, their future is in your hands. Their choices in life and options are on some level determined by whether or not you are dedicated to their education. Their development psychologically and emotionally is also determined by whether or not you showed them care and love, or whether you just treated them like little education machines.

  4. I’m going to get all Wittgensteinian on you and claim that the way “passion” gets used in the context you cite is not the actual definition of passion. That is, it’s used as a substitute phrase for more specific self-evaluation. Hence: nothing wrong with passion per se, just it is an easy peg to hang on.

  5. Ms. Drake: What appealed to me about the teaching profession is, more than anything, the content and how it relates to real life. I wonder if there’s any translation for this into the actual profession.

    Mr. Dyer: Passion is a strong emotion, usually manifest through a kind of lapdog devotion.

    Unspecific self-evaluation and hanging on the easy pegs are other pet peeves of mine, not just how the word “passion,” mistaken or not, is used.

  6. Kathryn

    Finding personal fulfillment in your work is not necessarily selfish; ideally it’s a sign of vocation, finding the right work, the way things are supposed to be. Which is not to say one must have strong emotion about it. Feelings come and go.

    I am involved in religious education. A popular saying is “The Attitude is Gratitude,” which leaves some people out in the cold, wondering ‘what if I don’t feel anything?’ Scripture says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength….” I tell them, if you don’t feel it, work with what you’ve got.

    The same thing applies to work: passion is great if you have it, but mindfulness and commitment still count.

  7. What bothers me about passion is that I don’t feel it, but because I’m just at the threshold of the profession, now is an easier and more fortuitous time than any to leave it.

    Should I continue to shove my square peg self into the round hole of the teaching profession, or should I worry first about finding a better fit?

  8. I like what Kathryn had to say about emotions (I hope a little paraphrasing is ok here): basing decisions on emotions can cause bad decisions. Because (duh) feelings change based on any number of things.

    But if you’re a good teacher–you have the patience, the energy, and the skin for it– if you like what you do, and you’re in it for more than yourself, then you should stay.
    Passion is not required. Preferred, but not required. A slightly inappropriate analogy comes to mind–there’s a reason we have Viagra, right? You can find the zest for teaching if you need to, when you need to.

    “In the end, it should be more about them than about you. Their education should be just as important to you as your own.”

    Change can be exciting though. What else would you do?

  9. Q

    I appear to have contracted extremely-long-comment-itis. Bear with me.

    Mr. Baxter: It’s the aughts, baby, there’s nothing wrong with sticking around while you like it and leaving when you don’t. By regularly pondering what’s in it for you, and letting go of the idea that you have to give up everything for the kids, I think you’ll spare yourself a lot of aggravation. Sure, people like us may not “get it” in the way that the teaching-as-a-calling people do, but we’ll still be satisfied with our careers, even if we eventually move on from teaching. That’s also why I won’t work myself raw like the “professional” group might. I know for a fact it would burn me out and greatly reduce my personal well being, which would in turn impact my teaching in a negative manner. Because I’ve accepted my own limitations on those fronts, I can focus on being a good teacher and being happy, two concepts that seem mutually exclusive for some unfortunate souls.

    Your point is well taken about now being the time to get out–that kind of reasoning kept me from teaching at all immediately out of college–but I ultimately went back to it because I realized (among other things) that it’s OK not to be passionate. Assuming you are self sufficient and can ignore general idiocy, the only question you need to ask yourself is whether you’d enjoy the job. Even if you’re pretty sure you’ll be done with it in a few years, I would still say go for it. At least you would have that expectation going in, instead of flaming out brilliantly and without warning. You will also have picked up tons of transferrable skills, so I wouldn’t worry about getting that next job either.

    Amayala: No offense taken. I’m not even sure that I don’t take their education as seriously as my own, but my motivations are certainly different than most teachers. To wit, I educate myself for no other reason than that I like to learn. My career might partially dictate what things I study, but that’s a pragmatic choice on my part. As long as I’m learning something new, I’m generally happy, so I might as well pick things that make me more effective in the classroom.

    I want to be the best educator possible because the challenge is interesting to me and because I have always been a high achiever. I take the education of my (future) students very seriously because I dislike failing at what I set out to do. By choosing to be a teacher, I set out to teach, pure and simple. Sure, I really do get warm fuzzies seeing that look in the struggling student’s eye as he finally gets it, but that doesn’t drive me. Not even a little. That said, I wouldn’t mind if my attitude changed on that front, but if I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit that I’m not there just yet. Of course, I’m not even a real teacher yet, so my twisted world-view may be a fragile thing indeed!

    When I teach, it will probably never be more about the students than about me, but at the same time, if I sacrificed myself for their benefit, my unhappiness would make me a less effective teacher. But don’t fret on my student’s behalf. I will always treat them with patience, compassion, and humor, which ties back into the human element of the job that fascinates me so much. I like figuring out how to connect with people, even if only to satisfy my deranged interest in the human condition.

    Kathryn“if you don’t feel it, work with what you’ve got.” … A fantastic phrase! I agree. I like teaching, but I’m not passionate about it. Given how hard has been for me to find jobs I even like, however, I am definitely aiming to “work with what I’ve got.”

  10. Ms. Miles: It’s the “If you like what you do” that’s tripping me up. I don’t know if I like what I do, because I might just like the inertia of it all, rather than the act of continuing, or trying to continue in, the profession.

    Mr. Quigley: I’m glad there’s someone else in the world who calls this decade the aughts. You made me laugh.

    What’s been keeping me going is the knowledge that I don’t need to be passionate. I just need to like what I’m doing. For that issue, read the earlier part of this comment.

    You bring up transferable skills. Like what?

  11. samjshah

    I’ve tried to follow this post and the responses, and I have to profess: I’m confused. People are often times passionate about things. I’m passionate about math. At one time, I was passionate about the history of physics. Which means: I get so excited when I get to engage with them, sometimes to an embarrassing degree.

    But you seem to be annoyed with teachers (student teachers?) who claim to be “passionate” and that somehow makes them better people than the rest, by mere virtue of their proclamation, or something?

    My god, man, I can only hope you get out of the credential program soon!

    Who speaks that way when working full time in a school? It would be like a teacher telling another teacher “wow, look how noble I am because I sacrifice myself every day when I teach! I’m so passionate.” I would wretch. It doesn’t happen, at least not to any teacher I’ve talked to.

  12. I didn’t hear it from credential students, and I’ve heard it very few times within my department. I hear it pretty frequently in the copy room, interspersed within complaints about the local union and the district administration.

    I would wretch.

    So would I. I was never much the fan of martyr complexes.

    I’ve tried to follow this post and the responses, and I have to profess: I’m confused.

    You should read “Foolishly Trying to Change the World.” That entry really got jacked.

  13. elyse

    i think you are confusing “passionate” with “self-righteous” — there is a big difference, but only if you’re paying attention.

  14. That they use the word, “passionate” to describe their self-righteousness is part of my pet peeve.

  15. Pii

    Maybe you’re questioning your passion because of your removal from the credential program.

  16. Nice try, bozo, but I wrote this ages ago. The Collegian never got around to publishing a number of the blogs I wrote for them last semester.

  17. ok, maybe I have a whole different view of the world and the idea of freedom of speech. Your blog was honest, forthright, and brought many topics to the forefront. Am I understanding this correctly: you are being denied credentialing because of this blog? That is ridiculous if true.

    Although I didn’t always agree with you, it was an interesting conversation, and I’m always interested in how others think. Your position was not an easy one, student teaching in an inner city school where highly experienced teachers struggle to make it work. I give you kudos for being willing to take on the task, and I think it would be a credit to any resume.

  18. Yep, that’s about it. I appreciate your kudos, and I agree with you.

    Because you’ve followed this blog since just about the beginning, I think you’re be in a far better position to judge its merits than a committee which digs up all of the slightly questionable evidence it can, ignoring, of course, that the genuinely worthwhile parts outnumber the questionable by a vast margin.

  19. Pii

    Bozo? Seems that you didn’t like the cat coming out of the bag early. I’m sorry to have burst the bubble world you live in.

  20. As this entry foreshadows, I had every intent of building up to a suitable conclusion to the story of student teaching. As of this entry, I wasn’t finished up setting it up. I was understandably miffed, anonymous bozo.

    It isn’t a bubble world that this blog lives in. It was a story arc, and you read aloud the last page before this blog got there.

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