Meta-Diction: Find Your Passion?

I called this post meta-diction, because I want to consider the larger conceptual and cultural implications of our word choices. Many voices within the personal development world espouse the notion that a person can create his or her own reality. If you couldn’t change your reality, why would you set goals, enhance productivity, and manage time? All of those aspects of personal development are based on the premise that you can change your life by changing your behavior, attitudes, and outlook.

The way we talk about our reality is certainly a component of much personal development advice. For example, we seek to eliminate that voice in our head that says, “I can’t…this is too hard…I’m tired…” and replace it with an empowering one.

So what about a personal development classic: “passion”? We’ve all been encouraged to find our passion, that one thing that will give our lives direction and make getting out of bed each day a joy.

This word gives me the creeps, and I’ll tell you why.

First, the word’s etymological root is not pleasant. It comes from a Latin verb, passio, which means “to suffer.” (Think of the movie title The Passion of the Christ.) So a writer might chooseto use the word “passion” instead of “delight” or “love,” in order to emphasize a feeling so powerful, it’s painful.

Considering the term in its fuller sense, therefore, finding your “passion” means finding something you’re willing to suffer for.

That’s why I don’t like the personal development application of the word “passion.” Just yesterday, I heard a person use it in this context: “I have a real passion for teaching people how to scrapbook.” Now, I enjoy scrapbooking as much as the next person, but a passion? It doesn’t strike me as the kind of art you’d cut your ear off for.

Do I think that people who call scrapbooking their passion are wrong? Absolutely not. There’s a lot of cultural pressure out there to define ourselves, to find out what we’re meant to do, to never waste a day of our lives. If you love to scrapbook, and you’d rather do that than just about anything else, then you have found fulfilling work and should run with it.

The problem is that somewhere along the line, someone swapped out “fulfilling work” for “passion.” “Passion” sends the wrong message.

I propose that we stop talking about finding a “passion” and start talking about finding your energy. That’s what I notice about people who are doing what they love to do: they draw abundant energy from their work.

What term would you like to see replace “passion” in our personal development lexicon?

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6 Responses to Meta-Diction: Find Your Passion?

  1. Great post, Loren. I’ve been thinking a lot about this since I’m working on a post that’s very much related to this – but I’ll leave the content up in the air for a tease. :p

    I agree that passion is not quite the right word, both for overuse and its lack of getting at what we want it to be. The braintornado that I’m having is located around play, muse, Flow, and fire – but I’m not catching onto any word that hits me right. Perhaps its time to coin one?

    I’ll keep thinking about it. There may be a trackback inbound if it hits me.

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  4. Kathy says:

    Great post, Loren.
    Nothing like looking at the root of a word to find its power. I hadn’t given a thought to passion’s negative connotations, but definitely will now.
    Or perhaps joy. I’m big on joy.

  5. loren says:

    Hi, Kathy —

    I love the idea of joy. Joy is a great thing to be big on!


  6. Wesley says:

    Hi Loren,
    I just found your website while looking for ways to improve my general writing and critical analysis ability. Your approach to the topic is refreshing and I’ve enjoyed the posts of yours that I’ve read so far. Please keep posting.


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