The Problem with Passion

Passion. That word is thrown around so frequently as one of the greatest values in a person. We are all supposed to strive to be passionate. When we write applications, we are told that the number one priority is to show passion. We say that if we are passionate enough, if we care enough, if we want it enough, surely people will notice and we will succeed, beating others who have more talent, intelligence, and experience—we will make up for it with our enthusiasm.

So we say. Yet for something so highly praised and often encouraged, passion is surprisingly rare. There are two major reasons for this: practicality and fear of vulnerability. As students, it has been hammered into our heads over and over that we should enjoy learning for the sake of learning—that learning is a beautiful thing, but the more pressing reality of college also haunts us. Certain things must be done—high grades in advanced classes, varsity sports, clubs, leadership positions—that cause many of us to do things we do not care about at all. Pragmatism keeps passion in check even beyond college. When deciding careers, we know that we should choose an occupation that we are enthusiastic about, but realistically, the pay check and the risk of failure are also factors we keep in mind. A typical story that discourages us from our aspirations: a girl has a dream of becoming a movie star, so she goes to a performing arts college. She goes to audition after audition trying to land a role, but she never does and she eventually finds another job with a steady salary. Unfortunately, for the most part, following dreams is unrealistic because compromises are unavoidable.

Other than practicality, the second reason for lacking or hiding enthusiasm is the fear of exposing ourselves. When we are passionate about something, we reveal our emotions and leave ourselves open to judgment. Most of us are not comfortable with the idea of being so defenseless. To deal with this, we keep our cool, and put up an act of bravery. Even as Third Formers, when all of us were obviously stressed and anxious about academics and fitting in, we donned our masks and smiled blithely, desperate to hide our emotions and pretend as though we knew what we were doing. As Oscar Wilde said, “The first duty in life is to assume a pose. What the second is, no one has yet discovered.” Although even our country itself encourages individuality and acceptance, people rarely reserve judgment when people show passion.

Actually, that is not entirely true. People save their scathing comments for those who show enthusiasm in a subject that is not considered fashionable. Performing arts and athletics are perfectly acceptable, yet when people start academic clubs, they frequently find themselves under criticism. Grotonians, myself included, regularly mock each other humorously or ironically. In most cases, the comments are harmless and amusing, but when someone has invested true emotion in something, whether it is a piece of art or a club, even harmless jokes can be offensive.

On the one hand, passion is admired, but on the other, it is the opposite of practicality and composure. It is difficult to balance pragmatism and passion, and being passionate demands that you lose your cloak of poise and calm and bare your beliefs and emotions. It is strange how society encourages and values passion yet has customs that limit passion. However, despite the obstacles that society presents, passion is not extinct at Groton. Students endeavor to achieve high grades and as a result inevitably sacrifice a portion of social time or sleep, but they also take classes that interest them. Not every activity is for the purpose of a better college application. People risk criticism and judgment when they design FSAs and tutorials, start clubs, or take classes for no credit. No matter where you are, showing passion always means you are taking a chance and leaving yourself vulnerable to judgment, even at a close community like Groton. Being so open and candid takes courage, and we should acknowledge people for that, as well as efforts to do activities for its own sake rather than college. As for passion in life beyond Groton and college, it is not impossible. Ideally, you are genuinely intrigued by a career that also meets your practical demands. But since life is never perfect, your dream career may not be financially ideal or be realistically possible. Compromise is inevitable—you can choose between the dream job or the financially ideal one or reasonably achievable one. Perhaps your passion will be a hobby or a side project. What is nice to know is that at least we have choices, and whatever happens, there is always something we can be passionate about.

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