When is passion for our work positive? And when is it negative?
We sometimes hear that we should “follow our passion”. But what happens when we actually do have a passion for our work – or maybe for some aspect of our work? Is this positive? or is it negative? Actually, according to psychologist Robert Vallerand, it could be either one — depending on the type of passion. Vallerand has written a very interesting and valuable book called the Psychology of Passion: A Dualistic Model
Vallerand defines passion as a strong inclination towards an activity, an object, a concept, or a person. When we’re passionate about something, we value it, we invest considerable time and energy in it, and in some ways it becomes part of our personal identity.
Passion can lead to positive outcomes, but it can also lead to negative outcomes. On the one hand it can lead to our personal and psychological growth and development. It can also lead to the development of our skills and competence. But on the other hand it can also be quite negative, and this can be the case whether we’re talking about work-related passion or passions in other areas of our life.
Vallerand believes this is because there are two types of passion and that these can have quite different effects. He calls the two types harmonious passion, on the one hand, and obsessive passion on the other.
With harmonious passion, we can fully engage in the activity about which we are passionate, place a high value on it, and enjoy our involvement, but when it is time to stop working on it, we can leave it behind and turn our full attention toward something else. Harmonious passion seems to have a sort of freedom to it – – the individual is in control, not the passion. We engage in it because we decide to do so, not because we are required by outside forces or by the needs of a weak or defensive ego.
With harmonious passion we can also have a natural tendency to gravitate towards activities that are life-giving and that encourage our personal growth.
Obsessive passion, on the other hand, can have a compulsive quality. It seems to be driven either by outside forces, such as the expectations of others, or by a need to reinforce a weak sense of self worth. Because of its compulsive quality, it can be difficult to step away from our involvement in it. Even when we stop working, for example, we continue to ruminate about the object of our passion and therefore have trouble engaging fully in other activities.
The difference between the two types of passion has important implications for our work life. Harmonious passion is more likely to lead to higher creativity and higher likelihood of entering a state of flow or full absorption in our work and other activities. Obsessive passion is more likely to lead to burnout and trouble focusing on particular activities and relationships.
In this episode we discuss Vallerand’s book and the implications for our work lives. We also look for a possible spiritual connection.