The problem with passion

ONCE upon a time we thought passion was a good thing. We recognised it as the ability to throw one’s energies fully into a project, a relationship or a cause. Passion meant that you were completely bought in and totally sold out.

Southern Sister with Thembe Khumalo

People looking to build energised motivated teams looked for leaders with passion to head them. Passion was what made you look for meaningful work rather than merely a job. But there is a problem with passion.

Like fire, passion is best enjoyed when it is burning low and quiet in a safe and contained space. In such a situation it infuses the entire space with warmth and positive feelings.

When passion is allowed to run rampant, however – well, just think about a forest fire – all consuming, unstoppable, devastating and very destructive! That is the fruit of unbridled passion.

In the past couple of weeks I have had occasion to come into contact with the danger of uncontrolled fire. The first was a fire caused by an electrical fault which popped a fluorescent light that subsequently burst into flame.

Although this fire didn’t burn much, it produced so much soot that the room in which it had occurred was uninhabitable for a couple of days after that. It eventually had to be repainted and much of the furniture thouroughly cleaned.

The second instance was when I flew Kenyan Airways catching a connecting flight at Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi.

This airport was recently extensively damaged by a raging fire, resulting in departure lounges being set up in tents outside. It was like a scene from one of those stereotypical movies about a crisis in Africa (not that I am denying the existence of a crisis!).

So with raw thoughts about the damage that something otherwise considered highly beneficial and positive can do, I began to see some similarities with the problem of passion. I started to understand why burnout is called burnout – because the energy you put into something, if unchecked, can eventually harm you. I suppose the ability to modify your passion is really a sign of maturity.

When you grow up you begin to realise that even the things that really matter should not break anyone. Learning to deal with joy in a way that is not disruptive and similarly accepting defeat and disappointment with grace rather than childlike grief, allow you to progress out of a crisis quickly. In fact, you may well find that once passions are tempered, fewer incidences really warrant being referred to as a crisis.

The beauty of tempering one’s passion is a more measured approach to both good and bad experiences and a calmer perspective, resulting in a greater sense of equilibrium all round. Of course there is a danger of letting the fire die out altogether and this must be guarded against. Because a life without any passion at all is barely worth living.

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