Ken Robinson and The Element – Holding Passion Lightly

On my career psychology blog I wrote about Ken Robinson’s excellent video about finding and connecting with your passion.  I love this talk, and his book ‘The Element’, but I think there are a number of problems with his viewpoint from the perspective of finding one’s passion at work.

Your passion does not always translate into a career.
As Seth Godin once argued, some things are best left as hobbies. For example, my early talent was in sport, but I could never make it professionally and turning that passion into something sport-related is not going to meet the other criteria I have for a job. A passion is one element of many that needs to be considered.

 Passion is learned
It’s rare for us to have a truly natural, God-given talent or passion. More often, the things for which we have a ‘natural’ capacity are in fact learned. If they are learned, then unless we have already learned them we will not know what they are. Therefore, searching for your passions is misleading – we should be creating passion.

Passion is contextual 
The things we love are loved for many different reasons, and for those in difficult jobs the things they love are loved because they are a release from their troubles. Very often, ‘what we love’ is simple behavioural reinforcement of the relief we experience when not working. That’s why so many of us want to run B&Bs or cafes.

The flipside of what we really value is what we really fear.
For example if I value counselling people, I will fear the consequences of failing to help them.  Following a passion often comes with higher states of anxiety and fear. In my experience it can also come with higher states of uncertainty. ‘Is this really my passion’?

Exploring passion is a fantastic exercise. But if we cling too rigidly to the idea of passion, then we risk getting stuck right where we are.

What’s the answer?
We need to hold all thoughts – what we love, what we’re like, what we need to do to succeed – lightly. Thoughts can help us and imprison us. Far better to focus on identifying broad, valued directions to move towards, and developing a willingness to keep moving towards these.

Following your passion means bargaining with life that you must or should feel passionate about something. When we subsequently do not feel passionate about something we conclude we have lost our way.  In contrast, following our values is a moment to moment choice, that is available to us all right now.

4 thoughts on “Ken Robinson and The Element – Holding Passion Lightly

  1. Rob THANK YOU for these fanatstic posts—you have hit the nail on the head for me on a topic which I have long had a problem with—the dryness of values and the words used to describe them. Now, how best to delve into the sensual experience of our values when at decision points, ie before taking action? (Especially when at a slippery choice point in an addiction?) Any insight would be much appreciated!

  2. Catharina,
    That is an interesting question. For me, I think the sensation of living a value at a tricky decision point is sometimes uncomfortable and sometimes has a feeling of rightness. So, I can’t let how something ‘feels’ dictate my next move.
    This is where perspective taking can be helpful:
    What would an older, wiser me want me to do here?
    What would advise me?
    If I was being really compassionate to myself, what would I do?

    1. Hi Rachel, thanks, I love that. Martha Beck offers an interesting way of dealing with the uncomfy versus rightness feeling at choice points. She suggests sitting with the feeling for a minute and asking: does it feel like you’re about to jump into a crystal clear pool, or into sewerage? It actually works really well I think!

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