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Is Your Passion for Your Work Killing Your Career?

Thankful for his amazing passion- My Inspiration

I think and talk a lot about having passion for your work. This great article on The Creativity Post on how your passion for your work may be killing your career has me thinking differently though.  It differentiates between two different kinds of passion: harmonious passion and obsessive passion based on  Robert J. Vallerand's Dualistic Model of Passion:

Those with harmonious passion engage in their work because it brings them intrinsic joy. They have a sense of control of their work, and their work is in harmony with their other activities in life. At the same time, they know when to disengage, and are better at turning off the work switch when they wish to enjoy other activities or when further engagement becomes too risky. As a result, their work doesn't conflict with the other areas of their lives. When they are at the opera, for instance, or spending time with their children, they aren't constantly thinking of work, and they don't report feeling guilty that they aren't working. Questionnaire items measuring harmonious passion include: "This activity reflects the qualities I like about myself", "This activity is in harmony with the other activities in my life," and "For me it is a passion that I still manage to control."

Obsessive passion is a different story. Like those with harmonious passion, those with obsessive passion perceive their work as representing a passion for them, and view their work as highly valued. A major difference is that they have an uncontrollable urge to engage in their work. As a result, they report feeling more conflict between their passion and the other activities in their life

Not surprisingly, those who feel harmonious passion for their work, have better life outcomes all the way around, compared to those whose passion for work is obsessive. 

Harmonious passion is associated with higher levels of physical health, psychological well-being, self-reported self-esteem, positive emotions, creativity, concentration, flow, work satisfaction, and increased congruence with other areas of one's life. These effects spill over into other areas. Because people with harmonious passion can actively disengage from work and experience other parts of their lives, they report general positive affect over time.

In contrast, those with obsessive passion display higher levels of negative affect over time and display more maladaptive behaviors. They report higher levels of negative affect during and after activity engagement; they can hardly ever stop thinking about their work, and they get quite frustrated when they are prevented from working. They also persist when it's risky to do so (just like a pathological gambler). A reason for this is that their work forms a very large part of their self-concept. To protect their selves, they display more self-protective behaviors, such as aggression, especially when their identity is threatened. Those with obsessive passion also have a more negative image of themselves, being quicker to pair the word "unpleasant" with "self" than those showing lower levels of obsessive passion. This suggests that their persistence doesn't come from a place of intrinsic joy, but an unstable ego.

This distinction is critical to evaluate in ourselves. Harmonious passion is a wellspring we can draw from, while obsessive passion is an addictive compulsion that drains us. We need to understand and be clear about which type of passion is driving us at work. Key questions to ask ourselves here include:

  • Are you getting intrinsic satisfaction from your work or do you feel like you have to constantly work to prove yourself? If it's the latter, you may be obsessive.
  • Do you feel a compulsive need to work or are you able to easily disengage and enjoy other actitivies in your life? 
  • Do you feel "driven," as opposed to "engaged"? Obsessive passion is about "addiction" to work. The more you feel you MUST be working, the more likely you are driven by obsessive passion, rather than harmonious passion. 

On an organizational level, I think it could be a huge issue, too. Are we encouraging and rewarding people who are obsessive, rather than harmonious? How many workplaces, for example, seem to place a higher value on the obsessive type of passion? These are the people who have little work/life balance and feel a compulsion to work. In many organizations, these are the people who are rewarded and promoted and who end up setting expectations for their employees. If they are also the people more likely to bring negative behaviors to work, there's no wonder we are seeing more dysfunctional workplaces. 

Sorting these two types of passion out is important for us to do, both individually and as organizations. Where do you think you stand? 

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Sign up for my online Career Clarity Camp, starting January 9. You'll get a chance to look at the role that work plays in your life and to see what you can do to find harmonious passion for your career. 

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setting expectations for their employees. If they are also the people more likely to bring negative behaviors to work, there's no wonder we are seeing more dysfunctional workplaces.

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