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πŸ“š Book: The Trouble with Passion

β€Œβ€ŒIt is inspiring and verh relieving to read this book. By putting the idea of passion as a driving force for one's work, the author makes the challenges of work seem much more surmountable.

Touted as an individual-level solution to the potential for drudgery and overwork in the labor force, passion-seeking seems to prop up the very system from which individual career aspirants seek refuge. (30)

The author also offers "alternative perspectives on labor force participation, such as prioritizing work that supports self-expressive hobbies, work that allows one to maximize time with family and friends, or work that is driven by the needs of one's community rather than one's personal interest." (30)

By providing a critical perspective on that refrain, this book raises the possibility of more complex narratives about good career decision-making. Fleshing out those narratives requires reconsidering whether passion should be the yardstick by which we measure good work. Other kinds of work can also allow individuals to manage the potential drudgery and self-estrangement of the labor force: work that is contained neatly within predictable hours with stable benefits, work that provides free time and resources to explore creative activities or volunteering, and work that provides ample time to invest with family and friends. The postindustrial capitalist labor force demands obedient, dedi-cated, overworking workers; passion, however, is not the only way for workers to confront those demands. (31)

Here is a quote that summarized some key points for me:

Putting the passion principle under the scrutiny of sociological inquiry doesn't invalidate passion-seeking as a possible vector for these self-reflexive projects. It merely raises questions about the moral authority given to passion-seeking. Is it always the best consideration for career decision-making? What kind of space can we open up for alternatives that fulfill self-reflexive projects but decenter passion-seeking? (231)

The book drew my attention precisely because I have always been a big proponent of doing work that one is passionate about. This approach is so deeply embedded within myself and my social circles that I have taken its validity completely for granted.

As we have seen, the passion principle is a cultural schema that elevates passion-seeking as the most desirable guiding principle in career selection. (164)

I have also taken my priviledge in pursuing my own passions and for advocating others to do the same.

The cultural value vested in passion-seeking may not only help perpetuate occupational segregation by gender and race/ethnicity; it may also serve as a conduit for the reproduction of class privilege and disadvantage. (34)

The book sparks self-reflection, but is also a direct call to action.

I urge career aspirants and workers to: recognize and reflect on the sociodemographic privilege that the passion principle both presumes and perpetuates; seek diversity in their meaning-making portfolios beyond paid employment and find other ways to further their self-reflexive projects; and champion collective rather than individualistic solutions to the problems of the paid workforce. (31)

The arguments that the author weaves throughout the book speak directly to and against the principles that were engrained in my upbringing and education.

It may be that passion principle believers cling to the idea of meritocracy in order to justify their own passion-seeking as a viable career option: they presume that labor market advancement is at least fair enough that their investment in their passion has a reasonable chance of panning out. Prescribing, passion-seeking to others, in turn, may require an implicit wie that the labor market is predictable and fair and generally rewards elishuals equitably on the basis of merit. The meritocratic ideology and de passion principle are, I posit, intertwined cultural beliefs, each of which helps scaffold the other's feasibility. The meritocratic ideology may prop up the passion principle, as the meritocratic ideology promotes the belief that it does not matter where someone comes from, that one can be successful in whatever their passion is as long as they put in the work. (171)

The concept of choicewashing

The results above suggest strong connections between the passion princi ple and respondents' downplaying or dismissal of structural obstacles in the labor force. To put a name to this process, the passion principle contributes to the "choicewashing" of patterns of structural segregation and disadvantage. (183)

On the crucial employer-employee dynamic:

When I looked at workers, I saw more generally how employers benefit from passion: employees who are passionate about the substance of their work are more engaged in their jobs and more often put in effort beyond what is required by their jobs than their less passionate peers. Potential employers, for their part, seem to prefer passionate employees over workers motivated by career advancement or salary-in part because they see passionate employees as harder working. And yet this passion-based labor may not be fully compensated. The fictitious passionate applicants in the experiment were not offered higher salaries, and passionate workers in the actual labor force do not earn higher salaries than their less passionate peers either. Other social psychological research suggests that passionate workers may be more likely than their non-passionate colleagues to encounter exploitative treatment once in their jobs. (210-211)


Self-expression and individualism are already entrenched social and moral values. Work that aligns with one's self-expressive goals is a ready-made basis for the optimization of work output: passionate workers may work long and hard in their jobs not necessarily because they feel a moral obligation to work hard for its own sake, but because they see such work as a means to self-fulfillment and personal growth. [...] Β workers who find their work meaningful and fulfilling may experience that work as qualitatively better on a day-to-day basis than those whose jobs are merely a means to earn a living. 48 But employers also benefit from the passion of their employees: passionate workers are more engaged and voluntarily put in more effort. This may seem like a win-win at first glance, but it points to passion as an ironic site of worker disadvan-tage: workers may prefer work they are passionate about, but employers may extract more labor from passionate workers without adjusted com-pensation. This is especially true in industries, like the technology sector, where overwork is part of a normative display of passion. (211)


Update February 2023: even the Economist had a cheeky article on passion.