When (too much) passion is not enough


I read a great post today on Venessa Miemis’ blog, Emergent by Design. The topic was passion and whether it is all it’s cracked up to be. I happened to be writing on the Stoic approach to passions, so I ventured a response. Here is an edited version of what I said.


Following one’s passion is important. But passion can easily become an end in itself. This can be a disaster. To ensure that we stay focused on realistic goals and achievable tasks, we need to keep our passions in check. This is not easy, with so much in the world to feel passionate about. And it doesn’t help that, in the workplace, we are constantly incited to fire up our passions.

Motivational culture is a cornerstone of post-industrial society, and it feeds on passion. Pick up a book like Drive, by Daniel Pink, and you’ll learn about the value of passion. Professionals are no longer satisfied with money and status – they want meaning, intrinsic value, and a big passionate experience of life. Cultivating a powerful sense of passion can take you a long way, and to some pretty interesting places as well. But it’s a mistake to think that passion is some kind of magic carpet ride, destination Xanadu. Nikolas Tesla was passionate about his breakthrough inventions, but he died in poverty. Romeo and Juliet epitomize passion, and we all know how that story ends.

If we want to achieve our dreams, we need to check our passions against reality. We also need to check our passions, because they have a way of taking control of us. This is something we don’t tend to acknowledge, because we are constantly told that it is important to feel passionate about things. Passion is important – it is vital. But it is also vital that we don’t let ourselves be consumed by passions, so that the passion (as opposed to the goal) becomes the meaning of life. 

I am a fan of the ancient Stoic view on passion. The Stoics understood passions through the Latin passio: to bear, endure, suffer. Passions, the Stoics argued, take possession of us. Once they have overcome us, passions make us passive. Passions turn us into slaves.

This sounds a bit paranoid (help, my passion is taking control of me!), but it makes sense. Passion has a way of become a dominant force in life. It is easy to become hooked on passion. One winds up running about looking for things to feel passionate about, rather than focusing on doing the hard work to create something good. If one allows oneself to believe that one should make passion a dominant force in life, it is easy to wind up being dragged along by one’s passion. Passion should be like a jet-pack that you strap on behind and propels you forward. If it is a pack of horses, dragging you behind, you need to get a grip on your passion.

What should we be led by, if not passion? Reason is one contender, assuming that this doesn’t mean Mr Spock-like hyper-analysis, but circumspect good sense. Intuition is a guiding light. Passion should be put in its place. It is a wonderfully energetic state, but it tends to be all-consuming. Plus it is blind. There are better forces to guide us through transition.


  1. It’s funny I googled an image on passion found this fantastic image and an amazing blog. Keep up the good work, I really liked it.

  2. That is an amazing graphic

  3. When passion is not enough what must you seek to make it enough?

    • Do you mean: when passion is not enough to sustain a relationship? If passion is running low, and there are no other sources of attraction to inspire the relationship, perhaps the relationship itself is not enough?

      On the other hand, passion is not the be all and end all of love. I recently posted an article on love http://tinyurl.com/akp74sd. I think Badiou is right: the best kinds of relationships are powerful because they enable us to see and experience the world as two sets of eyes, two hearts, two bodies and minds operating in tandem. This is a rare thing. We are so used to occupying our own body and mind, defending our own dreams and objectives, insisting on our own right to freedom – it takes a major shift in perception to give ourselves over to love. But once we’ve found a way to do that, and we’ve committed ourselves to a partnership, it’s a powerful thing, and it can be intrinsically valuable and worthwhile even without a great deal of passion.

      I think the best thing to do if one is trying to maintain a partnership that’s running low on passion is to focus on reasons why the partnership itself is valuable. Long term life partners can value and respect their mutual commitment even in the absence of passion. Passion is not the meaning of life; it’s simply one of several things that can make life meaningful (the list includes liberty, creativity, and purpose).

      • I’m speaking generally when I say this. I do agree with you on the love part though and I will be sure to check your page out on it. I do believe that passion is not a main part to a healthy relationship, but I do believe that it contributes greatly. Especially in young love. Passion creates beautiful changes and transitions, but how does it contribute in a riot or something like the Civil War? So if passion is not enough then what is?

  4. That is an amazing picture!

  5. I used your photo on my blog. I posted a link to your blog on my blog. I hope that’s ok. If not, let me know. Happy Easter!

  6. Loved your article. I agree that passion can also have a dark side. We hear more about passion in the work place these days than the bedroom. I had never heard of the stoic definition before and it seems like an accurate description…

  7. Ditto Jason Jennings! Planning to use your photo with a link to your blog on tomorrow’s post about passion.

  8. great picture, sums it up

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