Occasionally, I’ll be tripping through the Writing Boots archives looking for one thing, and I’ll find something else that deserves to be reprised, maybe. Like this piece, from March, 2010. —DM
Kent State PR professor Bill Sledzik has started a yak on the subject of professional “passion” on his good blog, Tough Sledding.
Here’s what I think about professional passion: Passion is a strong word, best reserved for human love and other obsessions over which we are powerless and which we would do without a paycheck.
If you say you’re “passionate about strategic planning” or “passionate about branding,” then what do you say to your lover, in the dark?
“I made a philosophical connection to the public relations discipline,” Sledzik claims in his post. That’s more than a lot of people manage to achieve on the Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays of their lives.
But there’s more to it than that. There’s Murray’s Hierarchy of Professional Needs:
- The work is not disagreeable. Even when I’m writing a brochure for my buddy’s environmental consulting firm, I’m working with words. This works for me, and it means I never sit down at the desk wondering how I’m going to drag myself through the day. I know that once I get writing, the time will go by quickly, and pleasantly enough.
- Usually, the work is a challenge you feel like facing. Americans are programmed to say we’re always up for a challenge, but obviously, we only want certain kinds of challenges, at convenient times. (For instance, we don’t want to be challenged, this morning, to figure out why our car won’t start; and 10 times out of 10, the words “challenging boss” are a euphemism for “nightmare.”) But when you can set ’em up and knock ’em down with sustainable effort and repeated satisfaction, that’s the second step on the long road to professional passion.
- Only you could do the work the way you do it. You’ve made this work your own to the point that ready-made procedures and other people’s templates just don’t cut it for you. At some point, without thinking about it, you stopped imitating and began innovating, in function and form both. You “found your voice.”
- The work, and the way you do it, feels utterly connected to who you are—and who your parents were, and probably who their parents were, too. I still wouldn’t call this “passion,” because there is no chance for orgasm. But I would also say that “fulfilling” is too tame a term for this feeling, whether it lasts for a fleeting moment, throughout a precious project or over a miraculous year or two.
I’ve been lucky enough to spend most of the days of my work life on those first three steps, and though you’ll never catch me saying I’m “passionate” about my work, I’ve also been also fortunate to reach number four on several unforgettable occasions in my life, which I catalog and file in a searchable index in my head, in the cramped “Gratitude” section. (The latest entry: Standing with tears in my eyes before a group of speechwriters with tears in their eyes, put there by speeches that I chose, because I know communication and feelings and how they work together, because my mom and dad taught me.)
But every day can’t be Christmas.
On a typical Tuesday, where do you stand on Murray’s Hierarchy of Professional Needs? Or do you have a Hierarchy of your own? (You’re not obliged to answer, but you do need to know.)