February 4, 2022

Why being passionate about your work can be a mistake

By Tristan Mobbs

Following our previous posts about mental attitude & Growth Mindset, this time we explore the dark side of being passionate.

Among the trendy buzzwords that it is heresy to criticise at the moment, following your passion must be right up there with collaboration, authenticity & diversity. However, like all positives or strengths it can also be overdone or have a ‘dark side‘. I like to call this the Shadow Side. To help us explore this I’m delighted to welcome back guest blogger, Tristan Mobbs.

You may recall that Tristan has shared with us before on lessons from a film & a book. In this post he shares his personal experience. A lesson that he has learnt about the pitfall of being passionate about your work just before the COVID lockdowns. Over to Tristan to tell his own story…

Can being passionate be a negative?

When asked to describe positive mindsets someone may have, passion is probably near the top of the list. But can being passionate about something become a negative?

Here is my experience from the end of 2019. I had spent nearly 6 years learning all there was to know about energy forecasting. Dealing with legacy systems, testing new systems, redesigning, and rebuilding them again. So when the opportunity arose to build new systems from scratch in a green field project I leapt at the chance.

I was passionate about building the most efficient, high performing process possible. So, I wanted to be able to have all the insights ready for me each morning and know exactly the decisions I needed to make. That is what I achieved. My job was automated. I could spend 30 minutes each morning reviewing the insight and sharing the forecasts. I was incredibly proud of what I had done. Maybe too proud…

A time comes when everything will be shaken

Suddenly, the whole underlying data of the organisation was changing, the foundations of my system and process were being eroded rapidly.

By December 2019, the system was dead. I took that personally, but couldn’t control these changes.
I couldn’t magically fix everything (I fixed about half of the system, working solidly for 4 days). This was my passion, but it consumed me.

My thoughts were almost solely focused on my system and work. Every problem was a direct insult to my abilities and identity. I ended up quitting that job, my last day was the last day before lockdown started.
The year that followed was a massive year for learning about mindset. About being passionate but not at the cost of everything else.

Seeing the big picture and recovering your identity

Passion and identity manifest themselves throughout life. Look at football fans, political supporters, religion. Any critique of your club, your politics, your religion is taken personally. It’s an insult to your identity.

Work can be the same.

Being passionate is important, just not above all else. I’ve found that broader passions allow for a focus, but also allow for growth and transformation. Being passionate for niches however can lead to dead ends.

Have you run into trouble through being too passionate?

Thanks to Tristan for being so open with us. I know that I too could look back on times when I let being passionate for what I had built at work become too closely entwined with my identity. Change will always come and that pitfall also lured me into a very defensive overreaction.

What about you? Have you experienced the shadow side of being passionate about your work? Have you become too obsessed or possessive of your data solution, analysis or insight? What helped you let go? What helped you step back and see the context or reconnect with your values? How did you channel your passion to be a helpful motivator rather than a blinding obsession?