04/09/2013 06:35 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2013

Passion at Work?

"There is no passion like that of a functionary for his function." -- Georges Clemenceau

As is the case for many people, the recession left me without an income, and I am looking for a job. Recently, I secured an interview, and it went well. We talked at length about the role, the company, how I could fit in and what I could do for them. I expressed my enthusiasm -- which was genuine -- in plain language. I thought it sounded like something I could really get my teeth into and that I would find it interesting and fulfilling, and I said so in as many words. We concluded by agreeing I'd return for a second interview and give a presentation.

That second interview never happened. I learned later that something was missing from my pitch, something so important that its lack led the prospective employer to change his mind: I just didn't have the passion for it.

Passion is a great thing. It is, according to the OED, a strong and barely controllable emotion, or an intense sexual love or an intense desire or enthusiasm for something. I've felt all these things, and long may they reign. I feel passion for my lovers. I feel passion when I throw up my hands at the best bit of my favorite song at a great gig. I'm passionate about the stories and the poems I write. And I see passion all around me. Passion in football supporters. Passion at 17, drunk on Strongbow and pressed against the side of a bus stop.

But a passion for market research?

Of course it's a good thing to enjoy your work. Recession notwithstanding, daily life must be pretty bloody miserable for anybody who doesn't find at least some aspects of their job engrossing and rewarding. But for market research -- or accountancy, or quantity surveying, or refuse collection, or any of the other perfectly respectable, bog-standard occupations in the world -- to demand passion is a tall order. In fact, it's just not reasonable. Anyone who says "I have a passion for market research" stops to think about what that actually means and then still believes it to be true could probably do with getting out more.

The use of the word passion in this context is part of the hyperbole of the workplace, where a vocabulary has developed that attempts to appropriate the most fundamental aspects of human experience. In doing so, it becomes unintentionally bathetic -- the passion of the functionary. But perhaps it is not surprising that, in a culture where society exists to serve the economy, a mere change in working practices somehow becomes a "paradigm shift." It can be taken for granted that a brand is a means of self-expression and work/life balance is actually a question. We're all "human resources," now. Under these conditions, simple enthusiasm and an honest desire to do one's best are not good enough. No, you must bring your passion to the table and lay bare your soul. We require access to your most profound and visceral feelings. This job must move you.

Of course we're not moved. We're not moved and we all know it. Unless we're an artist creating a masterpiece, or a support worker helping an agoraphobic assault victim to leave her house for the first time in two years, our jobs do not move us. So, if I know this, what's the harm in hamming it up? In the current economy, I'm lucky to be interviewed at all. Why don't I play the game and say "I have a passion for this" when what I mean is simply, I enjoy this and work hard at it?

There is a saying that goes along the lines of "Fake it until you make it." And when you fake the passion, you make it. You make it in the sense that you validate the expectation that it should exist, and in the sense that, sooner or later, what you practice is what you become. Either way, once you concede the linguistic ground -- by saying the words -- everything else eventually follows. You sustain the mythology of the good employee, and it is imprinted on us. It becomes the sanctioned aspiration, even where working conditions or the simple nature of the job render it practically unattainable. It is a form of thought control and leaves us bleating our passion as we are funnelled through the abattoir of late capitalism, its machinery salami-slicing our sense of self and selling it back to us, shrink-wrapped.

So, don't let them colonize your passion; it's the best of you, and might just be your only escape.

Me? I'm considering a career change. I'm looking for something that really moves me.

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