So much passion seems to go into work these days. But is it really good for us?
How many times nowadays do you see people trying to convince employers or customers that they’re “passionate” about what they do? Sometimes it happens at a job interview, when a candidate has to persuade the interviewer that they love their chosen career more than the next prospective employee. Sometimes freelancers make the wildest claims about their strength of feeling for their chosen profession in an attempt to lure clients. And sometimes it seems that if we’re not passionate about what we do we’re in the wrong job, or we’re somehow inadequate.
But is that really true? Passion brings all kinds of things into the professional sphere that perhaps don’t belong there. Of course it’s good to enjoy what we do, but strength of feeling leads to the kind of hot-headedness that we might be better off without when it comes to making a living. Surely a cool head is a better asset in business than a burning heart.
And passion for your job can lead you to do far more than you need to do or should be doing. I speak from experience. When I was an eager young journalist nothing seemed too much trouble. I worked crazy hours for not very much pay and I loved it. Even away from the office, I talked and talked about nothing but work and what we should be doing and how we could do things better. But where did it get me in the end? As an employee, that kind of effort simply leads to burn-out. Those who get on; those who go up in the world, are not the ones who care passionately, they are the ones who look coldly at a situation and see how they can gain an advantage.
That’s why the chance of having a second career as a freelance translator has been so good for me. I like my job very much, but I’m not passionate about it. It’s the way I make my living, and thinking that way I can make the decisions I need to make without strong feelings and emotions getting in the way. I can also decide that I want to have a life outside work, that I don’t work weekends, that I take holidays when I want to take them without a shred of guilt. And when it is time to work I can choose who I work for and what I work on with my head, not my heart. Yes, I prefer some types of job to others, but because there’s no passion involved I’m never tempted to sell myself short just so I can do the work I enjoy.
You may think all this sounds cold and unfeeling, but that would be to misunderstand my point. In fact, it’s because I see translators very much as human beings that I believe it’s important and healthy for us to keep work in its place: an important place, yes, but not necessarily the centre of our lives and certainly not among our passions. My advice would be to reserve those for the bedroom and other areas of our lives where they won’t get in the way.
Interesting point Simon. I hear a log of talk about passion in our profession but I share your point of view. I’m passionate about my specialisms which means I enjoy my job (and CPD) but I have a life outside. I think it’s nice to have a happy medium.
I absolutely agree, Alison. Passion about specialisms is fine but a bit of balance is essential.
Great insight, Simon. Admittedly I’m guilty of being over-passionate. I do love my job and even some of my hobbies revolve around it. But I’m a few months into working as a freelancer and the needle is now slowly edging along more towards pragmatism end of the spectrum.
I think people everyone in my position should have a read of this post and come back to it when a client comes in with a request at 4.55 pm on a Friday asking for 6000 words for Monday.
Thanks, Lloyd. The thing is, I keep seeing people say things on the Internet which are either insincere or mean they are going to get themselves into trouble before too long overworking or agreeing to things they shouldn’t do. It’s partly a question of age, I think, but it’s really common sense. Work is work and as such it’s important, but there are other things in life.
Good post Simon! Most things said online, particularly on the more extraordinary translators’ forums, are exaggerated or poor attempts at oneupmanship. Like you, I am not passionate about translation. I was passionate about my former career (law), but since I can’t practice here in Portugal, I make the best of both worlds, combining an aptitude for languages with law. I mostly enjoy it, it keeps a roof over my family’s head, my daughters in university, and I have far better working conditions than most employees here. And I can sleep with my windows open, and walk around at night, something I sadly couldn’t do back home in SA. Big plus. I will always miss the ‘buzz’ of a courtroom, possibly like you miss a newsroom, and translation will never be my first love. But my clients receive an excellent service, pay on time (or get the boot), and keep coming back. Overall, I’m happy.
Thanks for the comment, Deborah. You’re absolutely right, it’s about finding something to do to earn money that you mostly enjoy. In my case, too, I love the independence of working for myself and I would find it very hard to go back to being an employee. In fact, I don’t miss journalism at all, especially not the way it’s changed in recent years.
I totally agree and have thought this for some time. I object to being told I won’t be able to do my job as well if I’m not passionate about it. I’m quite passionate about a lot of things (as anyone on Twitter and my Facebook friends could tell you), but not about my work, even though I enjoy translation very much and don’t usually find it difficult to get stuck into a text. There’s nearly always some sort of intellectual challenge even in the most mundane documents. And that’s what motivates me. I need by brain cells to be engaged, not my heart.
Thanks for the comment, Nikki. You’re quite right, the intellectual stimulation is the main attraction for me too. As I’ve said in some of the other comments here, I might get passionate about some of my specialist subjects – history, for example – but translation is all about the brain. And making a living, of course.