On the Determinants of Passion


“If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose.” T.D. Jakes

 The above quote from popular preacher, T.D Jakes underscores one major point: to be successful in life, you must be passionate. In some ordinary sense, there is an element of truth to the statement that passion is a precursor to success. In another sense, this statement seems like a hodgepodge of lies, least because there are many more personal and social factors explaining success. This brings  up important questions. Does passion  matter, in the sense that it is a necessity for higher levels of achievement? If so, how?

In the psychological sphere, passion is thought of as a strong inclination toward an activity a person values and finds meaningful to the extent that they may be willing to devote  significant  amounts  of time and energy toward that activity. Extended from this view is that passion necessarily characterizes one’s identity. It is a part of who you are. However, it is from this internalization process that two different views of passion surface.

The first, called obsessive passion, results from an uncontrollable urge to participate in an activity. The second, called harmonious passion, results from a willingness to engage in the same activity. From this characterization, the first view aligns passion with a rigid persistence while the second contains elements of free- will. That is, being passionate could mean - on the one hand- people are seen to be slaves to their passion or masters of it.

From the above quote, it seems an alternative sentiment arises from the necessity of passion. That is the potential role engagement has to do with performance. Clearly, this view holds that three processes are particularly important: activity selection, activity valuation and internalization in identity. In some sense, both views of passion are compatible with these processes, although obsessive passion would naturally come with caveats. Specifically, it disrupts engagement with other activities.

Thus, it appears to be case that passion does control outcomes. This wording is important because it does not imply passion being a strong predictor of high performance. Perhaps, what is more important is what type of passion you possess. In this light, being strongly engaged in an activity will not necessarily lead to good outcomes. What is rather promising is that you have some control over what you are passionate about.