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A lot of people give out a lot of advice. It's commonly believed that having a passion for your work will cause you to have a greater career. This is, in part, true. However, too much of a good thing is never, well, a good thing. The same is true of passion. While being passionate about what you do is generally good, too much passion—to the point where your job consumes you—can lead to workaholism and burnout. Trust me, burnout is not something you want. What's the downside of loving what you do?
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1. Getting Out of Sync
Remember when Saturday meant going to the park or enjoying a night out with friends? People who are passionate about what they do may find themselves taking work home with them, or they might work on days when they wouldn't work at other jobs. Pretty soon, life is getting out of sync and balance is lost. Instead of going out to the park on a Saturday, that person is sitting at a desk working away or is following up on a client meeting.
When that happens all the time, a person may find he or she starts to resent the job he or she once loved—even if there is that passion there. Worse, by working without breaks, that passion may dwindle. Thus, it's absolutely vital, no matter how much passion you have for your job, take at least one day off a work from it—preferably, two.
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Years ago, I thought that I wanted to either be an elementary school teacher or a child therapist. I loved kids and I had a passion for helping and sharing knowledge with others. After volunteering at an elementary school in a reading program for children diagnosed with learning disabilities, I learned that I could not work with children and have a healthy balance in life.
Why? Some of the kids had difficult home lives. Some were in foster care. Some of the kids would struggle and struggle. I would leave and go to my college classes. While in class, I'd still be thinking about what one of the kids told me or about how to help a kid who was struggling. Sometimes I'd cry for those kids (at home, of course!), I soon learned that I cared too much.
When I taught college classes, I had the same experience. I would be thinking about my students and how I could best help them learn the material long after class was over. It's one thing to be passionate; it's another thing to be too involved. If you cannot disassociate yourself from your work—and you're thinking too much about it in the off hours—your passion may cause you to become over-involved, which in time could develop into a kind of emotional burnout.
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3. Biting Off More Than You Can Chew
When you're passionate about what you do, it's easy to get carried away—especially if you run your own business or you work in a position where you can take on extra responsibilities or be part of committees. When I was a graduate student, at one point, I was part of three different committees, teaching, working as a research assistant and taking three classes of my own. That's a lot of work right there.
On top of it, I was working on getting papers accepted into conferences. I finally realized that I had bit off more than I could chew, but not before I was suffering from severe burnout. You'll know you're suffering from burnout if you are constantly cranky, you no longer love what you used to love, you're not feeling fulfilled or you're feeling disenfranchised. On top of all that, you may find it hard to get motivated to perform any of your work tasks—regardless of their importance.
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4. You Identify Yourself With What You Do
No longer does your sense of self-worth come from inside. Instead, when you're overzealous about your career, you begin to identify yourself with that career. This can have far-reaching implications. For example, a lawyer may love what she does working as an advocate in a non-profit organization. However, over time, that passion has led to identifying herself solely as an advocacy lawyer. As a result, when her success as an advocacy lawyer comes into question, or an important case is lost, she takes it as an attack on her self-worth. This is a huge problem for many reasons, the biggest part of which is a deterioration of self-worth.
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5. You Do Just About Anything to Get Ahead
If you've started to identify yourself with your work, you're constantly biting off more than you can chew, you're obsessed with it and you're having a hard time balancing your life, you're creating a pattern where you're choosing work over the rest of your life. Sometimes, having this kind of obsessive passion can turn into competitive spirit, or even worse, a willingness to compromise your personal values for the sake of getting ahead.
When you start to take offers that are unethical or you begin to disregard moral implications of actions because doing so allows you to get ahead of the other person, then you could seriously jeopardize your career in the long run. Take care that you don't care so much about getting ahead in your career that you lose sight of other important things.
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As if being the nefarious character at work isn't bad enough, your passion could develop into workaholism if it's unchecked. Workaholics are consumed by what they do. Do you want to go to the park? Nope, I want to sit here and work. When was the last time you saw the sun in the afternoon? There's sun in the afternoon? Want to grab a bite to eat? Nope, too much to do!
If you find yourself answering these questions in this manner, then you may want to do a hard evaluation of whether you're suffering from workaholism. It's easy for what was once passion to become a symptom of a greater problem. Here are some signs that you may be a workaholic:
- Is work more interesting or exciting than anything else in your life?
- When you go to bed, are you still thinking about work?
- Is your dedication to work creating problems in your relationships?
- Is more money the solution to your problems?
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Let's face it, if you're really passionate about what you're working on, you may become quite perfectionistic about it. This may lead to things like procrastination. Procrastination can be an insidious career killer. You wait to do work on a project because you want it to be perfect, but it's rushed, so it looks bad, and then your performance rating goes down. The sooner you can recognize that perfectionism is an enemy of your career advancement the better. It's fine to love your job and to want to do a good job. It's not fine to want to have the perfect x, whatever x might be. There's no such thing as perfect.
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Killing Your Career
Any of these six potential side effects of passion for career by itself could be a cause for concern. Combined together, they could bring down everything you think you're working for on your head. It is so important to be balanced when it comes to work. Sure, it's important to enjoy what you do and love what you do, but it's been said that no one has ever sat on his or her death-bed saying that he or she should have spent more time at the office!
It's fine to be passionate so long as you're bringing that passion into all aspects of your life. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a board game to play.
- Image courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1272912
- Workaholics Anonymous http://www.workaholics-anonymous.org/page.php?page=knowing
- Boms, S. (2009) "Burnout" A List Apart. http://www.alistapart.com/articles/burnout/
- Kaufman, S. B. (2011) "Why Your Passion for Work Could Ruin Your Career." Harvard Business Review Blog Network. http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/08/why_your_passion_for_work_coul.html