Passionate or Emotional?

Is “passion” a dirty word in Student Affairs? Talk about opening a can of worms! This week’s #SAchat posed this question and I have to say that I was shocked at the strong response to this word. There were tons of folks who said they hated hearing it during interviews with job candidates and that it had reached a saturation level in our shared lexicon. Specifically, it seemed like folks were perhaps more perturbed in that passion is unable to be measured, analyzed, and proven.

I was unable to participate in the chat, as I was on my way to visit a former colleague and good friend who just had a baby. I was able to scroll through the transcript (while two-month-old baby Caldwell snoozed in my lap!) and there were two thoughts that kept coming up for me. The first was that “passion”
was maybe just another way to say that there are emotional implications for our work and the second was that there is a pressure for us to be emotionally invested and/or impacted in the same way as the person who works across the hall. I think these combined make it easy to hate on passion, when maybe there’s something else at play.

Speaking from my own experience, the work of accompanying students through some of the most formational moments of their life is deeply emotional. I have celebrated for and with, cried for and with, been angry for and with, and joyful for and with students. I have taken on those emotions (sometimes, admittedly, to my own detriment), but that’s how I show up for my students. This work is emotional for me, but I don’t ever expect it to be emotional for everyone.

I have several colleagues that don’t share my emotional ties to their work. This does not make them any more or less qualified, competent, or effective in their work. One colleague is deeply passionate about her family and is motivated to achieve in her work because it makes it easier to be a great mom and wife. Another colleague took the job in part because it got her closer to her hometown, family, and circle of friends she was missing in her last position. By being happier in her home life, she is able to be more fully present and engaged in her work with students.

So the question that comes up for me is whether we hate the word passion because it is overused and hard to measure, or because it sets of an unfair dichotomy of those who “have it” and are able to articulate how it shows up for them in their day-to-day work. For those of us who have emotional ties to the work, do we unfairly judge those who are “dispassionate” when the issue is really what motivates them in their own day-to-day work?


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