Can Passion for Work Exist Without Struggles, Challenges?
Struggles at work can be either stimulating or discouraging — depending on how easy they are to overcome.
“There is scarcely any passion without struggle,” said the famous French philosopher Albert Camus. This idea of struggle being inherent to realizing our passions has become embedded in our cultural consciousness. But what about the other way around?
The distinction between finding something challenging and struggling with it is critical, according to psychotherapist Zohra Master, an associate fellow and supervisor from the Albert Ellis Institute. “If it’s extremely easy, you will not be motivated to do it. If it is just hard enough that you think you can achieve it, then it’s going to be very interesting, engaging — or, say, passion-provoking — for you to do it. But, if it’s going to be so difficult that you think it’s unimaginable to do, you will again feel demotivated,” she notes.
UV, 30, seems to exemplify what Master says. He works as a scientist during the day and a pub crawl manager at night and says the latter is what he feels more passionate about. According to him, “[I]t’s important to feel challenged — if it’s a mundane job, I’ll get bored easily.” But, he also admits to finding both his jobs challenging — albeit in different ways. Although challenges are a common element in both of his jobs, it’s only the latter that he feels passionate about. Elaborating further on his preferences, he says it’s the aspect of multi-dimensionality of challenges that keeps him interested in his night job. “Basically, it’s a new story every day, and it is the non-monotonous aspect of the job that drives my passion and keeps me on my toes.”
Arman’s experience resonates with UV’s. To diversify in the challenges he faces at work, the 26-year-old journalist freelances for various different publications. This allows him to “work on a story on interior designing for an architectural publication in the morning, write a sex-related piece for a magazine in the afternoon, and do a deep dive on drugs for yet another publication in the evening.” He has thus structured his work life to fuel his passion by constantly challenging himself and staying on his toes.
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According to Itisha Nagar, an assistant professor of psychology at Delhi University, “If work came easy to someone, that may not affect the passion they feel towards their work… It is the passion itself, in that case, which will drive them to seek challenges to grow at their work.” But people often mistake a lack of challenge as a loss of passion, she adds. “Not feeling challenged enough produces negative emotions like boredom, which we may easily confuse with losing passion.”
That is, perhaps, why stability might seem like an absence of passion to many. Especially so, in the present age, when people’s attention spans are rapidly declining in the overstimulating world that we live in, resulting in people’s boredom levels shooting up like never before. This also explains why people often find menial, but seemingly daunting, tasks — like doing dishes, paying bills, or folding laundry — boring.
Challenges stoke the flame of passion through stimulation; feeling inundated and intimidated, on the other hand, can stub out passion. This sense of intimidation veers more towards struggle than a stimulating challenge. Master explains that unlike challenge, which has a positive ring to it, struggle bears a negative connotation. The idea of struggling suggests “you have to go after it, and going to be so much of a headache… it doesn’t have a component of intrinsic motivation to it.”
However, the quest for challenges can often take a toxic turn — especially when workplaces attempt to glorify struggles as challenges in their bid to exploit workers. From micromanaging their employees to forcing them to juggle multiple short deadlines, companies practice toxicity in a number of ways. And often, it’s under the garb of: “I want you to feel challenged by the work you do for your own satisfaction.”
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In the experience of Neelabh, 28, who works as a documentary filmmaker and multimedia producer, most workplaces bask in the toxicity that they glorify as hustle culture. Recalling his stints at such organizations in the past, he says, “It had a huge impact on my mental health, and there was a slump of unemployment for two months when I kept wondering if I should even continue to pursue the work I otherwise enjoy.” For him, it is the toxicity parading as challenges that de-motivated him. “That isn’t the way to motivate young people who feel passionate about choosing this field.”
Research also suggests that toxicity, in the form of micromanaging, for instance, can curb one’s passion, highlighting how a sense of independence in tackling challenges can, in fact, cultivate passion.
Perhaps, therein lies the answer to why I struggled as a lawyer but feel fulfilled as a journalist. Law firms are infamous for their toxicity — I was micromanaged, forced to exert myself beyond my limits, and never granted the fainted semblance of autonomy. Rather than being challenged, then, I was intimidated. Now, the challenges to my work as a journalist propels me to excel and be better every day.
As Neelabh says, “There are highs and lows at almost every job, and I wouldn’t change that about the work that I do. It keeps me grounded and fuels me to keep working on stories I want to tell.” Challenge and passion, then, seem to share a symbiotic relationship: passion guides one through challenges, which, in turn, preserves the passion.
Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, a painter by shaukh, and autistic by birth. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.