Passion is for a**holes

Pardon the inflammatory title, if you feel very strongly and um, passionately about something…

The fact remains however that passion is for assholes. Passion is not motivation, not substance, not a method, but a mere state of being we may on occasion be fortunate enough to experience as we plod through necessity and determination. It doesn’t pay the bills, and it doesn’t get the job done. Let me attempt to further explain:

I found myself here on Medium due to an assignment. As an aspiring UX Designer, i signed up for General Assembly’s UX Design Immersive, a (reportedly) grueling 10 weeks of User Experience bootcamp straight to the proverbial face. Part of that bootcamp-to-face process is the creation and maintenance of a blog page on Medium; we UXDI students must commence our illustrious careers with an introductory post about what brought us to UX Design.

Publishing our posts would not be necessary, just the act of creating a catch-all net to commit design ideas to. My initial response was something of an eye-roll. Who would ever want to read about my process, my finer feelings? There are enough over-sharers out there as it is without my clumsy prose further clogging the airwaves with banal trivialities. But then it occurred to me. I did have something to say, and it does relate to my decision to pursue UX design. My invaluable message to anyone who will read then is this: passion is for assholes.

It’s that simple, apparently

I have been a freelance illustrator/artist for six years. Often times when i share this information, at parties, dinners or at the cheese-shop, the response i get, usually from very nice well-meaning people mind you, is “oh, you’re so lucky you get to pursue your passion!” If any other creatives happen to be reading this, i am sure you can relate. I am not expressing a particularly new or unique experience. It is very common in fact.

Why then does this response, “oh, you’re so lucky you get to pursue your passion!”, raise my hackles the way it does? Because it’s really just the innocent expression of a very detrimental misunderstanding rooted at the base of our culture, or at least our generation’s culture.

First of all, no, i don’t follow my passion. There is no such thing as 60 hours of passion a week, no such thing as constant rejection letters of passion, no such thing as menial jobs of passion. ‘Following your passion’ is a sales pitch used to underpay overqualified people for shitty jobs and shittier working arrangements. Bad jobs aside, passion is also not what happens typically in the studio. Some times, if the stars align, you might find yourself passionately and intuitively in the throws of a creative breakthrough, where the art seems to make itself and ideas cascade like so many CSS rules. The rest of the time, you are a professional trying to work hard and stay motivated according to a personal strategy. Yes, there are degrees of work, and some types of work are undoubtedly better than others.

But when you do something methodically and systematically, it ceases to be a passion. For example, i have a passion for cheese. I love the stuff. No dairy is too stinky or foul for my tastes, but i certainly wouldn’t eat cheese full-time, 8–10 hours every day. For starters that’s pretty much impossible, but it would also cease to be fun pretty quickly. Follow your passion? What if my passion is video games (it’s not)? Does that mean “train to become a pro EGamer?” What if cat memes are my passion? What if i have no passions, and just want to hang out?

The point is, “follow your passion” is bad advice, and far finer minds than my own have expounded at length on the nonsense of urging someone to do so. ‘Follow your bliss’ is a more tolerable, and in some ways wiser variant, but bliss just isn’t as loaded a concept or word as passion. 99u, Behance’s ‘think tank’, if you will, has posted some great insights on the folly of this very common advice. Some people are good at many things, enjoy many things, whither should they turn their efforts then?

How you enjoy something is not how you perform something. Loving a film and being some poor schmuck grip on a 18 hour on-set bender while the AD yells “Take 50!!” are not the same experience. “Passion” then becomes a catchphrase, a marketing keyword, and ingredient in the organic, gluten-free salad.

That is why i am trying to become UX Designer. To put it as succinctly as possible, i found it increasingly difficult to enjoy and create art as a freelancer. In fact, i didn’t think “oh i found something i like, now i get to play for the rest of my life” at any point either. I was good at drawing, loved storytelling, and had a healthy visual intelligence. Sure, i enjoy visual art a great deal, but then i equally enjoy music, film, writing, and food. So cold reasoning tipped the scales in the end.

I found the constant uncertainty, financial and otherwise, the long and necessary hours of unpaid work, and, perversely, the total freedom of freelancing to be creatively suffocating. The work became loaded with too much baggage. There are many healthy freelancers out there who weather such storms, but what can i say? The strategy seemed to not be working.

It has been scientifically proven that the more options we have, the poorer we tend to choose. This isn’t to say that freedom is a bad thing, but sometimes it is a bad thing. Confronted with multiple viable options, all relatively equal in standing, making a decision becomes difficult. Therefore, a career, ideally a creative one, wherein one can grow but also providing the structure (ahem, “limits”) one can work around, becomes an appealing option.

Enter UX Design. I am not ‘passionate’ about UX, in that, i certainly don’t UX design in my spare time and quite frankly i am not familiar enough with it to proclaim any transcendent passions. What i am passionate about is its many applications, how useful it is across so many different platforms, allowing, ideally, someone to participate in work they truly care about, whether it’s a guitar-lesson apps one is designing, or medical applications, or educational materials, or easy-to-use robot interfaces. I am passionate about ideas, and UX, which i believe i have a natural aptitude for, provides access to those ideas and their implementation. Yes, you can pursue your ideas on your own, but resources, time, and effort are not as readily available.

I see UX design as a passport, an ever evolving passport that is both means and end. That, i believe, is far sturdier ground on which to build something than the enjoyment we generally coin passion (last time i’ll use that word here, i promise). Enjoyment is fleeting, purpose less so. So go forth and pursue your purpose!(?) Or not. Just do as you please and good luck