Do you have Passion? Should you?

What if there is something better, and passion is our worst option?

Carol Sanford
5 min readJun 24, 2022

I have written 6 best-selling books, have a well-followed magazine and articles on Medium, an award-winning podcast, and I run two wildly subscribed developmental communities: one for Executive Teams and one for Change Agents. People stay member for decades and average membership is ten years if they stay through year one to sort whether they are up to the work. 99% do! I am on guest podcasts with large followings about 5 times a month usually being interviewed about my newest books. The most frequent questions I am asked have the word, “passion” in them. “What is your greatest passion?” “What sustains your passion?” “How do you advise others to find their passion?” You get the idea.

The interviewers assume I have a value for “passion,” as every other entrepreneur they have met has. They hold the idea that passion is necessary and the driving force behind such a large body of work in my case. I must need passion to lead my Change Agent Community members, each engaged in building their own body of work as a member of the community. The “passion question” is asked, without fail, before we are done and is so rarely skipped that I ask after we are done why they did not ask. It is usually because the invitation to their show followed hearing me answer it on another one. So, they think they know my answer, or they don’t want to introduce discord regarding their own worldview on the subject. But those who do ask me are most often caught off guard when I answer something like, “I don’t just think passion is a distraction, but can even cause harm by the person with passion and also to their cause.”

After a gasp or a “say what?” and a brief pause, I am asked to explain myself. So, let’s look at my response.

Passion Means Pain

First, the term passion has the same root as “pain;” which is not something I seek out. When pain does arrive, I work to rid myself of it and prevent its return. The earliest known use of the term is related to the “passion” as referenced in the crucifixion of Jesus, the Passion of the Christ; the physical suffering. The sense of pain was extended from there to the sufferings of martyrs, and pain generally, by the early 13th century. The idea pointed to “the state of being affected or acted upon by something external.” It has, from its origin, had the connotation of being out of control. Having lost my locus of control is not my preferred way to work.

Passion Draws on Conflict

Second, passion is often generated by being in opposition to something, with attachments to my own well-reasoned worldview. It is how one builds up a head of steam, so to speak. Passion arises from and is fueled by being in conflict with another person, worldview, methodology, or action plan. The more of these a person is averse to, the more passion is embodied. E.g., I am passionate about winning! Passion about a cause or mission to change something.

Passion is Mindless

Third, with that much energy, and when passion is high, as the word implies, you can’t “stop yourself from doing what you are doing.” You are carried away by your passion. You cannot, not, do it. You are compelled. You don’t have to think or discern the right path. All these are descriptions of being mindless. It is often associated with finding your personal purpose, which I also do not find a helpful idea either. We will come back to that.

Passion is Self-Referential

All three of these perspectives assume I am self-referential as to being intensely productive or determined to succeed. Since my ego is likely in charge under that condition, I can see that as what drives this happening. On the other hand, my work is nourished by caring, not passion. There is a close idea to caring, which is compassion, but it not all the way there.

Compassion is connecting to the pain of another or others. Compassion is “a feeling of sorrow or deep tenderness for one who is suffering or experiencing misfortune,” mid-14cth century, compassioun, literally “a suffering with or for another.” The frequent outcome is that we want to relieve the pain and suffering of another as Mother Teresa felt for the poor. She dedicated her life to relieving the pain of others. So, compassion is still about suffering but more about others than ourselves.

What differentiates compassion from caring is where the locus of control is. In compassion, the care givers have the reigns of the relief effort in hand mostly over or for the powerless, at least for the moment. In caring, the locus is with the other persons and the effort is about self-managing of themselves and directing their own lives. The assumption in the case of caring is to return a sense of control to the person who has the need. Particularly to see the capability that is incompletely developed by the one being offered development. What is needed by the person or persons who we, and they, seek to develop. The “care giver” is exhibiting care to a person or persons when they see a gap in capability not a helpless, failed, broken, or lesser other. They believe in the other’s capability to pursue their own aspirations with the “care-giver” providing resourcing in self-determination, offered to develop their own functional ability, their state of self-management and finally, to develop and exercise personal agency.

Caring Gives Ableness, not Solutions

In caring, we don’t see ourselves as a savior or givers from our “good deeds” to a person or persons, but more as a focusing resource on the development of ableness, imperturbability of state, and self-management of will and motivation. The root of the word “care” is “Caritas” the Greek word meaning “the love for which there is no opposite.” Our role is to love them enduringly and ensure capability building, not to be a problem solver, ready to deploy our own solutions.

Ultimate Benefit of Caring

Caring has a stronger set of opportunity to develop ourselves and to make a bigger difference. We have to manage our polarizing mental models of seeing the world. See there is a demand to understand more complexity and dynamics and not be blinded by our own answers. We have to overcome our attachments to the idea that we have the answer already and be examining of our own certainties. We must bring humility to the engagement and seek to serve what others are aspiring to and match our own offerings to enabling those life pursuits. We are called on to learn to be a resource to evolution and development, not only to our own passions that blind us to more than our own path.

Working on myself in this way of caring and engagement with others from this world view gives me great energy. And I get to, or more precisely have to, keep developing myself to overcome my arrogant compassion when that is not what is called for.

I hope I get asked about that in my next interview.

See more counter-intuitive ideas that are tested and proven for decades. Learn about my latest book, Indirect Work: A Regenerative Change Theory for Businesses, Communities, Institutions, and Humans, including bonuses for bulk purchases, at my website.



Carol Sanford

Sr Fellow Social Innovation, Babson |# 1 AmazonBest Selling/Multi-Award Winning Author | Regenerative Paradigm Educator