Friday, August 5, 2011

"The Cynical Girl"

“The Cynical Girl” is a girl after my own heart.

The girl... I mean, woman... in question is named Laurie Ruettimann. She blogs at and as “the cynical girl.”

Cynicism is not always a virtue. Yet, we live in a time when bad advice is running rampant. And when everyone is mouthing the same bad advice we all tend to acquiesce.

Only those of us who have a well-developed cynical side will be able to see through the bad advice and try to correct it.  

Yesterday, the cynical girl attacked one of the pieces of advice that everyone takes to be the height of wisdom. That would be: follow your passion.

Other forms are: follow your gut; follow your bliss; follow your heart’s desire.

When you tell people to follow their passion you are promoting therapy culture values, especially its obsession with all things pathos. Keep in mind that passion comes from the Greek word, pathos, which refers to emotions that we suffer, emotions like pity. Passion makes you passive.

The therapy culture wants to judge you by your level of empathy, your ability to feel for others, and especially your ability to feel the pain of others.  

I’ve warned against following one’s passions several times, and I do not relish going back to it. Were it not for the cynical girl I would probably not have.

I was emboldened by the fact that she, as I, was getting seriously tired of belaboring the point.

The cynical girl makes three salient points about passion:

1. “Passion doesn’t pay the bills.”

2. “Performance pays. Passion doesn’t.”

3. “The people who tell you to follow your passion in life are the same people who often expect you to work for them at a discounted rate.”

She adds one more point that I too have made: following your passion is a waste of time unless you are very good at what you are passionate about.

In her words: “And sometimes, you suck at your passion. I’ve seen you at karaoke, buddy. Keep your day job.”

There’s a cold, cruel world out there, and the cynical girl wants you to know, as I do, that it is not designed to serve your passions. It is not even designed to respond to your passions.

Worse yet, the people who are telling you to follow your passions are also ready and waiting to exploit your naivete. They are going to try getting you to work for them for nothing.

Even if that sounds cynical, it is unfortunately true. No one is more prone to such exploitation than those who are young and naive.

You go out into the world with your talent and your character. First, you should know what you are good at. Second, you should be ready and willing to work very hard at your job. Your job is not the place to try to get in touch with your feelings.

Ultimately, you are going to be judged by how well you perform, not by how passionate you are. The last word will be delivered by the marketplace, not by the intensity of your soul’s passions.

Life is not about expressing your feelings. It’s about how well you can use the talent you have to accomplish the task at hand.


LordSomber said...

1. “Passion doesn’t pay the bills.”
2. “Performance pays. Passion doesn’t.”

May I posit that sometimes passion leads to performance?
(Anecdotal, but...) I lucked into a field I had a passion for, but with little formal background.
So evenings I would go to the local college's computer lab and teach myself the relevant software.
Meanwhile, I would check out books from the library on the fundamentals of the field. Also, I subscribed to relevant trade periodicals.
A dozen years later I find myself in an office with mediocre coworkers with no passion or creativity (in a field that is creative). And it shows in the end product. Very frustrating.
But I guess the upshot is that it made me shine (and get more raises. And happier customers.)

If the passion is constructive (and humble), it can lead to performance.

P.S. I had no mentors the entire time. How galvanizing it could be to have a mentor channel someone's passion constructively!

Stuart Schneiderman said...

One could also say that you had great natural talent for the field and a strong work ethic that made you persevere and put in a lot of extra time. Clearly, anyone who is good at something and who works hard at it will feel gratified... but I think that the anti-passion crowd would not see your success as a function of passion.

Of course, we could be wrong too...

LordSomber said...

Thank you. I was always a slacker and I think that passion just came out at the right opportunity. (95% of the office staff walked out. I was a basic gofer who couldn't afford to quit, and the few of us remaining had to teach ourselves how to keep the business afloat, even though we hated the current owners.)
The learning part was passion. The reason for staying in a dysfunctional workplace was a mystery. (I wasn't the only one.)
It was only until I ran across "The Addictive Organization" by Anne Wilson Schaef that some things began to make sense.
But that is a whole separate topic.
It may be of interest to you though:


JP said...

Stuart says:

"You go out into the world with your talent and your character. First, you should know what you are good at. Second, you should be ready and willing to work very hard at your job. Your job is not the place to try to get in touch with your feelings."

I never was able to figure out what I was good at. I still don't know and I'm 37.

How in the world are you supposed to figure this out when you are younger?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

One way of figuring it out is through academic performance, athletic prowess, musical performance... any time that your abilities are tested in the marketplace.

Other than that, it is often a good idea to ask those older and wiser. When I meet with young people I can often tell where their talent lies. The clues are usually there, somewhere.

Dennis said...

There are a lot of people who find out early what they are good at and a far larger number that have no clue. One has to be willing to experiment to get an inkling. I have worked on construction, became a musician, worked as a bar stocker and bartender, drove cars, been in the military, both Navy and Air Force, been a Senior NCO, went to college and received both an undergraduate and graduate degree, became a QA Specialist in Ammunition Surveillance, worked R&D developing AIS, taught classes, been a network administrator on both Novell and MS systems, been a program analyst, been a systems security officer, been a business manager for ISSO, developed training courses for military schools, et al.
All through the above I always spent time playing music and backing shows and found that when I retired I really enjoyed music because it was the only thing I had to work at to be good. The rest was interesting and instructive and gave me a chance to travel to many places and meet a lot of good people.
Enjoy it all and learn from everything you do and do it the best you can and life becomes its own reward.

Dennis said...

Far too many people wants to feel "bad" about the challenges life throws them instead of seeing the good that can accrue to them by facing those challenges successfully.
Here is a secret that might help: Every job, profession, action has a language that defines it. Learn that language and one is more than half way to conquering it. One would be surprised at how much passion can be developed by understanding the challenge and the exhilaration of being the best one can be.
Only you can allow others to make you miserable.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Excellent point, Dennis. Every profession does have its own language. People have to know the game that is being played, the rules and the roles, and they need to learn how to play it very, very well.