Just Do the Work, and the Passion Will Follow

Architect studying drawings
Photo: Monty Rakusen/Corbis

Another reason to question the standard “follow your passion” advice: The cliché suggests that the correct order of things is to first identify something you feel strongly about and then get down to work. But some new research suggests we may be getting this backward and that excitement about a project may in fact follow the work. 

The researchers focused one of their experiments on 54 entrepreneurs in Germany, who filled out a series of questionnaires during the eight weeks leading up to the launch of their respective business ventures. Over at BPS Research Digest, Alex Fradera explains:

They answered questions like “In the last week, how much effort did you put into venture tasks beyond what was immediately required?” and rated their agreement with statements like “In the last week, establishing a new company excited me.” Their answers were used to generate ratings of effort and passion. The researchers found that for each entrepreneur, fluctuation in these two ratings could be explained by one relationship: the previous week’s effort influenced this week’s passion, such that more effort led to more passion.

A second experiment in the study further tested this effort-begets-passion idea in the lab and found a few further specifications. For one, positive feedback helps. For another, excitement is more likely to happen when you feel ownership over whatever it is you’re working on. In one scenario, they let students choose a business idea to develop, mostly by filling out questionnaires about their opinions on the concept. But in another, the students weren’t given a choice. In the latter scenario, Fradera writes, “their passion never went up, even with positive feedback on making progress – and when there was no progress, it actually dropped.”

This is bad news for anyone hoping this research implied that diligently working on a boring assignment will result in sudden and inexplicable enthusiasm for the work. On the other hand, it’s another decent reason to let your own curiosity and interests help guide you toward your passion. 

Just Do the Work, and the Passion Will Follow