Sunday, August 02, 2009

Take Your Passion and Make It Happen, or, Another Word Bites the Dust

It's upsetting to some people that the meaning of words in the English language change over time, but that's just the way it works. You can't stop it anymore than you can stop a glacier (although perhaps glaciers can be melted - stay tuned).

For example, Kurt Vonnegut explains in one of his books that the word jerk used to refer to somebody that masturbates excessively, and geek meant very specifically somebody who farts in a tub and swallows the bubbles. Today these words mean something decidedly different. Also, witness the explosion in popularity of the word 'douchebag', which now means something different than it did when Henry Miller used the word in 'Tropic Of Cancer'.

In 2009, when robots aren't doing most of the shitty jobs the way we were promised they would, people in the H.R. and 'Leadership' industries at least are fortunate enough to have inspirational signs and posters telling employees to 'ride their opportunity like a wave with courage and skill', or 'happy employees are productive employees' or 'work makes you free'. While these helpful automated motivational devices are hard at work, sitting on the wall having words on them, taking care of 95% of the job of an H.R. professional, the H.R. professional is left free to focus on the fun 5% of the job: firing and disciplining people.

A popular word in these signs and in douchy leadership blogs (see previous entry) is 'passion'. Only in this case, it's not the kind of passion that makes an artist forgo food and sleep (or, in Beethoven's case, bathroom breaks) to finish a work of art. It's not kind of passion found in stories of Apple employees working '90 hours a week and loving it' , or the kind of passion that caused Steve Jobs to throw a prototype of Woz's Universal Remote against the wall to make the point that Frog Design needed to focus their energies on their Macintosh related work, or the kind of passion that motivated Steve Ballmer to throw a chair and roar that he was going to destroy Eric Schmidt (in a lot of cases, passion involves destroying inanimate objects - an H.R. no-no).

When the motivatards or leadtards talk about passion, mostly it means not only enduring a soul-crushingly meaningless, stultifying bureaucracy, but also making noises and facial expressions that might fool some people into thinking you're actually enjoying it a lot. It's the same kind of point-missing that gave us the horrifying 'Fish!' program in the early 2000s.

Even among people who genuinely enjoy what it is they do, this 'passion' talk is hard to stomach. I can get a boost of adrenaline from solving a thorny problem or getting something complicated or otherwise tricky to work nicely, but I can't recall ever having to go to the bathroom and jerk off after one of these moments.

In conclusion, the dead-eyed corporate zombies who brought us 'Successories' and co-wrote all of Jack Welch's books have taken this once perfectly good word out of circulation. It's gone bad like a piece of meat, and there's nothing you can do to save it. recommends these alternatives:

Synonyms: affection, affectivity, agony, anger, animation, ardor, dedication, devotion, distress, dolor, eagerness, ecstasy, excitement, feeling, fervor, fire, fit, flare-up, frenzy, fury, heat, hurrah, indignation, intensity, ire, joy, misery, outbreak, outburst, paroxysm, rage, rapture, resentment, sentiment, spirit, storm, suffering, temper, transport, vehemence, warmth, wrath, zeal, zest