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What is Passion?

Recently, I was thinking about an event some years ago. The topic of the event was a question and answer session for prospective college students. Students who “successfully” were able to enter in the select top colleges were giving answers. The guy from Harvard (who apparently played football as well as did well academically) said to “follow your passion”.

I think of this event now because of how often this phrase is used. Admission officials for colleges use it. But I also notice companies using it too on job boards. Friends use it at times as well. I think not only it is a meaningless phrase when stated in the abstract, but it is intentionally meaningless in order to give said parties cover when asked “how are you successful” or some similar question.

That is all well and good, but I think it'd be nice to have a more concrete definition of passion in order to base my core life decisions around. For me, I've come to understand that passion is knowing when to give up something when you love something else more.

My goal in life at the moment is to enable people to make things. Right now, that goal is very physical, with my work centering around enabling people to more easily manufacture goods. Before, that goal was physical in an academic way, in exposing people to the ability to create things using design software and 3D printing.

If I needed to though, I would be able to expand the scope of my goal to encompass fields beyond just manufacturing; at the same time, though, I have an understanding of the limits of what my goal is. I can say that my mission embodies making businesses, so joining an enterprise software company like Basecamp or Fog Creek might make sense. I can say that making a country counts as making something, so joining 18F or FiscalNote wouldn't be off the radar too. However, my goal wouldn't wouldn't include linking people together, so I can't see myself at Facebook or Snapchat. If you have a passion, you know both what you want and what you don't want, because you know what you can see yourself as.

I've also come to understand seeing yourself somewhere and not somewhere else involves sacrifice. Olympic athletes who are passionate about the sport they compete in sacrifice junk food, Netflix, and other career paths to hone in on what they care about. Similarly, founders give up time with friends and family in order to focus on their business. I never considered becoming a doctor or a lawyer, because I wanted to build things. Those are paths closed to me now, and I feel no regret doing so because I never saw myself as such.

I started to write that I might just be telling myself this, but I don't think that's the case this time around. No, I didn't want to study artificial intelligence since I was two years old like Andrew Ng, but I do think I am passionate about software engineering and making good things.