Separating Work from Passion

Separating Work from Passion

Working through the weekend, crunching through some Flash work for delivery on Monday. I’m sorta enjoying it, but at the same time it just feels like work. I’ve also been thinking a lot about Item #13 from Hugh McLeod’s How To Be Creative list:

13. Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside. The more you practice your craft, the less you confuse worldly rewards with spiritual rewards, and vice versa.

McLeod illustrates this point with a neat story about a guy he met who made a good living selling original chimneypieces (fireplaces) from Georgian and Victorian houses to upscale yuppie types. It was a great job that the fireplace guy had come upon in a former life as an antiques dealer. McLeod, noting that some of these fireplaces were really beautiful, asked if it was tough to part with them. The fireplace guy, surprisingly, answered as follows:

“No it isn’t,” he said (and this is the part I remember most). “I mean, I like them, but because they take up so much room- they’re so big and bulky- I’m relieved to be rid of them once they’re sold. I just want them out of the shop ASAP and the cash in my pocket. Selling them is easy for me. Unlike antiques. I always loved antiques, so I was always falling in love with the inventory, I always wanted to hang on to my best stuff. I’d always subconsciously price them too high in order to keep them from leaving the shop.” Being young and idealistic, I told him I thought that was quite sad. Why choose to sell a “mere product” (i.e. chimneypieces) when instead you could make your living selling something you really care about (i.e. antiques)? Surely the latter would be a preferable way to work? “The first rule of business,” he said, chuckling at my naïveté, “is never sell something you love. Otherwise, you may as well be selling your children.”


For my entire life, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to find a passion that I could turn into a life’s work and make a good living. I’ve found that I enjoy being independent and making my own decisions, representing myself as myself…all positive things that I’m glad I have grown into. But I’ve not yet found the one thing that seems to tie everything together. McLeod’s Item 13 is the first explanation that I’ve heard that, just maybe, it’s OK that what I’m doing to make a living is not the passion in my life. It’s enough to like doing it.

Interactive design and development, because all the time and energy I’ve put into it, seemed to be my passion. However, I knew something was missing. I have never spent hours developing cool new transition effects or writing asynchronous loaders on my own time, though I enjoy looking at them and deconstructing how they work in my head. I’ve thought perhaps that I needed to have more of a kickass peer design/development team as a creative support group, and have been working on that…but you know, interactive feels like something I do just for work. If I’m honest with myself, interactive design is something I merely like.

There’s no shame in admitting that, I now realize. I should be thankful that I like interactive design, and have no problems doing the work at a competitive level. It still bugs me a little that I’m not super passionate about it, because that is a strong indicator that I will never achieve Flash uber-coolness. Oh well…I’ll live. The pursuit of bullet-proof engineering I don’t see quite as passion; it’s a more of a professional standard that I adhere to.

Accepting this reality is surprisingly comforting. That means I can separate my passions (whatever the heck they are) from work-a-day activities like game development and interactive design. It pains me to realize that I’m not passionate about game development, but the reward is a new sense of clarity: I like interactive/game dev, but what I’m truly passionate about must lie somewhere else…

Thanks for the story, Hugh!


  1. hugh macleod 18 years ago

    Thanks for the kind words! Heh.

    In reading you post, I had this thought:

    As you get older, you start developing a real and intense passion for…


    b.t.w. A week after I published “The Cimneypiece”, I got an e-mail for the Chimney Guy. Turns out he was a friend, twice removed (i.e. a friend of a friend of a friend…). Small world etc.


  2. Dan Perdue 18 years ago

    Great post with a lot of insight.

    I agree with the vast majority, but I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to do something you have a passion for.  It’s enough sometimes to settle for something you like, I definitely think that there is a time and reason for that, but I do think that you can do something you’re truly passionate about and love it.  Doing something you like is good, doing something you have a passion for can be very fulfilling and great.

  3. Dave 18 years ago

    Hi Hugh! Thanks for visiting, and for the followup to the Chimney Guy story! I like those kind of surprise connections a lot…makes me wonder if there are broader patterns I’m not seeing, or if it’s just one of those things that happen. Probably a little of both.

    The real and intense passion for expediency…awesome :-) I might also put it as getting tired of waiting :)

  4. Dave 18 years ago

    Hey Dan,

    Thanks for the kind words! To clarify, I’m not saying that doing something you’re passionate about is BAD at all. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, but I realized that I’ve been trying to force passion into something I “merely like”. I don’t really say that explicitly in the post (I’ve since modified it slightly, but I’m leaving the ambiguity in).

    So instead of trying to figure out how to make “interactivity” my passion, as I have for years, I can just file that under “good at, like a lot” and move on. My true passion awaits me, elsewhere.

    In the meantime, I am blessed that I liked interactivity enough to gain a real foundation in it, and that I can support myself while I keep looking.

  5. MaryM. 18 years ago

    Hi Dave Seah,

    I don’t think it awaits you, unknown.  I think you already know what it is.  It’s the thing that’s always “WOW” to you, well, almost always.  It’s the thing that you feel jealous about when you see other people doing it, and you not.  It’s the thing that makes you feel alive – the doing of it.  Also you like the the past and the future of it – the having planned it and the visualizing how it will go.  When you feel like telling us, I’m sure you already know what it is or what those things are that you’re passonate about.  Like Hugh says, it is or they are “your Mt Everest.”

    Go specific about it too.  One of the most fun things about your blog is the detail in your posts.  When you feel like posting abouit it, tell us the specifics too please.


  6. Joan 18 years ago

    Wow. You can draw frogs and knit (all these threads together).
    When I was in high school or early in college I took one of those occupational aptitude tests, and found out that I had no affinity for becoming a Forest Ranger. But I did score really high on applied arts.
    Maybe ten years later, after I had been working in an applied arts field, I scored much lower in applied arts (but not as low as forest rangering). I figured this was not because I loved it less, but that I knew it better. Was more familiar with the pitfalls and the processes.  As a cat person, you probably need a fairly high nitch.

  7. Nollind Whachell 18 years ago

    Now onto figuring out what you’re passionate about! :)

  8. Dave 18 years ago

    Joan: Interesting observation…I do know better. I think new media / games has been a conduit to discovering something else. I always loved games for their ability to tell meaningful story (even back when people didn’t believe that they could), and maybe I forgot that. And the commonality between story and games and meaning really comes down to people…it has something to do with them.

    Mary, Nollind: Yep, on to figuring it out! With Detail! :-)

  9. Ken 18 years ago

    Thanks for the article Dave!

  10. Barbara Saunders 16 years ago

    I think the fundamental flaw in the “work with passion” strategy is that it accepts a premise that should be questioned. That premise is that “what I do to earn a living” must equal “how I spend the majority of my time” and will become “the anchor of my way of life.”

    I think the really bold position for people who want freedom around their time is to think in terms of work that isn’t an activity, i.e., rather than drinking the Kool-Aid about finding meaning in a job OR in a right livelihood, configuring a way to make money around the primary goal, a way of life.

  11. Dave Seah 16 years ago

    Barbara: I think you’re saying that you put meaning first (way of life), then you create a money source to support that. That is, as you suggest, a pretty radical position for most of us who work in creative industries. I would guess, though, that this is exactly the mentality that a business creator has: build financial machines that make money and are self-running.

  12. Barbara Saunders 16 years ago

    David: I write for part of my living, and writing is also my passion. I think the best way to free up my “writing energy” for the kinds of projects I want to complete is to make money some other way. Ideally, that way would be something that lets me build my life around my best writing state. Odd thing is, I find it’s hard to be confidently detached enough to create something that doesn’t involve micromanagement!