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Please Stop Saying That You’re “Passionate.”

If you’ve ever been on a dating site or an app, you’ve seen it. Before you is a profile that’s met all of your minimum criteria (age, gender, orientation, distance, etc.) with a set of photos that are compelling enough to draw your finger up the screen for a further scroll. After a brief and cookie-cutter intro about how much they love to travel and hike, they’re not here for hookups, but they are looking for their “forever gym buddy,” you find it: They finish their About or Interests section with the phrase: “I like to have fun!”

No shit, Sherlock.

We all like to have fun! That’s why we classify it as fun. But we all define “fun” differently. How you define it is the important part and the entire point of adding it to your Interests. It helps people know more about you. So, what do you mean??”

I deliver dozens of workshops per year, and most are centered around clarity of purpose and connecting more deeply/working more efficiently as a team. As you might imagine, to get to the core of either of these topics, I need to learn more about the people I’m working with, and so do the people around them. And it’s not surprising (but always frustrating) when someone—or some people—self-describe by saying, “I’m a passionate person.”

I’m not sure where this phenomenon originated, but it has permeated our culture—especially our work culture. People see it as a valid and positive trait to label themselves or others as “passionate.” We see it on resumes and hear it in job interviews, we hear it in team-building surveys, and, yes, we even see it on dating profiles. But being “passionate” on its own is meaningless.

Think about it, the point of self-describing (or describing someone else) is to help give someone an insight about you (or him/her/they). No one just randomly walks up and says to another person, “Hey. I’m passionate. Jut wanted to let you know.” And if someone does do that to you, turn and run as fast as you can, because that’s a Grade A creeper.

There was a context in which this arose- a question that was asked, a goal of the overall conversation of which this is a part, or a presentation that was assigned. The goal is to share something useful or interesting about yourself to another person. Saying that you’re a “passionate person” does as much answering of the actual question as someone being asked, “So what do you like to eat?” and responding, “Oh, I love to eat my favorite foods.” The natural reaction is, WELL TELL US WHAT THOSE FOODS ARE! That’s the entire point of the question.

Similarly, no one cares whether you are a passionate person or not.

That’s not to say that people aren’t interested in getting to know you more and learning about you. If someone asked about you, it’s quite the opposite. What I mean is that the passion itself is irrelevant until we know what you’re passionate about. Passion is merely a result of doing something that you care deeply about, so answer the question that you are actually being asked (and is actually useful) and tell us what makes you passionate. If it’s helpful, a tool I’ve seen work for people stuck in this habit is to make a rule that if you cannot say the word “passionate” without adding the word “about” after it whenever you say it. It forces you to add clarity in your statements and ask more clear and pointed questions. Whatever it takes for you to get to the heart of what makes you passionate, I promise you, it will lead to richer conversations, more meaningful connections, and more useful learnings.

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