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  • Writer's pictureChristine Callihan

Can Indifference be as Important as Passion?

How often do you hear someone say something like, “I really admire that man. He is so indifferent about his work”? Just writing it makes me laugh. “Mom, I met someone! They are so indifferent about this that and the other!”

Great passion is priceless! We hear about passion all the time. We admire people with passion. The word passion has several different meanings. When it comes to work and career, we ask ourselves, “What am I passionate about?” We tell our tribe to “follow your passion”. How about these sayings?

  • The most successful people follow passion not paychecks.

  • It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together.

  • A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.

  • Do it with passion or not at all.

  • Skills are cheap, passion is priceless.

  • Find your passion and it’s no longer work.

According to the Oxford dictionary, passion can be defined as, “a strong and barely controllable emotion; a state or outburst of strong emotion; an intense desire or enthusiasm for something”.

Are there any downsides to passion?

Ann Michael from “Manage to Change” has some thoughts on this. She pointed out that “passion can make you too close to something. We all need to be able to step back and disconnect. In order to see flaws in the plan, respect the input of others, and maintain an open mind, a little indifference can go a long way”.

Is it possible that many of peoples’ disrespectful actions are excused by claiming that they were simply a result of passion? Does having passion give you a free pass to steam roll everyone in your path? Is it possible that passion may need to be reeled in sometimes? Or controlled a bit?

Have you ever found yourself so passionate about an idea that you got overexcited and over enthused and then you lost your sense of proportion? And then you worked overtime trying to make your point while not letting others finish their sentences? They might begin to see you as a temporary jerk. This would be a good time to reel in the passion a little bit.

Can you think of another circumstance where more indifference and less passion is called for? I agree with Bob Sutton’s statement that we have undeniable human cognitive limits. Modern psychology has proven that human beings can only do so many things at once. We sometimes claim to be great “multi taskers” but too much is too much! He says, “If you try to put all your emotional and physical effort into everything you do, you will end up doing everything badly”. So while we have areas that we are passionate about, we also have areas that we are indifferent to.

Indifference is a key survival skill. There are many things that you need to do, and yet they are unimportant, so not caring as you travel through them is the best answer.

How about that phrase, “Do it with passion or not at all”. If you only cleaned the toilet when you were feeling passionate about it, it would probably not ever get cleaned. Similarly, if you were not feeling well and you felt passionate about staying in bed all day, there could be children or pets that would starve. You may not feel passionate about dragging yourself out of bed to care for them, but some things just need to get done. That phrase “not at all” just simply cannot be applied here.

According to Oxford Dictionary, Indifference can be defined as “lack of interest, concern, or sympathy; unimportance.

The truth is, some things are unimportant. But they need to be tended to nevertheless. And you don’t need to attend to them with passion. A healthy dose of indifference will help you get them done without over exhausting yourself. Some job duties are mundane. The person who can get those jobs done and then just move on can be commended for their work, regardless of their level of passion exhibited.

I can think of another instance where indifference or “lack of concern” is a more desirable trait. A clumsy young girl rushes into the breakroom, bumping your arm, which just happened to be holding a fresh cup of coffee. The coffee spills all over your laptop. Shouldn’t you care about your laptop? Is this going to become an expensive repair? And what about the deadline that you were rushing to meet? Should you be passionate about meeting this deadline and protecting this laptop? Should she be fully informed about how clumsy that move was?

The young girl is mortified by what she has done. She apologizes and rushes to get you some paper towels. Instead of responding with passionate frustration, you err on the side of indifference. I don’t think that this is such a bad thing. In fact, I see this indifference as a positive. After the damage was done, there was nothing that passion could do to fix the issue. The damage to the laptop could no longer be changed. In this case, it seems like a bit of indifference could be similarly described as extending grace.

Another great time to practice indifference: you should not pay too much attention to other people’s opinions. If you are going to pursue any ambitious goal, you are going to be criticized. If you are trying to do something original, thousands of people will tell you that you don’t know what you are doing. If you are trying to start your own business, there will be many self-appointed critics telling you that you will fail. No need to pay attention to those people. People throw rocks at things that shine. Have some indifference! Grow some thick skin. Pay no mind! Treat those criticisms as unimportant and choose to have a lack of concern.

And paradoxically, the happier and more successful that you will become, the more often you are going to be criticized. So growing that tough skin of indifference is going to be an important asset.

According to Daily Stoic, it could be argued that the key to the good life is indifference! Marcus Aurelius says, “To live a good life: we have the potential for it, if we can learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference.”

Imagine that you’re driving down the road when someone speeds right past you and merges into your lane in front of you, right before the two lanes merge into one. And you respond with a mere shrug of the shoulders and a shake of the head. You think to yourself, “little do they know, they won’t get there any more quickly than I will”.

A coworker upsets you at work – and you go about your day unaffected. (It says more about them than you anyway).

You wake up with a cold and a sore throat – and yet you have no complaints. It’s as if you are indifferent to the ailment. Things could be worse, right?

When you are choosing to not care passionately about these things, you are coming out on top in these cases. Things that make no difference, things that are outside your control will cease to affect you, and cease to bother you most of all. As a result, the circle of your attention and the problems that can disturb you becomes more limited and focused on items solely within your control. Imagine what that would feel like.

In closing, I do think that, on average, it is likely wiser to err on the side of caring too much rather than caring too little. Passion does lead people to do great things. Passion, oftentimes, makes the world a better place. We need people who care about their work and the people around them. But perhaps indifference is a word with a bad rap. Perhaps we don’t always need to respond to everything with great passion. Perhaps sometimes, less is more. So the next time you lash out at someone impulsively and they spare you their response, maybe consider thanking them for their indifference?

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