Hard Work vs. Passion

Now that I actually realize what the assignment point pool tracking thing entails (I was not totally on board before), I’ve realized what a great idea it actually is.  Instead of being graded on how good our finished project is (which is a hard to do objectively), we are being graded on the little things that will lead up to a good project.

This has got me thinking about how different professors try different methods of motivation for big projects.  For instance, last semester I was in two classes that had large essays due near the end of the semester, one fifteen pages and the other 25-50.  The fifteen-pager was for a science class, EARTH 380, and most of my fellow students were Geology majors looking to get their ULWR credit.  I was the only one in my discussion section who seemed enthusiastic about my topic and writing the actual research paper, but the professor was very thorough in breaking down the assignment into manageable chunks spaced out over the semester, and was very clear on what his expectations were the whole time.  Not everyone enjoyed writing the paper, but everyone got it done, and had gone through at least four drafts by the time it was submitted.

In contrast, every single one of my classmates in my senior thesis-writing course was passionate about their chosen topic.  We were given near-complete freedom over the semester; the only concrete date was the due date.  Despite our passion for the subjects, nearly everyone in the class floundered because of the lack of structure.  The only reason I was able to succeed in writing my paper is because I met frequently with an advisor who gave me constant feedback on my drafts, and because I used the structure given by my EARTH 380 class to map out what I should have accomplished for my senior thesis at each point in the semester, rather than hastily writing the whole thing in the last two weeks of the semester.

For most of my life, I’ve assumed that passion for your work is the most important component for success.  Now, however, I realize that if passion can’t be narrowed and focused into consistent day-to-day work, it’s no use for anything more than a hobby.

Question for the comments: have you ever had a passion project that you just couldn’t get started on or finished?  Have you ever enjoyed a project you didn’t initially care about because you had enough external motivation to actually delve into the topic?


Mary Gallagher

I'd like to be good at poetry, short stories, and creative nonfiction, but really I'm here to develop the skills to write about politics and world issues

4 thoughts to “Hard Work vs. Passion”

  1. Hey Mary!

    This post is one of the reasons that I love this blog and the way the Gateway course works. Hearing the experiences of my fellow classmates is one of my favorite modes of improving my own work, while giving me insight into things that work for other people.

    It’s interesting to me how you prefer a strict schedule for completing work. Personally? I don’t prefer a strict or loose schedule, but I like the benefits that both can provide to completing projects. Most often, I deal with loose schedules in my music major activities, since much of my grade depends on a performance sequence. Therefore, I have to plan my own daily prctoce accordingly with a single deadline in mind. I like being able to constantly tweak and change this based on my energy levels and mental alertness. The same goes for when I write, and the gateway corse seems to encourage this approach.

    Strict schedules are nice in classes related to math, sciences, and such. At least, that’s been my experience. The concepts one usually has to learn in classes like that, while certainly very difficult, are built upon with smaller components. The concepts I’m usually introduced to in writing and english classes tend to be broader, making them more difficult to process and grapple with (again, for me).

    Anyway, hope you’re enjoying this minor as much as I am! Good vibes all around.


  2. Hi, Mary.

    You were talking directly to me with that post. You get me. Let’s be friends.
    I definitely need structure and focus to be successful and sane, not just with writing, but with a lot of things. I get so much anxiety when a teacher says, “write about whatever you want and make it however long you want!”. My mind can’t handle that.

    I write a pizza column for Wolverine CuiZine and my editor is great, but I’m given very little direction as a writer. I should be thrilled to be trusted and to have complete creative liberty, instead I panic. That is, until I self-impose scaffolding, draft deadlines, and topic constrictions. And while I do stress about it a bit, I’m very grateful for opportunities to practice crafting structure for writing because I think the lessons I learn on paper will transfer to other areas of my life.

    You also talked at the end of your post about how, without focus, passion will be constrained to a hobby and will never blossom into impactful work. I think that’s an interesting insight and something I’ve never articulated with words. I know that the reason I’m passionate about something is because it challenges me and forces me to work hard. I’ve always thought that, if it doesn’t challenge me, it doesn’t help me grow into the person I’m meant to become and that’s kind of a waste of time. But I’ve never considered that it will never amount to anything if I don’t give it some limits, whether that be with time, space, or something else.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about!


  3. Interesting questions, Mary. I think that, for me, it’s not necessarily hard to narrow passion down, but to narrow a moment down into a good narrative. I think that I have had many powerful moments, but it is hard for me to understand quite how to tell them. This is especially true in the realm of creative nonfiction–a genre that requires you to be exact. Often times, I may have trouble knowing what to leave our or what to keep. The issue with this is that I find myself constantly asking, “but what is the story here, really?” What I’ve found is that every story you decide to attempt to work on has passion within it, and even if the project fails, the passion can carry on into other works. At least, this is what I tell myself when I decide to move on from a project that is daunting me.

  4. Hi Mary! Wow, you really hit something here— I too always thought it was about the passion. But then on those days off, I ask myself why I don’t set off to do the things I always want to do, but don’t have time for. Let me clarify— I currently have a sticky note looming above my desk with a list that includes, “guitar,” “Arabic,” “Mixing/DJing,” and “meditating.” Do you think I did any of them on my snow day? Nope. Same goes for my honors thesis. My passion for the topic ebbs and flows but it’s REALLY hard to motivate yourself to work on it (even when you only have class two days per week.) It’s super frustrating. Am I not driven? Why don’t I care as much? Am I having a personality change? All of these questions rush through my head. I think that once you write something down on a list or in a planner for homework, aka once you’ve instilled an obligation to complete a task you deem enjoyable, it becomes another burden. It’s not that the passion goes away or is muted, it’s just that it has to manifest itself at the right time, spontaneously. I love music. But I can’t bring myself to play guitar everyday. I’m too worried about homework, etc. UGH. But when I’m at a party and someone brings out a guitar unexpectedly, it’s THE best thing ever.

Leave a Reply