Passion vs. professionalism

One scene from a biopic on Frida Kahlo’s life caught my attention. This was Kahlo’s first meeting with her mentor and her to-be husband, Diego Riviera. Kahlo asks him for an opinion of her paintings.

Frida: I just want your serious opinion.

Diego: What do you care about my opinion? If you’re a real painter, you’ll paint because you can’t live without painting. You’ll paint till you die, okay?

Frida: I have to work to earn a living so I don’t have the time to fool around just for vanity. If I’m not good enough, I have to do something to help my parents.

The dialogue here hints at the tension between passion and professionalism. Riviera says that passionate painters paint regardless of anything else. Kahlo replies that she would rather be a professional rather than a passionate painter.

Too many people tell us to follow our passion, but not enough people tells us to become professionals. Professionalism separates hollow desire from the grind required to do difficult, yet valuable work. While passion fuels inspiration, the mark of the professional is to deliver even when there is no inspiration left. To show up, even on days that she does not feel like.

Would you rather be operated by a passionate or a professional surgeon?

Scott Adams talks about how professionalism is valued over passion. Adams previously worked as an officer who sanctioned loans. His boss, who had more than a decade of experience in the field, developed an eye for businesses that succeed. He warned Adams against giving money to the passionate customer who quit his programming job to start a fishing store. Instead, he asked him to lend to the professional who had no passion but had the analysis and the spreadsheets to back up his business case.

Passion makes for the best stories but professionalism is what separates success from fiction.

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