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Are your activities defined as passion or obsession?

“Our passions are the winds that propel our vessel. Our reason is the pilot that steers her. Without winds the vessel would not move and without a pilot she would be lost.” — Anonymous

Years ago, I met two men, Steve and Martin, preparing their cows for a show. Both very proud of their cattle, and also proud to help bring this prestigious livestock event to their area. They told me how passionate they were.

If there is one common characteristic shared by all entrepreneurs and leaders, it is passion.

However, when I take a closer look, there is a world of difference between the two men. Steve has a passion, but Martin’s passion possesses him.

Let’s start with Steve. What’s important for him is to improve himself, to set his own goals, to develop himself fully and, above all, to love what he does. When he prepares his heifers to show, he keeps an open mind. “Of course, I hope to win some prizes,” Steve tells me. “But I concentrate on preparation and on the experience I get out of it.”

Steve appreciates the people he meets and what he gets out of the show. “In fact, if I win, that’s the icing on the cake, but if not, I have still appreciated my experience. I like what I’m doing and winning or being the best is not an end in itself.”

Even though Steve devotes a lot of time to exhibitions and his business, he also has other passions in his life. He gives some time to photography too, and he likes taking vacations and spending time with his family. In short, there’s life beyond these shows.

For Martin it’s a very different story. These shows seem to be his only passion. “For me, anything not related to exhibitions is a waste of time. I have only one thing in mind: bringing home the first prize, nothing less.” It goes without saying that if Martin doesn’t place, he gets depressed, angry and discouraged. His spouse privately told me, “It takes him days to get over it. He is obsessed. He is envious of others and sometimes even hates them. He becomes very aggressive for days, even weeks, if he doesn’t win first prize. I don’t think it is healthy. Sometimes my children and I feel that his cows are much more important to him than we are.”

It is important to distinguish between harmonious and obsessive passion. The term harmonious passion is used when a person is passionate about an activity that he pursues for the pleasure it gives him. He can spend a significant amount of time on it without pursuing admiration, recognition or prestige at all costs.

However, when that admiration and recognition are expected, or even considered essential, the passion has become obsessive. When social recognition means everything, and the individual expects solely external rewards, issues of self-esteem come into play. As a result, there is no longer pleasure in the activity itself.

Harmonious passion is about the journey, and obsessive passion is about reaching the goal. The problem is that, more often than not, we can’t entirely control whether we reach our goals. There are too many contributing factors. For example, would you like to produce 20 per cent higher canola yields this year? You could set this goal, but too many factors that you can’t control could interfere with achieving it.

How do you know which passion you have?

  • How do you feel when you finish an activity?
  • Are you able to go on to something else, or to stop, or do you feel a constant need to continue, to the detriment of your relationships?
  • Do you enjoy the activity itself?
  • Do you do it for its own pleasure or to prove your value to others?
  • Does your self-esteem vary based on your results?
  • Does your passion eat into other areas of your life?

In the extreme, when obsessive passion takes over, it can lead to dependence (often seen in gambling, Internet and work addictions). The individual may no longer derive any pleasure from the activity, but unfortunately they cannot cut back.

Both types of passions can lead to success. Among athletes, musicians and business people, there are successful individuals who have harmonious and obsessive passions. However, the path of obsessive passion is empty, tortured, painful and expensive.

In short, research shows that people with obsessive passions aren’t as happy, either in their personal lives or in the realm of business. Plus, when the obsession is directly related to work, burnout is never far away.

As my mother said, “Everything is good in moderation, even passion!”

Pierrette Desrosiers, MPS, CRHA is a work psychologist, professional speaker, coach and author who specializes in the agricultural industry. She comes from a family of farmers and she and her husband have farmed for more than 25 years. Contact her by email here.

About the author


Pierrette Desrosiers

Pierrette Desrosiers, MPS, CRHA is a work psychologist, professional speaker, coach and author who specializes in the agricultural industry. She comes from a family of farmers and she and her husband have farmed for more than 25 years (

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