There’s nothing wrong with the passion principle, says Cech, author of The Trouble with Passion: How Searching for Fulfillment at Work Fosters Inequality (University of California Press, 2021). But that doesn’t mean making our job the be-all and end-all.
She speaks as someone who knows. Earning a degree in electrical engineering at Montana State University, she realized she had a greater fascination for sociology (partly because her hopes of working on assistive technologies weren’t shared by many others in the engineering field) and decided to make the jump to social science.
“I decided I had to follow my passion,” she says wryly.
Her pursuit led to gainful academic employment—no sure thing in today’s market—and work she genuinely enjoys. But the more she looked into the subject of passion, the more she discovered there were hidden traps.
Cech spoke about the role of passion at work, how different socioeconomic groups are rewarded for passion, and what can be done to create balance in our lives. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Todd Leopold: I was struck by a theme of the book: “Exploitation is a feature of the capitalistic economic structure.” In other words, our employers take advantage of our passion. Is that fair? Is it wrong to be passionate about work?
Erin Cech: Having jobs that we like—there’s nothing wrong with that. [But] there are many ways we can find joy in our work: loving the colleagues we work with, or being behind the mission of the organization we work for, or even being able to contain our work hours to be able to have time and energy for the things outside of work.
There’s an old adage that comes from socialist democracies, and that’s the idea of 8-8-8: 8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, and 8 hours for ourselves.