Passion for Work?

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Guest Blogger:  Kimberly Boice

Passion. noun \ˈpa-shən\: a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept.*

If you’re lucky, you possess some amount of passion for your work.  The brain surgeon enjoys the challenge of human physiology, the teacher seeks to nurture curiosity, the museum curator aims to preserve that precious artifact.  Passion is the catalyst that makes many people push themselves a bit farther to ensure that the patient is well, that the person understands, or that the object is accessible.  It’s a privilege to feel strongly about one’s work and we should count ourselves lucky.

Many of us pursued a career in the museum field because we want to make a difference in how the general public learns and perceives history, science, art or some amazing combination of all those subjects.  Our passion drives us to work late into the night, early in the morning, while off-duty, and for relatively little money or benefits. We somehow continue to do more things with fewer and fewer resources because we’re creative, caring people who possess a deep passion for our work and how it impacts the people who benefit from it.  

Most days I love my work as a museum educator and I believe it’s apparent in what I produce. Yet supervisors, family, and friends remind me I’m fortunate to have my job as if I were unaware of the fact.  They believe that we chose a career in this field knowing salaries often remain low for the majority of workers while many positions require experience beyond a four-year college degree and therefore larger debt.  Although they are not wholly wrong, we have worked hard to achieve what we have. Passion does not pay the bills, nor does it make us immune to the hardships and complexities of day-to-day tasks. If anything, the emotional ties to the job make many of us endure on fumes for longer than we should, threatening to jeopardize our mental and physical health. Add to this strain, the fear of retribution in the workplace and the larger museum community for being too vocal about legitimate hardships and it’s no surprise that some choose to pursue alternative careers.

So where does all this leave us?  Honestly, I don’t know. Of course, finding yourself entirely burnt-out and/or in a toxic work environment is not good for anyone. You must decide if leaving the situation is a viable option for you and what that means in the short and long-term: can you relocate to a similar job elsewhere?  Do you attempt to reinvent yourself for another type of work? Will returning to school make you the best hire? Should you take that promotion? Will you be the change you seek or simply suffer until retirement? How do you retain passion for the work while maintaining a good work/life balance?  Is the passion enough to sustain you?                    

*Source: Merriam-Webster dictionary online, 12 March 2018

Kimberly Boice has worked professionally as a museum educator at an historic site since July 2003, although she began volunteering in the museum field as a teenager.  Her passion for interpreting history often finds her working nights and weekends at her site and elsewhere, serving on committees and boards, and coordinating learning weekends for her fellow history enthusiasts as Mrs. Boice’s Historie Academie.

7 Comments on “Passion for Work?”

  1. Evelyn Fidler says:

    Well said and very truthful!

  2. T.H. Gray says:

    For many, a place’s “potential” is what keeps us there. We all define potential differently. This is our definition

    T.H. Gray, Director-Curator
    American Hysterical Society

  3. boardk says:

    Good stuff. But, I would challenge us to find many synonyms for the word “passion,” especially if applying to grad school. Too many applications use this word choice in ways that reduce its meaning and reduce one’s individuality.
    What about “commitment”,”vision”, or “community service intentions” as creative substitutes? Other suggestions?
    And, would alternative words better express the breadth of why we enthusiastically show up for work each day?

    • Evelyn Fidler says:

      Those are good curatorial type substitutions for passion. In collections management we use, care about the past enough to preserve it for future generations, doing no further harm to those in our care etc

  4. Emily says:

    I keep this quotation from Lawrence of Arabia on my desk: “With Major Lawrence, mercy is a passion. With me, it is merely good manners. You may judge which motive is the more reliable.” I may have gotten into museum collections work because I loved going to museums and because I had a passion for science and history, but I quickly learned that it is a job like any other job – office politics, funding issues, paperwork, etc. This quote reminds me that passion by its very nature waxes, wanes, changes. I am a trained professional and I do my work according to best practice because it is the right thing to do – “good manners,” if you will. I pursue my passions in my own time outside of work hours. Museum work is a job and it is exploitative to expect museum staff to live and breathe the museum and put in a ton of extra unpaid hours simply “for the love of it.”

  5. Michael Holland says:

    Good thoughts expressed here. I think it’s important to recognize (and advocate for) the understanding that “following your passion” in a career isn’t by default a life of low pay and poor job security. (Neurosurgeons and NBA players follow their passions and don’t seem to have trouble making the rent…) It’s not realistic for museum workers to expect a stratospheric level of compensation, but we shouldn’t simply accept that in order to do what we love professionally we must be willing to be perennially broke or periodically unemployed.

    I’m encouraged by what we’re seeing in the education realm lately, where teachers (another group of underpaid and overworked public service-oriented professionals) are raising their voices and getting some of the change that they need. While the legislative and contractual changes they’ve been achieving have real and immediate benefits, I think that their efforts could also have the broader effect of shifting the narrative from “nobody goes into teaching for the money” to “if we value what teachers do, we should make sure they can make a decent living doing it.”

    These teachers reached the limits of their passion, and faced with the choice between leaving their field or working to change it, they’ve chosen the latter. Perhaps there are lessons for us in their journey.

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