Emotion vs. Passion

Knowing the difference can mean derailment or advancement in the workplace

“I create software for a lot of bonds and credit derivative traders who need to quickly act on market opportunities,” says Felix Muchomba, a software engineer and assistant vice president at Merrill Lynch. “The kind of business my clients do is dependent on my software working right. But [in] one instance, one of my programs had a major issue and I could not solve it.”

Muchomba enjoys solving problems and believes he excels at it, but this particular challenge frustrated him. As pressure from desperate clients began to mount, his anxiety increased. Although it was protocol to involve his manager if a problem persisted, Muchomba’s pride clouded his judgment and kept him from seeking his manager’s help.

Determined to prove himself, Muchomba spent longer hours at work, but to no avail. “As someone who is here to deliver solutions in a fast-paced environment,” he says, “I went home feeling emotionally drained and thinking: ‘Am I good at this?’”

Although he is passionate about his work, Muchomba discovered that there’s a difference between passion and emotionalism. Emotionalism is an exaggerated display of strong feelings, while passion is the enthusiasm and interest you bring to your work. Despite their differences, emotionalism and passion can easily be confused because they both involve personal expression.

Emotional outbursts can damage your professional reputation and possibly derail your career advancement. It’s important to know and understand the difference between emotionalism and passion, especially when you’re engaged in the frenzied pace of deadlines, performance reviews, and stiff competition.

Muchomba eventually realized that struggling with the problem didn’t indicate incompetence and decided to consult his manager. As a result, his manager re-prioritized his workload, allowing him to focus on solving the mystery—the problem-solving part of his work he especially enjoyed. Two weeks later, he solved the problem.

Emotion can be displayed in different ways. Some express their emotions in angry outbursts, which often results in fractured and undermined relationships. For others, fears of inadequacy or job insecurity lead them to overload themselves with projects to prove their worth.

Here are some tips for restraining your emotions at work yet allowing your passion to enhance your career:

Communicate
Don’t stifle or ignore your feelings, says Rhoda Smackums, career coach and founder and president of Career By Design L.L.C., but don’t go to the other extreme either. Expressing aggressive feelings is unprofessional and can be damaging to your career if you’re seen perceived as “difficult.” “Step away from the situation,” Smackums suggests. “Cool off and come back to the people involved when you’ve thought things through rationally.”

Take inventory often
Smackums suggests taking time to examine and acknowledge your accomplishments. “Passion is strongest when you’re getting the outcomes you want. But fear can undermine this and lead to irrational decisions,” she explains. “With insecurity, you don’t realize how good you really are and what you’ve accomplished until you start taking inventory, writing it down, and updating your résumé.”

Let emotions advance, not stifle you
Emotions can be good if you’re in control —not the other way around, stresses Barry J. Moltz, author

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