Passion Is Easy. Skill? Not So Much

The irony is that those who are passionate have great difficulty in understanding why it’s not good enough because they don’t go the next step and apply critical thinking to the efficacy of raw passion.  After all, they keep hearing important people tell them that all they need to be a raving success is to be passionate. And they are. Even Apple says so:

Apple’s Your Verse ad campaign poses an odd and maybe cynical offer to us. Don’t pay attention to the call of law, business, or medicine. Be a poet. Be a creator. Contribute your verse. What are we on American Idol? Or as Monty Python put it maybe all we want to do is sing. Apple panders to the look at me right now world. The film is about free thinkers. Maybe that is the same as being a poet.

The point was made most effectively in a humor magazine article, I believe Cracked (but can’t find it, so if you know what I’m referring to, please help me out with the link. Edit: this is it, thanks to Aaron Williamson) where a person comes to the aid of someone badly injured, announcing that they are there to save the day.  The injured person asks, “so you’re a doctor?”  The good Samaritan responds, “no, but I’m deeply passionate about medicine.”

At Concurring Opinions, Devon Desai makes the point about the value of a liberal arts education, but one that recognizes that it’s not good enough to “embrace” the selfie of thought without having mastered the hard work behind the wealth of knowledge.

Rigor. To the waste bin with brownie points for showing up. Be gone empty claims of it’s good, because I said it. Learn the fundamentals. Master the material. As Phillipe Nonet said to my class in college when someone started a sentence with “I think”, “That you think it, does not matter. It matters what it says.”

It turns out that free thinking is much more difficult than Keating realizes. The rigor of learning the fundamentals allows us to be liberated. Liberal arts are about freedom and how we are unmoored from habit. But knowing the foundations is how you might see where they may not operate anymore. So sure contribute your verse. But if you want it to be a good one, let alone a great one, let alone one that might allow you to eat, put in the work.

Years ago, I visited the Picasso museum in Antibes, and saw some of his earliest paintings. They were extraordinary in two respects. First, they were fabulous paintings. Second, they were painted in the style of realism. “But, Picasso,” I thought?  Exactly.  Before he delved into cubism, he was an extraordinary realism painter.  In other words, he first mastered the norm before creating the extraordinary.

Much as Devon’s point is critical, his motive eventually comes out:

Contrary to recent pushes from big law (note that with 30-505 margins the big firms can absorb training costs), law schools training people to think in sharp and critical ways are providing an education that connects to the law and much more. But that requires diligence, drudgery, and didactic moments. Those happen to turn into gifts of knowledge, skill, and the ability to learn on your own. At that point, your verse might be worth something.

While it’s unclear what he means by 30-505 margins, it appears sufficient to know that his point is that Biglaw has the financial resources to carry the cost of teaching babies how to practice after they get a job. It’s a non-sequitur, though you might miss it if you don’t apply critical thinking skills.

I’ve already explained why the excessive emphasis on passion is misguided, to the point of being dangerous. I’ve already explained why everyone is not entitled to an opinion.  Without the foundation, the knowledge and skills necessary to know what you’re talking about, to perform the things you feel passionate about, it’s all a monumental load of crap designed to make you feel good about yourself while you wallow in laziness and ignorance.

As much as I agree wholeheartedly with Devon about the virtue of a liberal arts education, the breadth of knowledge about humanity that provides the foundation upon which your “verse might be worth something,” the time to do that is in high school and in college.

Devon’s criticism of the lack of rigor in education, in life, that makes people feel entitled to stretch their wings without having suffered the “diligence, drudgery, and didactic moments” necessary to gain a clue, is a criticism of education in general. By the time you get to law school, you should already have that foundation. If you don’t, you have no business being in law school.  And you have no business being a lawyer.

Whether you write your verse on an iPad or the back of an envelope in crayon doesn’t matter. Whether you have the capacity to write a verse that offers meaning and insight is what counts. And if you were too lazy or self-absorbed in the merit of your own opinions to be bothered to put in the hard work of learning before you got to law school, then you haven’t earned the right to offer a verse upon which another person’s life or fortune relies.

And if your view of life is affected by television commercials, then you should give some serious thought to where you went wrong.



22 comments on “Passion Is Easy. Skill? Not So Much

  1. Patrick Maupin

    I think 30-505 is merely 50%, typed quickly enough for the shift key to not register properly…

      1. Patrick Maupin

        I’m sure that he meant 30-50%. That seems the right range, given that 41.37% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

        1. SHG Post author

          Are you sure? Did you ask him? Because if you’re wrong, then what you will say to everyone who reads your comment and says, “jeez, I want to SJ and now I’m stupider for it”? Or will I have to explain it?

          In other words, never say you’re “sure” of something unless you’re truly sure of something. It’s probably correct, but there is no reason why you have explain what Devon meant, and it’s certainly not your place to be “sure.”

          1. Patrick Maupin

            My first pass at my second comment did not reek of such certainty. However, it also did not offer the proper substrate upon which to build my abjectly failed attempt at humor. The purported purpose of the alleged humor was (and let me just take this opportunity to note that the record will show that I have not yet quite forgotten what I was thinking about 40 minutes ago) to point out that both 30 and 50 (but not, of course, 505) are suspiciously round numbers (as is 40, but I confess I’m not sure exactly when your system will timestamp this comment).

            In future, I will strive more diligently to keep my lame content humor-free and my lame humor content-free. Your efforts to remind me when I have failed at this are greatly appreciated.

            1. Patrick Maupin

              Sure. Say it’s OK after I fall on my sword distancing myself from it.

              Look, if you don’t do a better job of pumping up my ego after every single comment, I’m going to have to take you up on your money back guarantee. And don’t think that I’m going to let you off the hook even when you do cheerfully refund every last cent I gave you. I’m already brainstorming with Crystal about the best way to make you pay for this terrible attitude that somehow this is your soapbox.

            2. Patrick Maupin

              Well, that was a good ego boost. Maybe I’ll stay around just a little…

              Say! You’ve done this before, haven’t you??!?

  2. david shooter

    At risk of offending our esteemed Curmudgeonly Curator, in my opinion everyone is entitled to an opinion. What they are not entitled to is a free grant of relevance and/or attention, simply for being able to voice said opinion. In my opinion.

    1. Patrick Maupin

      I hadn’t seen that post before, so I read it with interest after I read this one. It might have saved me some time if I had read it before last fall — I could have said “You’re not entitled to an opinion.” to a sometimes-difficult co-worker instead of what I did say, which was to paraphrase Moynihan: “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.”

      I wasted 55% of my words!

      (Of course, that’s really only true as long as I maintain strict adherence to the “Never apologize. Never explain.” policy.)

      1. david shooter

        The fact you need to have a policy would indicate you are under qualified to be creating a situation where you need to do either. As a great man once said, being right means never having to say you’re sorry. In my opinion.

      1. Patrick Maupin

        I thought I did hit the reply button (to that comment). But apparently I suck at that too.

        1. david shooter

          Your maths problems are getting harder . . .
          If I’d known there was going to be consternation, angst, brouhaha and accusations of suckiness, I would have put in smiley faces and some “hello kitty” references . . .

          there there, patrick . . . ell o ell

          1. Patrick Maupin

            My math problems? Looks like I’m not the only one who has trouble with the reply button.

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