Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Joshua Bell and the death of passion

Last Tuesday I went to see Joshua Bell play at the Royal Festival Hall. I've written before about Joshua Bell, and although I know nothing about classical music, violins or indeed Joshua Bell, I did really enjoy it. Mainly because of Bell's enthusiasm and vigour and obviously outrageous talent.

Then a funny thing happened at the weekend. I read a tepid review of the concert. Here is some of it:

Bell’s sweet, ethereal tone is always a pleasure to hear, but this Beethoven concerto sounded small-scale, prissy even, in the massive opening allegro ma non troppo, taken at a very measured pace. Bell’s introverted account of the concerto solos and a grandly scaled but earthbound account of the Eroica, seemed to pay tribute to the monumentality of Klemperer’s famously expansive interpretations of these works, but lacked the old German Kapellmeister’s inexorable, rugged momentum.

What struck me, apart from wondering what a Kapellmeister is, was the contrast between the passion which I saw Bell put into his playing and the cold analysis of the review.

How must this feel? After all, Bell is 34. He must have practiced violin since he was 3 or 4 and for most of his early years playing this must have been because he really, truly just loved doing it.

Then someone writes a review like that. It must be pretty unpleasant.

To me this shows the great danger of following your passion as a career, which is what most career coaches tell you to do. We don't agree, because becoming a professional can kill passion in the thing you love, as Seth Godin points out.

Identifying a career is far more individual, more nuanced than that. Choosing a career should be based on what you are like as a person, as well as what you love doing. It should be based on what you want from life as well as what you love.

This is not an easy sell to clients - it's far easier just to say 'do what you love and all will be well!'. In Bell's case his overwhelming talent is part of who he is, so there is far more value in pursuing this no matter what. Hopefully he has linked what he does to a higher value, too. So for him the choice (if not the practice) is relatively easy.

But for most of us, what we love doing is only the first step to working out what it is we should do as a career.

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