In most people’s minds science and engineering doesn’t invoke images of passionate devotion. Instead they think of equations, computers, metal being cut and exotic instruments. Nonetheless like all manner of human endeavor, passion plays a key role in producing the most stunning progress and achievement. Passion is one of those soft things we are so intently uncomfortable with, and like most soft things our success is keenly determined by how well we engage the issues around them.
So what am I passionate about? What got me to do what I do today? I started thinking about what got me started in computational simulation, and led to getting a PhD and ending in computational science today. At the heart of the journey is a passionate idealistic sentiment, “if I can simulate something on the computer, it implies that I understand it.” To me, a focus on V&V is a natural outgrowth of this idealism. Too often, I lose sight of what got me started. Too often, I end up doing work that has too little meaning, too little heart. I need to get in better touch with that original passion that propelled me through graduate school, and those first few years as a professional. The humdrum reality of work so often squeezes my passion for modeling and simulation out. When you feel passionately about what you are doing, it stops being work.
Employers and employees are most comfortable with hard skills and tangible things that can be measured. Often interviews and hiring revolve around the technical skills associated with the job, soft skills are either ignored or an afterthought. Things like knowledge, ability to solve problems, money, and time are concrete and measureable. They lend themselves to metrics. Soft things are feelings (like passion), innovation, inclusion, emotion, and connectedness. Most of these things are close to the core of what defines success and evade measurement. Hard skills are necessary, but woefully insufficient.
Scientists and especially engineers are very uncomfortable with this. Take a wonderfully written and insightful essay as an example. Its quality is a matter of opinion, and can’t be quantified in a manner that makes the scientific world happy. Yet the quality exists, and the capacity of such an essay to move ones emotion, shape one’s opinions, and enrich the lives of those that read it are clear. If we don’t value the soft stuff success will elude us.
A well-written persuasive argument can shape action and ultimately lead to greater material gains in what can be measured. The inability to measure this quality should in no way undermine its value. Yet, so often, it does. We end up valuing what we can measure and fail to address what cannot be measured. We support the development of hard skills and fail to develop the soft skills. Passion is one of these soft things that does not receive the care and feeding it needs. It is overlooked as a way forward to productivity and innovation. Fun is another thing and its link to passion is strong. People feel fun in doing things they have passion for. With the passion and fun comes effortless work and greater achievement than skillful execution without those characteristics.
Passion needs to be fed. Passion can ignite innovation and productivity. If you work at what you have passion for, you’ll likely be happier, and more productive. Your life and the lives of those you touch will be better. Too often people fail to find passion in work and end up channeling themselves into something outside of work where they can find passion. At the foundation of many great achievements is passionate work. As passion is lost all that is left is work, and with the loss of passion, the loss of possibility.
Maybe you should find your own passion again. Something propelled you to where you are today. It must be powerful to have done that.