Fresh Perspective on Passion-Ability Relationship

A post raised my interest in studying the relationship between passion and the ability to do a job. I want to start with my personal story.

My story goes back years ago. I accepted an offer to teach a course on statistics at a reputed university. I knew before that students register for this course because it was a prerequisite to graduation.

I started my first lecture by asking students why they registered for this course. Almost all of them replied because they had to. It was obvious to me that they had no passion. I then asked for questions and found out that their ability to visualize statistics was limited. Therefore, they lacked both passion and ability. My dilemma was where to start?

I changed the course plan. I prepared a statistical lab with many interactive simulations to “play with”. I told the students that I shall not tolerate coming to the lab late and warned those who would dare not to. I spent about three weeks explaining each game (designed to serve later as a model for normal distribution and its characteristics). The students enjoyed immensely the games and had fun doing so.

I explained later what statistics they learnt and how they could apply what they learned in life. I could see their initial fears disappeared and now had the passion to understand statistics and little ability to build on. I told them that they were free to come to classes and I shall not take note of students who did not. Not a single student was absent. I then realized that their passion is on the right level.

Which comes first ability or passion?

In my story, I chose to prioritize to foster desire and then ability. I found a reference that prefers the opposite approach by prioritizing attention first to ability. Benjamin Todd’s shared in his TED talk on Passion his equation:

Explore + Get good at flexible skills + Solve pressing problems = Happiness/Passion.

The Feedback Effect

My experience showed that passion to do what you love doing enhances your ability to do other things.

Because now that you acquired new abilities you may discover new passions for other things do. Because you have new passions then you shall learn new abilities.

My handwriting fueled my passion to learn computers to type for me. Because of my mastering new computer skills, I developed a passion for simulation applications. Because I learned simulation and developed my skills, I wanted to learn new computer skills as graphic design and so on.

The above explains the way passion and ability foster each other. They work as a bundle.

I find the recent post of the post is Zen Benefiel of great value to this post. The title of the post is “One World in a New World with Michelle Holliday”. The post explains the journey of Michelle Holliday and how she passionately used her skills to be a great achiever. The post is worthy of your reading time.

The Triangle of love

Robert Sternberg suggested the triangle love consisting of passion, intimacy, and commitment with real love in the center of the triangle.

I believe we can extend the idea to teaching as well. The triangle shall have its corners carrying the name of passion, ability (skills), and commitment with the love of teaching in the center of the triangle.

We may even have the triangle as a fractal of the three components. Dr. Rod King has produced a similar fractal grid for my three rules of life. Similarly, he can produce the fractal love fractal grid for the love of teaching and training.

I did not include a commitment in the previous discussions to keep discussions simple. It is also my belief that the synergistic effect of passion and ability id high enough shall produce commitment.

Ideally, we want the triangle of love for teaching, coaching, and training matching the love of students and trainees to learn.


Ali Anani
Ali Anani
My name is Ali Anani. I hold a Ph.D. from the University of East Anglia (UK, 1972) Since the early nineties I switched my interests to publish posts and presentations and e-books on different social media platforms.

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  1. Doing what you like has a single universal meaning: it means doing what makes us feel good, what we do best and what we love, doing something with the maximum of our energy and commitment because it makes us grow and learn. Just as is demonstrated by the story told by Prof. Ali: his passion for teaching made it possible for him to find the most suitable solution (ability) in transmitting to students the interest in the subject.
    Everything we love to do is done because it makes us feel good while we do it, because it makes us proud, because it gives us something we were looking for, because we are proud of ourselves when we do a task to the best of our ability and ability.
    And, small parenthesis, this also means that, if teachers, trainers, coaches do not like their work, what they say or do will never attract the interest of others.
    However, I believe that it can happen that one discovers that he loves something he does and that you did not initially choose. How can it happen in work. It is not an arranged marriage between us and our true passions, nor is it a compromise. Except that sometimes things happen between head and neck and one cannot foresee them or enjoy them immediately or understand why they happened.
    However, it is we who choose what influence these events will have in our life.
    Dreams change over time, they change induced by circumstances or by choice, but we will always do what we love if we put the best fruit of what we have learned into any activity.
    Knowledge, learning can make us discover new interests, new skills that, over time, we can love.

    • Hi Aldo,i- so true skills and passion are dynamic and change with time.

      Sometimes our passions are so close that they blur our eyes. The right moment shall arrive when we awaken to the emerging 0r stored passions.

      Storytelling is a passion I had, but only discovered this years later. Sometimes our immerse in a passion eclipses another passion. This could happen for reasons that we are unconscious of.

      Surely, one way is as what you said “Knowledge, learning can make us discover new interests, new skills that, over time, we can love”.

      I has a friend who had great passion for making movies. His family rejected the idea completely.He became a successful architect.Years later he went back to school to study and become a film director.

      One day the dormant seeds of passion shall open up.

  2. You know Cynthia Ann Leighton that passion involves putting yourself in the position of the concerned person to feel her/his feelings and experience them.

    You did the same. Each student was put in place of other students. No wonder you succeeded. You raised the students’ awareness and empathy passionately.

    A great personal experience to share. I love it.

  3. Good points that lead to engagement. Long ago, I taught the required-for-majors introductory course for computer science at the University of Pittsburgh. I found that having students write parts of their homework on the board led to opportunities to praise each person. My fresh perspective on their work, one per person, engaged the students. Giving the gift of enthusiasm to each person, gently, over time.

    Thanks Ali for your fresh perspective reflection. And for the memories you brought top of mind.