When Passion Becomes Obsession

21 Jan

In all of our society, but especially in Hollywood, there is an obsession with perfection that can lead to self-loathing and neurosis and all that kind of stuff.  (Ethan Hawke)

I find it pretty hilarious that I just quoted Ethan Hawke, a celebrity in Hollywood, about the negative side of Hollywood celebrities. I wonder if he finds it equally ironic?

As a society, we need to stop praising obsession.  Obsession is not dedication.  And it is not passion.

Obsession involves concepts like compulsive and preoccupied and unable to concentrate on anything else. Anything, however innocuous, can be turned into obsession. We see it every day – obsessions with food and the best Twitter comments and being skinny and desirable and having an enviably photographic life. Obsessions with the Royal Family and keeping up with the Joneses and having the latest technology before anyone else. The gym (spinning, Crossfit, hot yoga, Krav Maga, running) and dietary restrictions (Paleo, Atkins, gluten-free, vegan) can all become obsessions.

Everything listed above isn’t necessarily an obsession. But when other important things are displaced to make room for more of just one thing, it’s a clear sign that an obsession is taking hold. And the media embraces it and society clamors for it. That’s why “what’s in” and “fads” matter and all magazine covers are eerily similar. Being different used to be embraced as counter-cultural.  Now, embracing yourself and being one of a kind have become obsessions.

Nowadays, it is not enough to have and love your family. You must be the Duggars or Kate Plus Eight. It’s not enough to let your child try out a new hobby, you must be Honey Boo Boo. It’s not enough to run, you have to be Dean Karnazes and run yourself across the country raising money for good causes and having your kids follow you around in an RV because running has become a compulsion. It’s not enough to host a dinner party, it has to be themed and Pinterest-worthy. It’s not enough to eat fruits and veggies, they have to be organic and full of macronutrients and hopefully superfood. Whatever those are. It’s not enough to read and enjoy a book, it has to be one of the the books that the rest of the world is crazy about. It’s not enough to travel, you have to do it to find yourself and even reinvent yourself. It’s not enough to have goals in life, it has to be a BucketList posted for everyone to see. It’s not enough to eat well with the occasional bad meal thrown in, it has to be a life of no fast food or a life of only fast food (Subway, McDonalds) in order to not just get some attention but also a book deal and a movie deal. It’s not enough to raise a happy and healthy child, it has to involve so much pressure and activities and sustainability and arguments with other  mothers leading to self-doubt about your chosen parenting methods that you obsess about whether you are obsessing enough or not.

Dedication and passion come when you pursue things that you value, that you believe in, that make you happy. Things that are worth investing time in, that are not chosen for you by societal pressure, but that don’t require you giving up other things that you also value and believe in. It may mean hard work and sacrifice (as all good things worth having do) but it doesn’t involve discouraging others from their own passions. It shouldn’t involve giving up optimal health and sleep and relationships.

If your conversations with others are peppered with encouragement, with a variety of subjects, without judgment, it’s a good sign. If you can talk about something you love without including “you must” or “everyone should” or promising a perfect future if they join your current obsession (the world’s latest pyramid scheme), it’s a good sign.

Society may praise obsession because they see it as an extension of dedication and passion. But its a slippery slope when something in your control becomes something that controls you.

And as Ethan Hawke said, an obsession with perfection can only lead to self-loathing. Because an obsession with something unattainable can never satisfy.



2 Responses to “When Passion Becomes Obsession”

  1. Mchampion January 21, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

    I think your on to something, however, I dont think quite dove into ‘why’ we feel the need to obsess. or why we obsess in the first place. To wake up each day and be obsessive towards an individual’s passion i find nothing wrong with that unlike you do. You have attacked peoples interest and hobbies. You suggest that Social networking,eating organic, being healthy, exercising,dieting, watching reality tv, is wrong. And that because a society all together rushed to the book store to read Fifty Shades of Grey you suggest is another societal let-down.

    If our obsessions are hurting someone yes, then i believe you should consider the compulsion. To answer the question i raised why do we obsess it stems from being passionate. If its an unhealthy passion, ok that’s a personal flaw and should be individually addressed. But to categorize all obsessions together like you have is ridiculous. A Dr. must obsess on a passion to stay inept with the medical industry, a teacher must obsess at her passion to teach, an athlete must obsess in his passion for the sport to achieve export status. Artists in history, bridge engineers, mathematicians all obsess on their design. In fact, many of today’s technological advances are only because one has obsessed passionately.

    Do we as society place more emphasis on first place? And what were willing to sacrifice to to get there? I believe has more legging and can support your obsession claim.

    This post speaks from an envious and jealous position. And the only person that is shooting down others passions and what they value is not society, but…you! Great post by the way. I enjoyed reading and commenting.

    • ezelie January 21, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

      I think you raised some great points but missed what I was attempting to say (maybe I didn’t do a good job of it). I eat healthy and exercise and do plenty of the stuff I talked about so I was in no way envious or jealous. There are plenty of things I am devoted to like training for marathons and being the best worker I can be and I placed a high emphasis on getting the best grades in my MBA program. So I have no problems with passions and hobbies and hope everyone I know continues to do the things they love.

      I agree that if an obsession is hurting someone, it should be stopped. I think we’re probably disagreeing on semantics – to me, the word “obsess” means an unhealthy preoccupation with something (and the definitions I read beforehand seem to agree with that) and to be consumed with and owned by that obsession. When a doctor pursues his/her career with dedication and passion or a teacher pores him/herself into their students, that is a good thing. And it is also true that many creative and amazing inventions have ONLY occurred because people obsessed about them, even unhealthily. So there can be merit in obsession, I just don’t think its particularly healthy for society as a whole. When people are driven to do great things, I am amazed. When people can’t enjoy other things in life because they have no balance, that becomes an issue.

      In no way was I trying to shoot down anyone’s passion. If I was, that would not be a great post, that would be a horrible post!

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