When passions turn into obsessions

Many career guides give us the advice to find or follow our “passion”. They advocate for the job-seeker to dig deep and find the flame that burns within. Didn’t we all want to be a fireman or a pilot? How many pilots do we need? An essential requirement for today’s workforce seems to be passion.

Passion comes from the Latin passionem, to suffer or endure. The ubiquitous suggestion to “find your passion” therefore asks us to find something we are happy to suffer for. I thought to follow my passion would be to do what gets me excited every day. First of all it is quite hard to be excited every day. And second, what gets me excited might not be what gets other people excited. Which means they don’t want to give me money for my work. And then I am hungry.


There is a book on the topic by Cal Newport “So good they can’t ignore you”. In the book he argues that it’s better to do something you are good at. You find fulfillment because you are skilled. In most cases it’s not a great idea to do something you love but are bad at (how many yoga teachers do we need?).

Some people not only follow their passion but they also slide into obsession. It takes a special character for that. Because of their insane attention to detail, Japanese people seem to be especially capable. Some places are so bizarre, that you notice them. I encountered a few of these places on my travels, which just blew me away. The amount of dedication to a singular purpose is awe-inspiring.

The tree house

Have a look at this tree house! It’s located in Aso prefecture in Kyushu, Japan. It felt like an abandoned construction site. There were unfinished buildings, a strange dark bathroom and no signage. The roof was starting to collapse in places.

From what I could gather, someone wanted to reinforce the cedar tree Kamatama Oosugi, which gets worshiped as a water god in the area, after some typhoon damage. He ended up building this tree house. The form of the connected trees are beautiful and marvelous. There is a stage, a bridge, many beautiful stairs and little spots to relax. Huge stones have been set on top of each other to create an entrance in a Stonehenge fashion. It’s bizarre.

But despite all the effort, it’s not a tourist attraction. It’s merely some person’s hobby. Just when I decided it was abandoned I discovered a well maintained beehive at the back of the place. Someone must still go there regularly. I read that new pieces are added occasionally. The obsession continues.

The next level in obsession is this unfinished hotel that a single guy carved out of a rock with a chisel until he died. There are some great photos of the outside and the inside here and here.

An obsession can kill you. But it can also be the greatest thing you ever did. Something to marvel at for decades to come. Suffering for something worthwile is how you know you are alive. You can follow your passion, but you don’t have to earn your keep with it.

Feature image from Flickr commons

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