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Passion or Obsession?

Posted by: on April, 9 2012

From Coach-Tony.Com: I was recently asked the following question: “What do you think the difference is between passion and obsession? Are we passionate about our sport or obsessed?

Wow! Good question! To us, it’s a fine line and yet to those looking into our world, there seems to be a definite separation between the two. This can be a very sensitive subject and your view may differ greatly depending on whether or not you have caught the triathlon bug. So before I venture down this road, allow me to remind you this is my 2 cents based on experience and not a clinical study.

Let’s first try to understand the non-triathlete’s perspective. Why do people think we’re obsessed? Can you relate to any of the following?

  • You have a problem spending $2.50 for a bottled water but will easily drop $250 for a Half Ironman Race entry
  • You won’t walk around a mall but will complete a 10 mile run before the sun rises
  • You don’t like getting your hair wet but hand you a swim cap and it’s on
  • You see logic in placing your body between the pavement and your bike when you go down. Hey, skin heels, right?
  • Your work pants don’t match your dress shirt but your helmet matches your jersey and bike
  • Seconds after a race you say never again. Minutes after the same race you contemplate what you can do to go faster
  • You call in sick to go work out
  • You’re spouse says vacation and you Google the vacation spot for races
  • You own more running shoes than your wife owns dress shoes. Yikes!
  • You buy another wetsuit and tell your spouse it’s your friend’s wetsuit…..and they do the same

Do these sound familiar? Can you see why non-triathletes think we’re obsessed? But is obsession bad? I Googled both OBSESSION and PASSION. Here are a few examples of what came up:

Definition of OBSESSION on the Web:

Obsession” is defined as “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling; compelling motivation.”
A persistent, repetitive, and unwanted thought. Cannot be eliminated by logic or reasoning.
Recurrent and persistent thought, impulse, or image experienced as intrusive and distressing. Recognized as being excessive and unreasonable even though it is the product of one’s mind. This thought, impulse, or image cannot be expunged by logic or reasoning.
Obsessive ideas are often unreasonable and disturbing. Preoccupation with an obsessive idea can interfere with normal daily activities. Persistent, intrusive thoughts, ideas, impulses, or images that repeatedly enter a person’s mind.
Definition of PASSION on the Web:

Passion is defined as an “intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or convictions” and “a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept.”
In psychology and common use, emotion is the language of a person’s mental state of being, normally based in or tied to the person’s internal (physical) and external (social) sensory feeling.
While my research was less than extensive, it did point out a few things. Most, if not all, definitions of obsession had a negative connotation. But isn’t that just like our society to have more to complain about than to boast? It’s easier to stand on the sideline and criticize others for trying. It’s the American way. Where would Pro Sports be without fans to point out everything the players and refs do wrong. Can you imagine players watching fans play major sports? Do you think the same criticism would take place? Or would there be a greater appreciation for the attempt?

I enjoy a good football every so often. But I know folks who spend their entire Sunday in front of the TV surrounded by friends, an assortment of junk food, and beer watching pre-game shows, double headers, post games, and then the highlights on ESPN all night long (like the game wasn’t enough). They spend the rest of the week either talking about the games or preparing for the following week. Obsessed? For the record, I find nothing wrong with this because it is what they love to do. It’s not my cup of tea.

Whether you consider your interest in the sport of triathlon an obsession or passion is no one’s choice but yours. However, acknowledge that you have chosen to do what most people are unwilling to try. That alone will draw attention and possible criticism. It may appear that you have chosen to be “different.” How do you manage this?

Obsessions are not destructive by nature. Google “Obsession with Triathlon” and you will find many positive stories of obsession in our sport. It is the opportunity cost associated with your obsession that may incur collateral damage. And so those of you with loved ones who may not understand your passion, I highly recommend making deposits into their emotional bank accounts; especially if you’re doing Ironman distance. Make quality deposits; many and often because their will come a time when you will need to make an Ironman size withdrawal.

Ironman can be summed up as one of the most narcissistic, selfish, self obsorbing, time consuming, financially, physically, and mentally draining sports the general public can participate in voluntarily. That being said, those of us who understand Ironman and its journey know the sense of accomplishment is immeasurable. I challenge you to find another product that sells out a year in advance 1 hour after it goes on the market at a cost of $450. If you can find others to embark on the journey with you, even better. But keep in mind, nothing rewarding is easy. And so for a short period in your life, it’s OK to be selfish if you’re willing and capable to be selfless at other times in your life.

History is not really appreciated until its long past. Those brave enough to have been different are now regarded as founders of our country, great inventors, influential people, etc…If these key people were unwilling to try something new for fear of being “different”, would we still live in the same world we live in today?

By choosing to do triathlons (or an equivalent type A personality activity), you may be considered, or made to feel, different. Those who don’t understand, or possibly intimidated by, your courage may point and sometimes say mean things. Regardless, don’t hide what defines you. Someone once said to me, “The least we can do is figure out what we hope. The most we can do is to live inside that hope.”

The naked eye only sees the amount of training required to prepare for our sport making the use of the word obsession an easy label. The naked eye may not appreciate the PASSION associated with training and racing. The friendships built through triathlon are priceless. The difference between fans of major sports and us is that each of us has a different reason for our passion. Eccentric, difficult, maybe even certifiably crazy, these goals draw us together in the same way a baseball game collects baseball fans. We just happen to participate in our passion a little…OK, a lot! I can’t go to the batting cages and hit a few with Mr. Bonds. I can’t go play catch with Tom Brady. You think Kobi might shoot a few hoops with me? Probably not. But I can line up side by side with the any professional triathlete and race the same course with the same rules.

The feelings we have for triathlon, or other individual sports, are clear to us but hazy to others. Consequently, your hobby inherits characteristics of both passion and obsession. Attempting to define or rationalize your behavior may not be the best approach because it’s very subjective. Doesn’t is seem like we live by a different set of values? Life isn’t hard enough, we need more to overcome….and we like it that way. Hmmmm Funny that!!!

What’s the bottom line? I think you’re better off ensuring the emotional bank accounts surrounding you are well stocked (with your personal deposits). Second, while the sport is not easy, it needs to be fun. When its not, walk away. Third, ask yourself, does my passion help support my work-life balance needs or does my life revolve around my obsession?

One last thought for those on the receiving end of the word obsession (as defined by my Google lookup)….Never wrestle with a pig. You get dirty and the pig likes it.

My 2 cents …worth about 1


Tony Troccoli has been a certified USA Triathlon and USA cycling since 2001. Tony has competed in nearly 20 Ironman events including Kona and coaches locally in the Southern California area and on-line nationwide. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Tony’s pre-built, easy-to-follow training programs. Tony is also a F.I.S.T certified bike fitter and soon to be Certified Total Immersion instructor. Contact Tony at tony@coach-tony.com.