This time of year college students across the U.S. are graduating. They are leaving their insular worlds of academia and transitioning into a globalized world and a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) economy that is less than welcoming. In the thousands of speeches delivered at thousands of colleges and universities each year advice abounds about this transition and the graduate’s role in their future-tense world. Thanks to the Internet and on-demand technology, we can access, view and dissect many of these words of wisdom. My interest is in the relationship of these sage assertions to the topic of passion. I want to know more about passion’s role in career and workplace success and its impact on life’s decision-making. Ultimately, I want to know more about passion’s impact on my life.
Passion, as related to the world of work, is an emotional word. Your own investigation may mirror mine. Passion as a topic is perhaps the top theme among commencement speakers. While many celebrity and world-renowned individual’s speeches have been archived for posterity, the one by Apple founder Steve Jobs at Stanford University in 2005 is among the most viewed on the web and most impactful. Passion as a guiding force, in his career and his life, is at the core of his advice.
At the time of its delivery, Mr. Jobs knew he was ill and perhaps, dying. In retrospect, that makes the imparting of his wisdom all that much more meaningful. He shared his perspectives from his life’s challenges, such as his own forced departure from the company he helped create, through his continued successes, such as his triumphant 1997 return to Apple as its CEO and subsequent string of disruptive technology innovations.
Of passion he said, “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Across the generations, and more than four-score and seven years ago, another American icon was also highlighting passion as applied to work. The year was 1859. The speaker’s name was Abraham Lincoln. The place was Wisconsin State. Interestingly, in that year Lincoln was defeated in the Illinois Senate, but went on to become President of the United States in 1861. He delivered these words about passion, “Every man is proud of what he does well; and no man is proud of what he does not do well. With the former, his heart is in his work; and he will do twice as much of it with less fatigue. The latter performs a little imperfectly, looks at it in disgust, turns from it, and imagines him self exceedingly tired. The little he has done, comes to nothing, for want of finishing.”
In between the timeline of these two American icons, many notable speeches deserve a hearing for the lessons learned about the application of passion to one’s work and life. I offer some highly viewed suggestions for exploring and creating your own “Best of . . . ” playlist below.
What is clear from the lessons shared in commencement addresses is that passion is a force that can infuse one’s life with satisfaction, joy, energy, direction and meaning. While today’s 2015 workforce survey statistics sadly tell us that over 75% of people do not enjoy the work that they do, those that have connected with their passion are more likely to be more committed, more determined, more innovative and in today’s vernacular, more engaged in their pursuits.
Yet, there are contrarians and naysayers who believe that in today’s volatile world searching for one’s passion in your life’s work can lead to “The Passion Trap” and a work life of misery and unhappiness. These individuals espouse that the key to a fulfilling career is not to first figure out your passion, then pursue your dreams and find a job to match. David Brooks, the NY Times columnist, once noted “Very few people at age 22 or 24 can take an inward journey and come out having discovered a developed self.” No one said the road to meaning and purpose is as simple as that. Brooks continued, “Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem that summons their life.”
Passion alone is not a magic pill for success. There is no extreme straight-line correlation between workplace happiness and following your passion. Yet, a continued development of self-awareness of what drives you (core passion) and connecting to your authentic self is certainly something that contributes to success. If you listen to the words of Mr. Jobs, he talks about doing the hard work required to create a career and life. He talks about his failures and his self-discoveries. He had to learn the many aspects of business and technology to arrive at his place in history. He enlisted his passion to guide him on his journey. Passion gave him direction. Passion helped him right his course when he got off-track. Passion kept a fire going in his spirit so that perseverance triumphed over multiple failures, public embarrassments and walls of resistance.
While we are busy educating tomorrow’s workforce, we need to allocate a place in the standard curriculum for increasing self-awareness and discovery of one’s passions, just as we do to math and English and science. We need to provide a continuum of guidance and tools to help individuals identify and connect with their talents, gifts, interests and strengths. It would be better to provide this self-knowledge to individuals throughout their formative development years and well before they are sitting in their seats at graduation. When we do, we will unleash the power of the human spirit to live “bigger, richer, fuller lives” and begin that journey so much earlier. These individuals can then harness their potential, to solve problems, and help create a better world.
I have found my passion in the pursuit of the measurement and application of passion to career/workforce development and life’s decision-making. Have you found yours?
Lori Palm is the founder and CEO of Core Passion Inc., a global leader in the measurement and application of passion to career/workforce development and life’s decision-making; careerseeker.com; corepassion.com