Early on in our careers, and in our lives, we confront a fork in the road that sometimes we don’t notice until it has become too late to reverse the course. Though, I am always an optimist and believe it is never too late for anyone to improve upon themselves, for most, by the time they realize their passion, the effort required to change the trajectory of their life is too daunting and they change their dreams instead of their situation. The “fork in the road” I mention here is the struggle most of us face; do what you love and follow your passions, or do what is sensical and practical.
I very strongly believe that those breakthroughs and innovations that have rattled us to our core, those items or ideas that made us nervous at first but make complete sense now, were all rooted in individuals with a passion so deep, they couldn’t imagine a world in which their ideas where not reality. People with great passion tend to stick to their core beliefs when faced with a practical based opposition, that is not to say they are not open for change and improvement (though there is a difference between being passionate and open-minded and just being boneheaded and stubborn), but they will fight much longer and harder for what they believe in than those of the practical or sensical based solution.
I like to pose the following question:
“If you are not passionate about what you are doing, then what is driving you to do it?”
The responses tend to be quite depressing. The most offered response, and most saddening, is “I just have to, to survive” or “This is where I’ve ended up, and it pays the bills.” These responses, though not to be disparaged, kill me inside. I just want to give these people a hug or do something to make it right, but more often than not, that same fire that burns so deep within me, has burnt out within them. But the hopeful optimist within me believes that no matter where we are in our careers, or life, we can reignite the embers of our passion and do something great. We can all find something in our lives that we can do that makes us want to get out of bed before the alarm every single morning. Whether it be walking, reading, knitting scarves to sell to hipsters at the local cafe, starting your dream business, learning code, building an app; no matter how big or small your dreams, pick one and just go for it! Having actionable passion in something, makes you better at everything. The processes may not change, the headaches may still come, but there is something in your life that makes you happy and drives you to be better, and do better. That drive will matriculate in all that you do, and make the world around you a much more enjoyable space.
Iconic ad-man Leo Burnett gave a speech to his employees in 1967 titled “When To Take My Name Off The Door.” This was a testament to his firm belief in what he was doing was right, that the work he and his company were, and still are, doing could change the world we live in. And they have succeeded in just that by creating some of the most iconic, thought-provoking, advertising of all the generations who still walk on this earth. In his speech (both video and transcript linked below via LeoBurnett.com) he rattles off a list of actions, that he insists, ever come to fruition, to remove his name from the door. This was a man who embodied not only the passion within himself, but emboldened the passion of others. He was able to maintain the fire within him, while igniting the embers of those on his team. One of my favorite quotes from his speech refers to the “lonely man”:
“Finally, when you lose your respect for the lonely man – the man at his typewriter or his drawing board or behind his camera or just scribbling notes with one of our big black pencils – or working all night on a media plan. When you forget that the lonely man – and thank God for him – has made the agency we now have – possible. When you forget he’s the man who, because he is reaching harder, sometimes actually gets hold of – for a moment – one of those hot, unreachable stars.
THAT, boys and girls, is when I shall insist you take my name off the door.”
I am lucky enough to work for a company in which I have been emboldened to follow my passions. With a leadership structure that supports my effort to be the best that I possibly can be, and a group of coworkers that enrich my ever-growing dreams of what we can do, I strongly believe that I can make a difference in my world. But more importantly, I believe in what I do. Though not every day is a breeze, the work that I do drives me to be a better person. My coworkers challenge me to be a better person. And when my will is tested, I am able to stand firm in my belief that what I am doing is right, my core, my due north, my passion still intact.
To the leaders out there with passionate young people under their wings: empower us, listen to us, let us get carried away sometimes, and most of all, just engage us! You’ll find that once we understand you want nothing but the best from us and are willing to give us some rope to play with, you will be dealt a hand like never before that you’ll be able to leverage to overcome seemingly impossible feats.
To the impassioned crowd out there: don’t be afraid to let some of that passion shine through. Brand You! Be the best you can be, and most importantly, surround yourself with people who will empower you to take a leap here and there.
If we all show a little passion for something, we can change the world one, passionate, pet-project at a time.
View the video, or read the transcript, of Leo Burnett’s 1967 speech here.