Don’t Find Your Passion, Be Passionate

“Finding your passion” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot.  We often seek this magical passion like we’re Nicholas Cage in National Treasure; searching for years until we realize it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for.  Chasing your passion, allows us to make excuses, letting the end justify the means.

We all have that friend who complains about their job or current situation, and when you ask them, “why are you still doing it?” they respond with, “so I can work on my … (insert book, movie, other career, schooling, etc..).  They schlep through the weeks, months and sometimes years, waiting for the weekend, because they are chasing something greater.

What happens when you put your blinders on and exclusively focus on finding this buried treasure we label passion?

I think you end up missing out on the beauty of the journey and perhaps new routes and detours you did not expect.  When all you do is look towards the future or the end of the day on Friday, we miss out on something we can never get back, the present.

I think we should focus less on finding our passion and focus more on being passionate about the things we do and opportunities we get in life.

In my life as a restaurant manager, I saw a lot of people, of various ages and backgrounds apply for a job and be very upfront about it not being their end goal in life.  I usually respected those people who had an end game in mind and something they were working towards.  We all need to make money and it’s refreshing to have a member of the team have goals beyond the restaurant.

When I would interview anyone for a job, whether it be a college kid looking for a job as a host (like me), someone looking to make a career change on their own volition, or someone who lost their last job, I cared a lot less about how much they knew about seating rotation or actually waiting tables.  What I did care about, was hearing how passionate they were about other things in their life.  I hoped that this passion and energy would translate to effort in the workplace.

A lot of times, this was a successful strategy.  Often I could sense some surprise when an interview for a serving position consisted of questions like: How do you get along with your siblings? What do you really love doing outside of work?  What was the last job you had or project you worked on where you really got in the zone and lost track of time?

I wish I could say I came up with this idea all on my own, but credit must go to Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group (think Shake Shack, along with many other successful restaurants).  In his book, “Setting the Table,” Meyer explains that technical competency and specialization comprise 49% of the ideal employee.  The other 51% should be the intangible, emotional qualities you want in an employee: Optimism, thirst for learning, work ethic and integrity, to name a few.

Often, we would hire the 51% applicant and have the confidence that we could teach them the tools to be successful hosts, servers, bussers or bartenders.  Most of the time, this strategy worked out great, these were the employees who showed up early, really studied the menu, went the extra mile and genuinely cared for the guests and their needs (as a restaurant manager, re-reading that line makes my heart jump for joy!)

Sometimes people can fool you.  I have been in the shoes of Mr. Farkus, who told George Constanza in his interview to be a bra salesman, “You seem to have a great passion for brassieres,” following his fabricated tale about his first encounter with a bra in his friends bathroom at age 14.  You can fake passion in one interview, but sooner or later, your true colors show.  This employee is the one that ended up being late, making careless mistakes, receiving complaints about their attitude, never putting in the requisite work to be a good employee or getting fired for “feeling the material” of the CEO while waiting for the elevator.

It would be very frustrating to try and get through to those employees; it’s hard to teach someone to care, to be passionate.

Some days are harder than others, but, if you are going to spend 10+ hours a day anywhere, you may as well make the best of it.  For the most part, you are not obligated to work at any particular place.  You choose to be there and it reflects on you and your character how tenacious you are about being successful. 

Similarly, there are some things in life that you “have to do.”  Since these are necessary tasks, why not choose to have a good attitude about it?  Why not choose to be passionate about the things you do in your life.  You, and only you, can choose the effort level put forth on daily endeavors.  Whether or not people around you notice, this is not about outward appearances, it is about living a meaningful and fulfilling life for YOURSELF.  In my opinion, it is these people who are passionate about their work, their families, the people they surround themselves with and even the things they would rather put off until tomorrow, who are infectious, successful and others want to be around.

I recognize “being passionate” is easier said than done.  If it were easy, everyone would be passionate about going to the dentist, cleaning their dogs poop off the carpet, getting to the gym, and so on.  Being passionate is not something you are born with, it is something we all need to work on and practice.  And, like anything worth practicing, it requires discipline to improve.  Being passionate is not something we should be “when we feel like it,” it should be something we commit to every day, in every situation.

Passions can be fleeting.  We live in a day where many people change careers and many people do not work for the same company or in the same line of work their whole lives.  Check out this TED Talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sZdcB6bjI8 ) by Emilie Wapnick.  In summary, she talks about people who have a variety of interests and do not settle on one career or passion for their whole life like many of our parents, grandparents and even ourselves have been encouraged.  She labels these folks, “multipotentialites.” 

I love the idea of being able to blend experiences and various passions together.  I believe these opportunities can come to us at any time, especially times we do not expect them to.  It is this reason why I encourage you to be passionate about everything you do.  You never know when that experience, mentor or fork in the road of life will present itself to you, so you have to keep your eyes open and always put your best foot forward.

I genuinely admire people who have always known they wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor or a chef or a *insert profession here* since childhood.  I encourage those who know their calling to keep doing what they are doing and enjoy and embrace every peak and valley that comes along on that journey.  It is just as important to be passionate about your life’s work as it is if that work is constantly evolving.  But, if that day comes when the passion runs out, don’t be afraid to passionately seek another.

For many others, I think we are lucky to be able to change focuses and follow different passions throughout our lives.  At 27, I have already spent 7 years working on one path and now I am excited about working towards the next.  I do not believe the job I started when I was 20 would have turned into the passion I have for developing employees, helping people and being a leader had I not tried to be the very best host I could be when I first started in the restaurant.

Just remember, whether you are working your way through school, working because it is the only field you have known, working to support your family or working so you can chase your dream of singing, filming, writing or drawing, that work is part of your story. 

Are you ok with half-assing a part of the story of your life?  Are you ok with missing out on opportunities because you “know” where you want to end up?  Are you ok with playing it safe?  Are you ok with selling yourself short?

I hope not.

Next week, I am going to post a piece about some things I am doing to practice living this passionate life I am talking about.  If anyone has any practices or experiences that have helped them or just want tell me about an “unconventional” combination of passions, please drop me a line in the comments below!

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