Thursday, September 26, 2013

Passion: Part 2

Now that I am focusing my attention on passion, it's all over the place. It's like my coworker who recently went on a road trip and rented a Kia, and when he kind of liked the Kia, registered online to learn more about them, and now he's getting Kia sales calls non-stop. Now, that is simply a very annoying sales tactic. Except he's also seeing Kias everywhere, when he hardly noticed them before. This happened to me, too, but it wasn't Kias. The Universe began sending me passionate people.

It started with the boy who works at the Starbucks by my office. I don't know him well, but since I'm in there frequently, we have brief chats about the weather, politics, why soy milk is superior to dairy in the matter of all things get the idea. When I told him that I sold my car and walk to work, he perked up (pardon the bad coffee pun) and said that he sold his car, too.

"What made you sell your car?" I asked.

"I want to be a glassblower," he said, "To buy the equipment I need, the only way I could get that kind of money was to sell my car."

As I grabbed my chai and finished the walk to work that morning, I thought about how much guts it takes to sell your car to reach your dream, and that the Starbucks guy was willing to make a huge, bold move to get there. That's passion. Plain and simple.

The past few weeks, Starbucks guy hasn't been there. I miss him, especially because the woman who took his place seems to only be passionate about being slow as Christmas. But that's another story. And while I miss seeing Starbucks guy, I'm hoping that at this very instant, he's firing up his glassblowing thingamajig, the happiest he's ever been.

Shortly after that, I was reminded that for some people, it takes time to arrive at that place where you are willing to sell your car to buy glassblowing equipment. Take, for example, the server at the restaurant we went to for my stepdaughter's 18th birthday a few weeks ago. On an energy level scale of 1 to 10, she was about a four. And I've waited tables, so I know that at some point during your shift, you're so exhausted you want to die, but still. Suck it up. There are tips to be made.

Several annoying things took place at this girl's table that I won't even bother discussing. My husband -- a man who loves everyone -- was completely over her after just a few minutes. But I thought about that glassblowing Starbucks guy, and figured surely this girl had a similar story.

When you're dealing with someone who appears to be passionless, it may just be that they're not particularly outgoing. But there's a chance they lack passion, so it's better not to ask them what their passion is because it could make them feel terrible. You're better off starting with something less daunting.

I waited for her to plod back to our table, then asked,

"I have a weird question for you. What makes you laugh so hard your stomach hurts?"

I ask this question to people I have a hard time figuring out. You should try it. It says a lot about a person. Plus, you get to think about how great it would be to see that person laughing so hard they're grabbing their sides for relief.

So I asked the girl, and her first response was to shrug and say, "I don't know."

"No!" I wailed. "No! That is not acceptable! You have to say something!"

She stood there, passionless, and paused for what felt like eternity, and went fishing around in her memory bank of funny movies.


Her response was a big bummer to me. Don't get me wrong, Bridesmaids is pretty hilarious, but that's not the point. It was the way she answered it. Had she had answered with absolute certainty, that would be one thing. But she didn't. She was almost asking for permission.

I hoped somehow in our brief exchange that I could figure out what made this girl tick. To learn that she was waiting tables while pursuing her degree in archaeology, because ever since she was a little girl, she was obsessed with fossils. Or Harrison Ford. Or, she really, really wanted to be a tight rope walker. Or that for her entire life, all she really wanted to do was become an assistant principal of a mediocre elementary school. I would have taken any of it had she delivered it with oomph.

If you're doing some self-reflecting and saying, "Aw, man, I'm not sure what I'm passionate about, and this makes me feel like a loser," don't fret. You are definitely not a loser. If you ask yourself the question, "What am I passionate about?" and you answer yourself by saying, "Dog fighting!" then you are a loser. Otherwise, you just need a bit of nudging.

A few weeks after the Passionless Server Incident, a fairly sizable group of my coworkers and I went to happy hour at a nearby upscale barbecue restaurant. Our server was outstanding (and it should be obvious by this point that I am a little on the picky side). She was completely at ease, making it feel like we were at her own dinner party. She knew when to come check on us, but wasn't ever in the way. She handled our special requests like they were no biggie. She was personable and fun, and very good at her job.

When it came time to leave, my coworker Katie and I walked over to where she was standing so we could thank her for her hard work. And for some reason, I was prompted to ask,

"What's your passion?"

She didn't have to stop and think about it. Her answer was immediate.

"I just graduated with a degree in business," she said, "So right now, I'm passionate about getting a job in sales or marketing."

I started digging in my purse for my business cards as Katie said, "As a matter of fact, we're hiring right now!"

From there, things began moving in fast forward. It's crazy how this all went down. Ralph, the person hiring for entry-level positions was with us, and we introduced him to the server. We all went outside to wait, and some time later, Ralph came out and announced that he would be interviewing our server the next morning. The next day, she came to interview, and blew it out of the water. She had done her homework, even though she had less than a full day to prepare. At every step in the interview process, she killed it. And now, she's no longer waiting tables, because we hired her. Yeah, it's a crazy, fantastic story. I love it.

But there is more to this story, and it has to do with the fact that everything lined up not because it was all simple coincidence, but because the right people with the right kind of passion were at the right place and the right time. Without passion, it wouldn't have been possible.

A key player in this story is Ralph, the man who hired our awesome server. Ralph is one of those people who does everything with passion. I have never seen him talk about anything or do anything in a lackluster fashion. When he talks about his wife, his eyes light up like he just went on his first date and he knows she's the woman with whom he'll spend the rest of his life. If you ask about his kids, he'll start showing you pictures of his adorable sons, and you can see how much he cares about being a good dad. Try asking him about how he feels about being a drummer. He's all pumped up. And at the same time, Ralph puts equal passion into Gable Heart Beats, the charity he supports to raise awareness about heart disease.

Ralph is a complete dynamo in the workplace. Every single person I know who has worked on his team at work agrees: when your boss is that excited, you can't help but be excited yourself. So maybe there is some truth to associating with passionate people. If you can be around people who are fired up about everything they do, maybe it will help you find your passion as well. It certainly can't hurt!

So here is your homework: Think about what makes you feel so excited your heart is pounding out of your chest. Has it been a while since you felt excited about something? It's okay. This isn't a test; we're just exploring your passion. Don't panic!

Think back to when you were a little kid. What made you so excited you could hardly sleep?

For me, I think about when I was little, we would go to my Aunt Pat and Uncle LB's ranch where adults with questionable judgment would let my sister and me ride their 4-wheelers all over the place for hours on end. 4-wheelers completely excite me to the point where if I think about them at night, I can't sleep. It's so silly! I also get that same feeling of excitement about riding those huge swinging pirate ships at amusement parks. At Six Flags in Texas, their version of the swinging pirate ship is called The Conquistador, and if I had the money, I would buy one of those for my backyard in a New York minute. Just watch this and try not to get excited! I also get completely stoked about Karaoke (so much that I had my first Karaoke injury last week - I back-up danced with so much passion I bruised my hip with the tambourine). I feel the same way about seeing my husband and kids when I've been away on work travel. Every time! And I get excited about writing, so that when I do it, hours pass and I hardly know it.

More homework: Grab a journal and jot down some of those initial thoughts. Get it down on paper, iPad, text yourself, it doesn't matter. Just write it down, and let's see what happens. And don't get all worried that you're going to mess up. It's just a little list of things that make you excited.

Like the Kias that keep popping into my coworker's line of sight, let's see if things start happening as a result. You're not paying me anything to do this, so don't expect some magic money-back guarantee if nothing works. You may just be a boring, passionless person, and if that's the case, I can't help you. I'm kidding, I just wanted to say that because it made me laugh. I really believe that if you start focusing on what makes you happy now, or at the very least what used to make you happy, that things are going to change.

And by all means, share stories with me. I look forward to hearing what happens next.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Passion: Part 1

I'd like to talk a little about passion. I have so much to say about it, I'm going to break it down into a series.

Don't get too excited, this isn't Fifty Shades of Grey passion, though that would be really fun to write about since the books (yes, I read all three) were so deliciously terrible. I'm talking about the kind of passion that burns deep inside a person and drives them to do something, even if it feels crazy. It's the passion that lives inside 62-year old Diana Nyad, so that despite vomiting salt water for almost the entire 53-hour swim from Florida to Cuba last weekend, she kept on going. And she finally made it. It's such a crazy, amazing story. I'm sorry, but if I were swimming and vomited up salt water just once, I would throw in the towel immediately.

I love passionate people. My mother started by setting the example. Years ago, after her marriage to my father ended, she went back to school, earned a Bachelors and Masters in Music while raising two children. She held down multiple jobs and worked her butt off to make straight A's. She then went on to become a highly-respected piano teacher and professional musician, and runs a thriving studio where lucky kids and adults not only learn piano and theory, but they learn to play with passion. Her students go on to do big things, and even if they don't all become musicians, her influence helps them find passion in their lives. Her website even features the following quote from Beethoven: "To play without passion is inexcusable!"

Here's a photo of my beautiful mom and two of her star students. All of her students are star students, for that matter. Just this morning, I read another post from one of her former students who was just accepted into music school and will be minoring in music, and wrote to thank my mom for her influence in that decision. 

My stepfather James is equally as passionate about art. Every day, for as long as I've known him (he married my mother when I was 8), he creates art. Every single day. He gets up, goes on a morning walk, and returns, usually with a leaf or a flower in hand, and grabs his sketchbook and colored pencils and begins to draw. James is completely driven by the need to create things, and it has given him a rich and fulfilled life. The result is he owns piles of packed sketch books filled with unique drawings of people, places, events, beautiful bits of nature -- all recorded in rich detail.

Here's a blurry photo of James I snapped when I visited home a few months ago. I've witnessed this scene so many mornings as I groggily sip coffee and look out the window, and it inspires me. Sitting in that red chair is a man who lives each day with passion.

I've had passion on the mind quite a bit lately. It began in mid-August, when I went to San Francisco with my colleagues to participate in a Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator team builder. I will admit; I went in a bit skeptically, having done some similar exercises at work in the past. I wasn't sure that the exercise would reveal things about me I didn't already know. But it did reveal things I didn't know. And it helped me better understand my co-workers. And it solidified that I'm indeed an extrovert, just in case I had any doubts.

During the day-long event, our instructor, the dynamic and feisty Carol Enright, asked us to look up on the projector at an image, study it, and write about it for two minutes. The image appeared to be wall art made on a wooden surface that depicted a tree made from dry macaroni and dried beans. It was ugly.

With the instant Carol told us to start writing, I felt an adrenaline rush so strong I could have lifted a sedan. In my terribly sloppy handwriting, I wrote frantically. What felt like seconds passed and she told us to stop, and I had an urge to yell, "No! Not yet! I'm just getting going here!" I could have gone on for days.  Then, Carol pulled two people up to read what they wrote. When she didn't pick me, I wanted to jump up and down and yell, "Pick mine! I want to share with the class!"  By the time we moved on to the next part of our exercise, I was still clutching my little scribbled page, not wanting to let go of that feeling.

A week or so later, my CEO Umberto Milletti came to visit our Austin office. He makes a point of having one on one conversations with his employees, a refreshing practice for a guy that busy. He is genuinely interested in what his employees think, and he values our input. During our conversation, I expressed that during the Meyers-Briggs exercise, I was slapped in the face with the reminder that writing is my core passion. I explained that in my day-to-day work with our customers, I use my writing to make my work fresh. But I also expressed that if I could do more writing at work, that would be a dream.

Umberto provided the most supportive, logical guidance on how to make this work. He directed me to the right person internally to open up a conversation, and since then, there's been a whirlwind of emails around how to provide me with the freedom to contribute from a content perspective. It's kept me up at night, but not in the kind of way that business can often keep you up at night. I'm so excited I can't sleep. I've felt like a little kid who knows that tomorrow, her parents are going to take her to an amusement park, and she is going to ride a roller coaster that will make her stomach drop, and she simply cannot wait to get there.

I am thankful that I possess this passion. I'm also thankful that on Saturday mornings, my husband goes out to procure breakfast, and that my family understands that for several hours, I'll be typing, writing, deleting, re-writing, and reading sentences out loud like a crazy person. I may escape to a local coffee shop and do the same thing there, never worrying about what the hipsters think, because at that hour, most of them are hungover anyway.

This begins my series on passion, because what I hope comes out of this is that you will also remember what yours is. While researching the topic the other day, I read about one inspirational speaker (many of whom I mistrust deeply for reasons unknown) who said that he only associates with passionate people, and specifically dumps friends who don't appear to have passion. I think that's a bit extreme, and also kind of counterintuitive for an inspirational speaker. I don't want to be that heartless. I want to help people find their passion and encourage them to go for it.

In this series, I have a few stories to tell that might inspire you. Let's explore passion and see if, during this process, you are able to uncover yours.