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. 

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