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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Two Ingredients That Make Passion Work in Your Life


For fifteen years now, the term passion has become a vague expression. There are organizations, books, non-profit ministries, conferences and campaigns that all market the word to push their brand. It’s a great word, but is so often overused that I think it’s meaning has been diluted.

So—let’s look at the root word. Passion means any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, such as love or hate. We feel passionate about a football team; about a lover; about ice cream; about our faith in God. We all know, however, there’s a difference between passions—some mean more than others; some we sacrifice for and others…not so much. If we are honest, we fail to discern the difference between:

  • Curiosity
  • Interests
  • Opinions
  • Beliefs
  • Commitments
  • Convictions

There is one truth I know. Passion requires at least two ingredients if it is ever going to turn into action. The two ingredients are:

  1. Ambition: the longing to experience something beyond your current reality.
  2. Discomfort: the current misery you feel pushing you to change your reality.

One reason I think we often don’t see a student’s passion turn into action is they aren’t uncomfortable enough. Kids today are full of energy and creativity. But it’s frequently not transformed into behavior because their current reality is quite satisfactory. They’re not dissatisfied enough. Adolescence is full of playful pleasure.

Do you know why Egypt experienced a revolution in January of 2011? The young people in that country were dissatisfied and uncomfortable. Passion became action.

Do you know why Alexei Navalny, the young Russian who opposes the oppressive regime of Vladimir Putin, is getting results? He’s uncomfortable and dissatisfied. He has harnessed the Internet and his voice is being heard.

Do you know why Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is making films? She is angry at current conditions. She is fighting the injustices of Pakistan by telling the story of the acid victims who’ve been marginalized.

None of these ordinary people would be doing these things without passion. And none of them would be passionate enough to sacrifice for their causes unless they were ambitious and dissatisfied.

So let’s talk turkey. Are you ambitious and uncomfortable? How about the students you lead? Have you allowed them to experience some disequilibrium that leads to action? I recommend you create some environments and experiences where your “kids” get uncomfortable…and see what passion lies inside. Expose them to some problems and then—make sure they feel the weight of those problems.

Years ago, a major airline had a pattern of losing luggage. No matter how much the CEO talked to his managers, however, they just couldn’t seem to solve the problem. So, the CEO created a little passion in them. He called for a meeting at headquarters asking each manger to fly in for two days. Then, the CEO requested the baggage handlers purposely lose the managers luggage. They did. Amazingly, it was at this meeting these managers found some great solutions to stop losing luggage.

I’m just saying…

Learn more about leading and channeling your passion in: Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenge of Growing Up Authentically.

1 Comment

  1. Antone on June 12, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Some valuable thoughts, Tim – as an educator in higher ed, I see this a lot. As you reference in your text, Gen iY, the students I teach do have a passion for a bigger cause with which to be involved. I find that so much of the ambition and discomfort that you referenced above can be nurtured in the college classroom. I have found Seth Godin’s book, Stop Stealing Dreams, really addresses some of the issues that we are facing between matching up the methods and processes of current education with the needs and passions of this great group of kids we teach. Godin points out convincingly that they do NOT match up and therein lies the problem. The needs of the Industrial Revolution are not the same needs of today. And so you have a system of education today that is doing a wonderful job of producing “factory worker mentalities”…except the problem is that “factory worker mentalities” are not what this current age needs. We live in a connection economy where connecting ideas and people and opportunities is paramount.

    I appreciate the good challenge today – I plan to emphasize this with my teachers in in-service this year to strategically use their classrooms to model and nurture the ideas of ambition and discomfort. The mentoring opportunities are huge.

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Two Ingredients That Make Passion Work in Your Life