Have We Gone Too Far With “Finding Our Passion?”

servicecomicOver the past 50 years, a burgeoning industry has sprung up under the general banner of “Find Your Passion.” This emergent understanding about human motivation – so different from the time-honored tools of carrot and stick – is a corrective to much of human history worldwide. In point of fact, the contribution a human person can make in the world is outrageously larger when fueled by passion and a deep sense of calling than when fueled by a boss-man promising double rations for double time, or worse, an extra lickin’ if the work ain’t done.

But, has the corrective gone too far? Or, perhaps better posed, has the corrective caused us to lose an important and more traditional point of focus with those under our charge – children, employees, volunteers – that is now wrecking its own extraordinary havoc?

This week, I met with twelve executives in a daylong session I designed under the banner of “Identity and Calling.” These twelve leaders have all gone through the intensive six-month “Serving Leader” development process that I facilitate, and they recently reassembled to go deeper in their leadership journey with me.

We worked on three points of focus during our day together, but before introducing these three points, may I briefly digress?

There is no question that the “Finding Our Passion” movement, however it is labeled, has brought incalculable good to the world. Perhaps the greatest positive transformational movement of the last one-hundred-twenty years, we have now begun to unpack what it means to believe that the human person has irreducible worth. Yes, we have been taught for two thousand years and more that a human life has such worth that each one is intimately known by none other than the creator of everything. But when it comes to calling and vocation, the statement – “You should be a cobbler because your father was!” – ruled in “man’s search for meaning.”

Today, we know that a human being is an extraordinary creation. Meyers-Briggs, DiSC, StrengthsFinder, SIMA, Kolbe, the Enneagram, and many more are available to reveal the complex, unique and intricate “instrument” that is the human person. We’re more beautifully one-of-a-kind than snowflakes!

Indeed, by studying, contemplating, and examining the unique design of a person, we can come to see unique purpose, optimal-role fit, and even life calling. Like the spec sheet that accompanies any product we might buy, we each have an extraordinary spec sheet, and to look carefully at it is to greatly advance our understanding of what our life is for.

With this in mind, and thinking about the “spec sheet” that might be written about the “product” that each human person is – digression now officially over – I framed three questions to the executives I was serving this week.

1. Features: Given what you have learned from the assessment instruments we have completed, describe your qualities, features, vulnerabilities and gaps.

2. Functions: Considering all your identified “features” above, including your interests and passions, write down what you today believe is your mission and calling?

3. Warranty: Provide a statement of readiness, willingness and devotion – heart, soul, strength, and mind – to the calling to which you are being called.

It is this third question, which I playfully labeled “Warranty,” that I am concerned about. One of my colleagues in the room, Merle Herr, underscored this same question when, earlier in the day, he asked, “What has become of “Willingness?” “Do you love to do it?” is a life-changing question, to be sure. But have we produced a growing culture of unwillingness through our passion focus? Have we swung the pendulum past the “Passion” point, inadvertently producing an overswing into indisposition and narcissism?

There is nothing more beautiful than willingness. “It’s my pleasure” is a human utterance that transforms family chore-day into goodness, and humdrum customer service into an experience of sheer delight.

And, to be perfectly truthful, “it’s my pleasure” often isn’t. Indeed, what is done under the banner of willing disposition is often not pleasurable at all, and an exercise in discovering our “passion” is unlikely to prepare us to quickly and willingly say, “It’s my pleasure,” when asked to do a necessary chore that we know we won’t enjoy.

So, on two fronts – what makes our necessary everyday transactions (and our business transactions with customers) wonderful, and what grows people into graceful, serving human beings – “willingness” seems to have been lost in our new devotion to human fulfillment.

Is this okay with you? Is this okay for our world? And, how do we “correct the correction,” without losing the incredible gift that “Finding Our Passion” has brought us?

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