Tuesday, December 2, 2014

On Passion

One of my favorite ideas about passion comes from Ken Robinson’s book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. If you’ve never heard of Robinson, you're missing out. Check out some of his more popular YouTube videos, such as “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” and “Changing the Education Paradigm.”

In the Element, Robinson provides a formula for finding one’s passions, and I use it frequently in the classroom. What’s teaching without motivating, after all? His formula: I get it, I love it, I want it, where is it? I’ll let you read his book for his complete explanation behind the formula, but for this post, I’d like to put it into the context of my passions with the hope of inspiring some readers.

So, what do you get? Looking back, I see I “got” a lot of things, like math. Believe it or not, and contrary to the stereotypes in my field of communication, I was excellent at math. Got an A+ in every single class. In fact, when I graduated from Eureka College with a Bachelor’s in English, my advisor mocked my scores on our senior graduating test. I actually scored higher in math than I did in English! My parents always wanted me to be an accountant. They associated numbers with money and thought that would make me rich. But I didn’t love math. I joke that I hate it (and I do hate parts), but it simply doesn’t get me excited.

When I started thinking about college majors, I had to think: what does get me excited? Reading got me excited. Writing sure floats my boat. I love a great story that will keep me up late at night, and I love taking time to reflect on life or create fiction in writing. It was only natural then that because I loved reading and writing that I should major in English.

But what did I want to do with that? I knew before English was going to be my major that I wanted to teach. I had a TERRIBLE high school experience. Not the kind where a kid does bad in school and comes home and complains that the teacher hated him. No, I had the kind of experience where there was NO PASSION in the teachers I had. They were never excited. They had no enthusiasm. There are a few bright exceptions to this rule, but as a generalization, my high school lacked energy in the classroom. It was boring.

I made a decision early that I would teach. I would bring passion to the classroom that would knock my students’ pants off (and you know that’s figurative; we’d get in a lot of trouble if it were literal!).

I looked back at this formula and thought: Ok what do I get, what do I love, and what do I want? Over time, the answers grew. We get better at things as we get older; we find new passions. It’s never too late to change paths. I wanted to make a difference for teenagers, and I devoted ten years of my life to them. I think I did make a difference for several. It was amazing. Not only did I teach English, I started teaching martial arts (something else that I got and loved).

Before long, I fell in love with new subjects like communication and went back and earned a master’s degree in the subject. Not long after that I fell in love with group fitness. And let me be clear on something: I don’t love exercise. Seriously. Show me a treadmill and a weight room, and I’ll fall asleep. I’ve done them and will because that kind of stuff is good for us. But SNOOZE! I fell in love with group fitness—the music, the energy, the people. I don’t exercise because I love it; I do group fitness because I love that!

So what’s the point to all of this? I think it’s important to reflect on what got us to where we are today and to reflect on where we are going. I was good at math and could have made a lucrative career out of it, but I chose not to because I knew I’d be bored. I chose something that I understood and loved—that’s where passion starts. But it goes deeper. It has to go to the I want it stage—meaning that we will do virtually whatever it takes to get there.

For example, when I fell in love with communication, I’d already been a high school English teacher for years. But I like variety and was ready for something new. I already had one master’s degree, and let me tell you: Master’s degrees are not easy! So much research and writing! But my next goal was to teach communication at the college level. To do that, I knew I’d need a specific MA in that subject and would need to get my foot in the door at the college I wanted to teach. For me, it was not only the I love it attitude that was motivation; it was the I want it attitude that meant the most. It meant working full-time at the high school, taking classes for that new master’s, and teaching a night class for the college the moment I was qualified so that they would get to know me and hopefully want me there more (and hey, they did. Thanks, hiring committee!).

But there’s still one part of Robinson’s formula I haven’t discussed and still a reflection on “what’s next." The last part of Robinson’s formula: Where is it? Some people know what they love and want but have trouble finding a specific job for that passion. Then they give up. There’s no easy answer here, but if you have a passion and don’t know what to do with it, then pick up Robinson’s book. I think the worst thing imaginable would be giving up a passion simply because there’s no market for it in your area or no specific kind of job for it that would pay the bills. There must be other solutions and opportunities. If you are that passionate, you will find them or invent them. Right?

As for me, I’m teaching what I want and where I want for life. It’s the best place imaginable. I don’t want a PhD or to teach at a university. That would be more about research and publication, and like math, it would be something I could do but would bore me. I love teaching, and I don’t want those other responsibilities. Let me teach. I will always be a student and will always be learning, but let my job be 100% student-centered and I’ll always be happy.

But now I focus on writing. It’s always been something I got, loved, and wanted…. Writing stories, sharing ideas, inspiring others from new contexts. I’m already doing that, I suppose. I share my stories with close friends who express interest in reading them. And we always have the blogosphere and social media. That’s fine, but I think it helps to set sights on the best possible outcome and always work for that. We can accomplish our dreams. It may not happen overnight, but if you are persistent and patient, then anything is possible.  (Tweet this.)

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