Before there is Passion, there must first be: Interest, then Belief, then Ability, then Success

When I was growing-up, I had a lot of passions – or at least I thought they were passions.  Fortunately, I was blessed with having a structure at home and at school that supported me in the exploration and development of my passions; or at least mostly supported me.

My first such recollection was in 4th Grade where I had Ms. DeLuca as a teacher.  I was interested in all of the sciences – each and every one of them.  I wanted to be a “Scientist” someday – not realizing that I really would have to “specialize” someday if I wanted to go anywhere (there can only be one “Bill Nye the Science Guy”).  I had a friend back then, Jesse “Jake” Holmes who was also interested in Science, specifically the narrow field of Herpetology; which was the study of reptiles and amphibians.

Ms. DeLuca allowed Jake and me to set-up a “Science Center” in a corner of the classroom.  We would bring in books on various subjects, and created a few terrariums.  We could perform “non-lethal” and “non-volatile” experiments.  We would spend a lot of time reading these books and talking about science.  Of particular interest to me was space exploration and I wrote to the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) several times asking for information on the missions past, present, and future.  They were always very generous and would send me pamphlets and pictures – sometimes even a flight patch.  As a 4th-Grader, it was very cool getting a big envelope from NASA stuffed with such awesome and interesting items.

By the time I was heading into the 5th-Grade, I was certain that I wanted to be a pilot someday, maybe even an astronaut.  But early in 6th-Grade, my dreams were dashed when I had to start wearing glasses – and I discovered that wearing glasses meant I couldn’t be a pilot or an astronaut.  I remember being disappointed, but not crushed.  It’s probably one of the reasons I have such an affinity towards flying and those who fly – I “get” them.

But I was fortunate to have Ms. Lenhart in 6th-Grade.  She was also very cool and her personal interest was Geology; which is the study of the “solid” parts of the Universe.  I focused my attention on the bit of the Universe we call Earth.  She was taking some courses in geology at the State University of New York at Binghamton (then referred to as “SUNY-B”, and now called Binghamton University) and invited one of her professors to the class as a guest speaker, Dr. Francis Wu.  He was a really great speaker and invited us to visit SUNY-B to learn more, an offer I accepted.  I even joined the Southern Tier Geology Club and did a show on Public Broadcast Service (PBS) for young people called “Rocks, Stones, Gems, and Things”.  It was a lot of fun and a really great experience.

In 6th-Grade, I also had the opportunity to go with the class to Frost Valley YMCA camp for a week of learning outdoors”.  This, combined with the experiences I had camping and exploring the great outdoors as member of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), brought me to my next great interest; Forestry and Land Management.  And this followed me to my early years in High School, so much so that I investigated attending the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF).  But my parents were not too keen on paying the tuition costs (which were considerable) and also spoke to me pragmatically about my future job prospects – about how many jobs are there in forestry, and at what pay?  So, that “future self” was also scuttled.

A similar path was followed with my interest in Photography – although I was pretty good behind the lens, it was hard to make a decent buck.  Anyone that has ever shot a wedding or screaming children knows all about this – and trust me, there are hundreds of wedding shoots for every one model shoot.  But, it is still one of my primary hobbies.

My father was an engineer at International Business Machines (IBM), which was founded in Endicott, New York; where I was born and grew-up.  He was always pointing me in the direction of learning about computers and (hopefully) getting a “job for life” with IBM.  But it was not until 11th-Grade when I took my first computer programming course.  I enjoyed working-out the problems, the logic.  I loved the idea of “If-Then-Else” and Case Statements – often combined with Do-Loops”.  But, although I enjoyed developing Flow-Charts”, I didn’t actually enjoy “cutting code” – sitting and typing the actual computer code.  This was interesting enough, and I believed I could be good at it, that I applied to SUNY-B’s Computer Science program; and was accepted into the program.

I didn’t enjoy it at all.  I spent countless hours in the Computer Center typing my programs on stacks of punch cards – sometimes thousands of them – and feeding them into reader (praying that the reader not shred them), and waiting for the “job” to run.  I spent more time dinking around typing and waiting than I did actually learning and doing.  Bo-ring…

But there was one thing, one thread, that actually did serpentine my entire life – and that was doing business and making money.  From the time I was 10 years old (when I would ride my bike a mile to the store, buy some candies, and resell them), to when I was 13 years old and had my first job at Nanticoke Gardens, to selling papers, working restaurants, and in retail – there was always that one thread that united it all – working, making money, doing business.

So, when nobody would hire me after University as an employee (there was a regional recession where I lived), I decided to open my own business for reasons that were: part necessity, part interest, part “low-risk” (I had nothing to lose).  And, I did “believe” that I could be successful, and that I would be successful.

Mind you, I was not “passionate” about my business, or even the prospects of opening my own business.  I had no delusions of it being “easy riches” or “being my own boss”.  I knew it was going to be damn hard work with little tangible reward for a considerable amount of time.

And I was not “passionate” about what my business did when I founded it, which was assembling IBM PC “Clones”.  In fact, since 1985, I have managed through several transformations of my business; first from computer assembly to hardware integrators, then network engineering and installation, then to implementing and supporting Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, then to industrial engineering to now – one business (the legacy business of XONITEK) that offers expert consulting for companies on their journey with Continuous Improvement and Operational Excellence, and another that is a Think Tank on the subject of Operational Excellence (the Operational Excellence Society).

And over this time, I was successful; sometimes more-so than others, but always on an upward trend.  And I developed a passion.

However, my businesses are not my passion.  But I do have a passion for what my business does; and it has become part of our definition of Operational Excellence.  For my passion is helping companies, and the individuals connected to those companies, “reach a state of readiness that is attained as the efforts throughout the organization reach a state of alignment for achieving its strategies; and where the corporate culture is committed to the continuous and deliberate improvement of company performance AND the circumstances of those who work there to pursue ‘Operational Excellence by Design‘, and not by coincidence.”

Yes, we all have to kiss a lot of frogs before we find the Prince (or Princess) that will be our career – not to mention life’s work.

The role of “Passion” in your personal career.

So when I came across a SlideShare on LinkedIn entitled “Passion is Over-Rated and Goals are for Losers” from Scott Adams (the creator of Dilbert”), I couldn’t help but stop and look it over.

He proposes that the “rich and famous” talk about their “passion” as being the key to success because everyone can be “passionate”.  It’s a safe, “feel good” and “democratic” answer that everyone feels they can embrace.  But, in reality, suggesting to someone that they follow their passion is bovine excrement and more likely to lead them to despair and disappointment.

For, in reality, the premise is that the “rich and famous” are all “rich and famous” – not because they had a passion when they started their respective businesses – but because they worked hard, were smart, believed in themselves and became successful.  In fact, most of the “rich and famous” listed had some manner of “launch support” (either directly or indirectly) in that each of their parents were well-off and each had childhoods that were devoid of real struggle.  And it was only after they were successful (mildly, not wildly) that they became passionate and started talking freely of their passion.

Bitingly, Adams makes the point that nobody interviews the passionate people who don’t succeed.  So, if you consider that “following your passion” and “being passionate” are not the keys to success – and success comes with the expectation of working hard, being smart and believing in themselves – where does one start?

Scott’s proposal is that the key to success is to create systems that result in a desired outcome and to not focus on the outcome itself.  So, if we are to contemplate our own systems for success, we might start by defining our future self with an emphasis on building the characteristics that we have to achieve success – maximizing our probability.

DiagramLet’s start with a simple Venn Diagram;

  • What interests you?
  • What are you good at?
  • What can you make a living doing?

To increase your odds of becoming passionate;

  • Do you have a solid work-ethic?
  • Do you have and can you hone the abilities for your chosen vocation?
  • Do your resources provide enough “runway” to achieve liftoff?
  • Are you smart (not just “book-smart”, but also “street-smart”)?
  • Can being mildly successful result in your making a living that satisfies you?

Most importantly, do you believe in yourself?  Even if and when others don’t?

Scott also dismisses having goals.  Here, I don’t quite agree – or perhaps I don’t believe he accurately positions what goals are supposed to be.  Having goals is important, and it is important that the systems created and put in place align to the goals – always keeping in mind that goals are not destinations, but way-points on a journey.  You don’t want to have a system without an outcome in mind, and that outcome is a goal.  As such, goals are indicators of the health of a system and its ability to generate an expected outcome – to realize the goals.  For example, you can’t just state that your “goal is to increase net income by 10%” without having a system in place that is designed to realize that outcome.

The role of Passion as part of a group.

I have a lot of peers and colleagues who have devoted their careers to Continuous Improvement and Operational Excellence.  And each one of them possesses a degree of passion for their field of expertise (often, a subset of either discipline) – passion that rightfully and justly held but that is a result of being successful.


Recently, I was Chairing and Speaking at a Conference on Operational Excellence.  In addition to the attendance of several consulting firms, there was a good representation of Practitioners from Forture-500 Companies.  All of them were very experienced and successful in their fields and within their companies – and every one of them delivered their talks with passion.  With the exception of one gentleman who spoke in detail about Value Stream Mapping (VSM), the underlying theme of most of the other presentations dealt with creating a framework for “Change” within companies and the methods of “Change Management” that were necessary.

What caught me somewhat by surprise was that everyone was speaking about change at the organizational level, and not at the individual level.  During the panel discussion, where I was acting as the panel moderator, I asked the pointed question; “How do you get an individual to change?”  None of the panelist could answer that question, instead falling back on their frameworks of change at the organizational level.  Is it possible to change an organization without first changing the people?  If not, perhaps we should work at creating an environment and circumstances whereby the people will change – that they want to change.

“Passion is non-transferable”

Perhaps, we assume too much, too often.  Just because we have a passion and a clarity of purpose is not reason enough to expect that those who we want to influence should also possess the same level of passion or understanding.  After all, our passion is the result of a belief in ourselves and the realization of our own success in those beliefs – something those around us probably have not had the opportunity to enjoy for themselves.  And our clarity is the result of being exposed to the parameters of the opportunity and gaining an understanding thereof.  So, is it a reasonable expectation that people will follow you and bend to your will just because you are excited about what you do and have a sense of urgency (read: “panic”)?  Are you really that naïve or arrogant so as to believe such?

And even if they did have a passion that was aligned with yours (unlikely from the initial point of you entering their lives), they most definitely did not follow the same path as you, and did not have the same experiences – same but different, how do you engage?  How will you engage?

So, as Leaders and “Change Agents”, perhaps we should concentrate our efforts on helping others to: discover their interests, create a belief in themselves (confidence), build their abilities, and realize success.  Then, maybe we can have the privilege of seeing an individual grow and change; watch their energy level become more intense and focused – and to witness their growing confidence transform into a passion.

Certainly, as we help to build a person, we run the risk of the person realizing that their passions will take them elsewhere – but what is the risk of keeping them around?


By Joseph F Paris Jr

Photo of XONITEK's Joseph ParisParis is the Founder and Chairman of the XONITEK Group of Companies; an international management consultancy firm specializing in all disciplines related to Operational Excellence, the continuous and deliberate improvement of company performance AND the circumstances of those who work there – to pursue “Operational Excellence by Design” and not by coincidence. 

He is also the Founder of the Operational Excellence Society, with hundreds of members and several Chapters located around the world, as well as the Owner of the Operational Excellence Group on Linked-In, with over 40,000 members.

Connect with him on LinkedIn


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