Tuesday, December 7, 2010


"Dad, I was reading your blog about Thanksgiving", Luke said, referring to Three Peas in which I described how fundamentally different he, Joy and Eila are.


"So, how do I become more driven?"

In my post, I'd described how easy-going and laid back Luke is, take it or leave it, no big deal, whatever... I asked, "What do mean?"

As he explained it, what came to mind was passion: how do I become more passionate?

I wasn't really sure how to respond on how to become more passionate, so I started with examples of two people I know who are expert in squelching and squashing their passion: my dad and Mark Kaufman. I described how they both are really smart guys who could easily do many things, and yet, they lack passion for anything in particular. Over the years, I've come to the conclusion that their lack of passion is seated in a deep-rooted, fully-developed and pervasive sense of pessimism: a core why bother?

They may be momentarily excited about this or that, but they never really go for anything in a big way with sustained energy. It's almost superstition: I'll jinx it if I get too excited or want it too much.

I concluded with Luke, "So I think that one of the reasons you may not have passion (be driven) is that you don't believe you can actually achieve what you want?"

Luke said, "Yeah, sounds like I'm a lot like Grandpa."

Drive within Context
Then it occurred to me that although my dad flounders and fails on his own, he does extremely well when working for a boss who supplies the vision and passion, or working with my mom who was a passionate and creative visionary with countless ideas and desires that she rarely had the wherewithal to carry out on her own. My dad lacks creativity given a blank sheet of paper or an empty whiteboard. However, if you give him a tough problem in a well defined context, or even just a goal and basic plan, he becomes a creative dynamo generating new ideas and patented inventions.

It occurred to me that blank-slate-creativity and contextual-creativity are completely different animals and that the primary difference lies in the degree of optimism or pessimism. True blank-slate-creativity (the kind where you're inspired to do something new rather than inspired to not do what someone else tells you) requires an amazing degree of optimism and self confidence, perhaps an unreasonable degree. Blank-slaters go off and do what they're going to do whether or not anyone else is with them or believes in them.

Contextual-creatives lack that level of optimism and self-confidence, often requiring sustained support and encouragement. They do better in classroom settings than isolated in a laboratory. They're great team members, but shy away from leadership (although they may desire to be leaders). So, if you lack the self-confidence and optimism to blank-slate it, working with someone who already has a vision and passion can be a great way to go. Further, the more creative the blank-slater, the more likely it is that she can't manifest her vision on her own. She'll need help, perhaps from you.

I pondered aloud, "Maybe you want to find other people who are passionate for what they do, who have a vision and a plan, and join them?"

Small Talk
"Yeah, I thought of that. I've been trying to network", Luke responded with the word "network" so drenched in dry irony that it still dripped. "The thing is, that I'm not good at small talk. I just don't know what to say."

I asked, "Why do you have to say anything? Why not just ask people about themselves and their interests?"

Luke responded, "Yeah, I try to do that sometimes. But everyone is just interested in the football games they watched over the weekend and I find all that stuff boring. When I ask them about it, I feel like I'm being fake."

I suggested, "Well there's a difference between feigning interest and deciding to really be interested in the person you're talking to. Feigned interest runs it's course pretty quickly and you find yourself drifting in and out of the conversation. However, if you simply decide to be interested and start asking him about him, you never run out of questions."

And then it occurred to me that the key to growing interest is steering away from what questions and toward why questions. I too wonder how many times one can recount the greatest play of the weekend without going deaf or blind. However, I never tire of digging into why someone would repeatedly recount the greatest play of the weekend, what her core motivations are, what she most desires and appreciates. What about the play made it great? Why'd you like it better than this or that play?

I could almost hear Luke nodding over the phone.

And then it occurred to me, "On the other hand, maybe you want to start networking with people who talk about things that interest you? There've gotta be ways to meet people who are passionate about the things that interest you."

Becoming an Astro-Physicist
A bit later, Luke asked, "So, how long do you think it would take me to become an astro-physicist?"

I said, "Well, that depends. Do you want a degree or do you want to work in astro-physics? The former will probably take you about eight years and the latter about one."

I shared with Luke that I'd recently reread the first of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes Collection, A Study in Scarlet, where Holmes and Watson first meet. Watson is confounded by Holmes:
"His ignorance was a remarkable as his knowledge... My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in the nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it."

When Watson shares his consternation with Holmes, Holmes responds, smiling:
"You appear to be astonished. Now that I do know, I shall do my best to forget it."

"To forget it!"

"You see", he explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like an empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furnitutre as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it."

I went on to tell Luke of my Holmesean friend Jonathan's expertise in taking on challenges in disciplines where he has no formal training or experience. He quickly comes up to speed with exactly the knowledge he needs to solve the problem, as much pertinent knowledge as any expert would have.

I said, "If you know exactly what you want to do, then you can gain the knowledge and expertise you need to be an astro-physicist in no time at all."

Got passion? If not... Perhaps you've been sold a bill of goods regarding the cost of passion? Perhaps you've confused pessimism with being realistic or practical? Perhaps, you dread the blank slate? Perhaps, you're simply not interested in other people?

Happy Tuesday,


  1. I loved this.

    I believe that lack of passion is about the confusion that we believe that there is something we are supposed to do or be - and this confusion (= lack of clarity) keeps of from being and feeling the passion.

  2. Joy, I agree with you, a big passion killer is SHOULD. So often we have difficulty finding passion for our pursuits simply because our pursuits are not those that we would choose were there no SHOULDs.

    It's difficult to create and maintain passion when all along something inside is nagging your, saying, "If only I could be doing something else."

    Indeed the confusion results from a self-imposed lack of clarity, a lack of clarity because the reconciliation of conflicting desire and obligation (should) is one of the more difficult challenges we face, one that we tend to ignore, hoping that something happens to force a change, rather than taking it head on.


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