Dave Pursues His Passion

Regular readers will probably be aware that I’ve recently become preoccupied with finding my Genius (what I’m good at), my Passion (what I love doing), and my Purpose (what there is a great need for) — and, more specifically, finding or creating work that lies at the intersection of all three. I’ve also used a fourth term — one’s Gift — for what lies at the intersection of one’s Genius and one’s Passion.I thought it might be useful for me to chronicle my search, in the hopes that it might be helpful to others engaged in a similar search. That’s what this article is about.My first step, inspired by Dick Richard’s wonderful book Is Your Genius at Work?, was to articulate, in a two-word gerundive phrase, my Genius (I decided it is Imagining Possibilities) and my Purpose (I believe it’s Provoking Change).My second step, inspired by Dave Smith’s inspiring book To Be Of Use, was to ask the question Who Needs Your Gift Now?, to focus my attention on how my Purpose might be applied to address important (or at least urgent) human needs. This second quest encountered a familiar obstacle: the urgent human needs that my Imagining Possibilities Genius could be applied to, in order to Provoke Change, seemed to be all non-paying, volunteer work, which I won’t be in a position to take on at least until my pension begins in three years (even though I have already halved my monthly living expenses — as several readers pointed out, “Does it pay enough?” is relative to how extravagantly you, and those you love, choose to live). Greenpeace and PETA could undoubtedly use my help Imagining Possibilities that would help them achieve more of their objectives more effectively, for example, but their budgets are fully committed.It also occurred to me that the role of ‘Possibilities Imagining Officer’ is unlikely to exist in any organization, volunteer or not. Managers and Directors are (often vainly and incorrectly, in my experience) of the opinion that imagining possibilities is among their core competencies. And having applied this competency in every role I have ever taking on, I can also attest to the fact that most organizations are uninterested in even hearing about imagined possibilities — that might suggest that they’re not already doing a stellar job, and would require them to challenge accepted wisdom, take some risks, and be innovative, all of which are anathema to most established organizations. Imagined possibilities are unsettling and threatening to them, and, as I’ve learned the hard way, if a need isn’t recognized, no one will be interested in having you fill it.So over the past week or so I’ve been doing some research, to see whether there might be some other way to coordinate and find outlet for my Genius, my Passion and my Purpose.

There are many models out there for identifying one’s Genius, Passion and the types of work that will focus them ‘on Purpose’. Probably the best known model for ‘flavours’ of Passion is the one outlined in Richard Bolles’ What Color Is Your Parachute, based on John Holland’s RIASEC model:

  • Realistic (like to work with objects or outdoors),
  • Investigative (like to observe and solve problems),
  • Artistic (like to create, imagine or innovate),
  • Social (like to work with people),
  • Enterprising (like to lead, influence, or persuade), and
  • Conventional (like to work with data or carry out tasks set by others)

— pick the top 3 and find a job that entails a mix of them (I’m A-I-S on this test).

A second well-known model is the Princeton Berkman model, which identifies your Interest ‘colour’ and your Style ‘colour’ (very roughly analogous to Passion and Genius) and points you to careers for each — you then look for the overlaps. There are four ‘colours’:

  • Green (communicating & persuading),
  • Blue (planning & supporting),
  • Red (expediting & leading), and
  • Yellow (administrating & overseeing).

A similar four-colour model is the Follow Your True Colors model:

  • Green (thinking & analyzing),
  • Blue (inspiring & coaching),
  • Gold (organizing & tracking) and
  • Orange (entertaining & persuading).

It tells you your ‘personality/style’ type which mixes what you like with how you behave, another sort of Passion/Genius blend (I’m Green+Blue on both of these tests). Another practical take on Myers-Briggs is Do What You Are, which suggests general types of work for each of the 16 MBTI types (According to this test, as an ENFP, I’m an “anything’s possible” Champion — at least that fits with my Genius of Imagining Possibilities):
By contrast, the Gallup organization focuses more on Genius than Passion. Their Strengthsfinder test and book (Now Discover Your Strengths) identifies a whopping 34 Strengths:

Achiever  Connectedness Harmony (consensus-seeking) Relater
Activator Context (setting/learning) Ideation (imagining) Responsibility
Adaptability Deliberative Inclusiveness Restorative (fixer)
Analytical Developer Individualization (specialization) Self-assurance (decisiveness)
Arranger Discipline (self-) Input (inquisitiveness) Significance (aggressiveness)
Belief (Spiritual) Empathy Intellection (reflection) Strategic
Command (taking) Fairness (balance) Learner Winning others over
Communication Focus Maximizer (optimizing)
Competitiveness Futuristic Positivity (encouragement)

Heh– competitiveness but no collaboration: tells you something, eh? The book tells you how to apply your strengths to selecting and excelling in your work, which implies that you should focus on What You’re Good At (Your Genius) and not bother to try to find where it overlaps with your Passion. I found this disappointing and a bit paternalistic, and got a laugh at the example of Colin Powell as a guy who has discovered and stressed his strengths. (My top 5 in this test were ideation, intellection, input, strategic and command — but you have to buy the book to take the test).

I find all of these tests and models too prosaic — they seem designed to help you find existing jobs that suit your personality, your skills, and your ‘style’, which to me falls far short of matching your Passion, your Genius and outlets for your Purpose.

The new kid on the ‘vocational counseling’ block is Dan Pink, whose new book A Whole New Mind is more focused on What’s Needed. His thesis is that what’s not needed any more are the traditional left-brain analytical skills that the industrial age has rewarded since its inception. Most of these jobs, he says, will be offshored to struggling countries whose people will do this prosaic work much cheaper than the residents of the affluent nations where the head offices are located. Taking their place, he says, will be six types of right-brain skills:

  • Design
  • Story(-telling)
  • Symphony (coordinating)
  • Empathy (coaching)
  • Play (creativity)
  • (adding) Meaning

Pink’s approach is refreshing, but he’s only half right. Left-brain work will be offshored to struggling countries, but the corporations that do so will not be hiring right-brainers to take their place. It is cheaper and less risky for them to allow right-brained entrepreneurs to do these things, and then buy them out, or copy them and crowd them out. Pink is right that there is a great need for these skills, but that need will be met by people starting their own businesses — bad news for the faint-hearted.

All of this is marginally helpful — it can point us in directions that we might not have thought about, about what our Genius might be, and about opportunities to find (or more likely create) much-needed work of types that you won’t find in standard taxonomies of jobs or in the want-ads. But what about finding your Passion — the Dream Job that probably doesn’t yet exist but meets a need that isn’t filled by anyone else?

Well, I’m not a vocational counselor, but here are five questions that I think might help you find your Passion, and maybe even point you to a Purpose that will allow you to make a living at it:

  1. What do you see yourself doing when you retire? Is there a way you could make a living doing something like this now? If it’s traveling, could you make a living as a maker of travelogues, travel guide writer, or as a guide or in some facet of the hospitality industry? If it’s spending time in nature, could you find a job teaching others why you love it?  If it’s watching sports, could you make a living as a commentator or analyst?
  2. What are you doing to explore what’s possible? Most of us kind of drift into traditional jobs because we’re convinced that’s all there is, or because it’s tje path of least resistance. We have no idea what’s possible, how some people are actually making a living doing things we would love to do. The Internet is full of information. There are books like Po Bronson’s What Should I Do With My Life? that tell inspiring stories of people who have discovered their Passion and applied it to their Purpose, and how they did it. And through social networking, you can find and talk with people who are doing what you’ve always wanted to do.
  3. What are you doing to become better at what you love? Is the fact that you’re not skilled or knowledgeable about something you always secretly wanted to do, just a convenient excuse for not overcoming the fear of trying to be good at it? If courage is merely not having any alternative but to do something remarkable, what can you do to make trying to become expert at something you think you’d really love so compelling you have no alternative but to go for it?
  4. Have you considered trying something out, either on a volunteer or short-term basis, that will show you whether or not it’s your Passion or your Purpose without the need to make a long-term commitment to it?
  5. If you’re really convinced that your Genius (What You’re Good At), your Passion (What You Love), and what there’s a great human need for, are irreconcilable, have you considered what Paul Graham calls the “two job option: work at things you don’t love to get money to work on things you do”.

If, like me, you haven’t yet identified how to make a living in that sweet spot at the intersection of What’s Needed, What You’re Good At, and What You Love, don’t give up, and don’t despair. As Paul Graham says, it’s hard work. Po Bronson’s stories of those who’ve succeeded suggests it rarely happens by luck, and can be uncomfortable, scary, even painful. It’s often precipitated by a crisis that gives us the courage to do what we otherwise never would. We all tell ourselves we only have one life, but it’s often tempting to say we can always do what we love later, or just learn to love what we do well and is needed.

The cliche is that on their deathbed, no one ever regretted not having spent more time at work (and many regretted having spent too much). Maybe that tells us how many of us squander our lives settling for two out of three. I’ve spent my whole working life (thirty years) doing so, and most of the last two years looking (not intensively or courageously enough) for work that offers all three, and settling, in the interim, for other two-out-of-three jobs. I’m not going to wait for a crisis, or a wake-up call, to give me the courage not to settle.

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7 Responses to Dave Pursues His Passion

  1. Michelle P. says:

    Hi Mr PollardWell… after this particular series you’ve been writing I feel like I am seeing myself in your journey (another classic ENFP who likes to “imagine possibilities” here). I’ve yet to discover my “Genius” but I recently acquired the book and will study it carefully over the ensuing weeks. I love the idea of the right-brain activities becoming more needed. I’ve always been a closet story-teller so I’m heartened by this. It may be time to come out of that closet eh? Keep up this interesting subject and I look forward to your discoveries. Regards Michelle P. Australia

  2. Dave, these reflections are great and help me reflect. But I don’t understand your continued use and promotion of the Myers-Briggs test. Annie Murphy Paul’s book The Cult of Personality revealed that this test has no scientific basis. You are such a rational and passionate person. It seems irrational to use a questionable, if not discredited, tool like the Myers-Briggs test as a basis for action.

  3. Jeremy Heigh says:

    Dave, my good friend, Alan Kearns, has a company called CareerJoy that you may find interesting. More interesting than the company is Alan.Alan deeply enjoys people. He’s able to ask insightful questions that most people neglect. He somehow manages to steer past the frightening thought of being vulnerable and into the important space of being thoughtful.He’s in Ottawa but has an office in Toronto. You may want to connect with him. If so, send me a note and I’ll hook you two together.

  4. medaille says:

    I like posts like this because it seems like a lot of the people I know don’t really want to get to know who they really are, but I do. So its nice that the internet bridges gaps to a certain extent.It seems to me that the big limiting factor here is “What’s needed.” We can control to a good extent What we love doing and what we’re good at, but it seems that what’s needed is always controlled by someone else (not a natural diverse world which would be more accomidating to diverse abilities). Namely, it seems that through specialization/industrialization we have created the need for cogs in the machine. Jobs that do a machines work but cheaper. Jobs that don’t require creativity, which is fairly essential to being human. I think that being a cog also diminishes the actual necessity felt by the implication that people are easily replaceable, so many people aren’t even hitting two of the three.To me, that would mean that as a society, we need to alter what’s needed, so that we can make more peoples’ passions needed. Granted, material quantity might decrease (but who here measures quality of life in terms of quantity?). I think its obvious that at the very least more local economies bring back the necessity into a job even if they aren’t what people love.There also seems to be the problem that nobody knows what they want to do with their life. I think this is evident that our current infrastructures fail to provide us with the opportunities to figure out what we love and/or what we’re good at beyond the realms at which is helpful to an industrialized society. We don’t have free time. We don’t have easy access to try out new things or even figuring out which new things might interest us. There seems to be a tremendous capital investment required of the individual to get into new activites that is unnecessary if we lived a more communal lifestyle. If I wanted to learn sewing, it pretty much requires a sewing machine, woodworking/metalworking requires tools, working on cars requires different tools, wakeboarding requires a big enough boat. Those are all things I’ve had interest in, but haven’t really had much of an opportunity to explore because I just wanted to dabble in them and am not willing to put that much money, which I don’t really have into those activites and no one I know is really into them so I can’t borrow equipment from them. We have clubs for those types of things, but a lot of times they aren’t adequate or well-enough organized for us to find easily and our momentary passions get lost before blossoming. It seems like it would make sense that a natural community would want to fund a program or something that would make an active effort in diversifying the potential activities that people are exposed to with the idea that more exposure means that more people are likely to find a passion that lies in a need or at the very least to find a constructive passion that involves self-growth rather than consumption (TV, etc).

  5. Rayne says:

    Dave, I think you’re already doing “it” when you write posts like this. The question: how to make a living at it.BTW, I think I figured out a solution to the Salon community/blogring. I’ll pop a note about it when I get a minute.

  6. Jon Clement says:

    I’ve always found personality surveys merely run your input through a thesaurus and tell you something you already know or weren’t sure about in the first place.I agree – if you think you might enjoy it. Try it. Challenge yourself by volunteering in a distantly related field.OR!Create your Gift in your current job. Put on your ‘black’ hat for a day and challenge people. They’re many creative ways to approach any task.

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks, all, for the comments. I don’t particularly embrace Myers-Briggs or any of the other methods of ‘typecasting’ yourself (as I mentioned in the article), but I thought it would be worth surveying them since so many people have used these tools to try to find out who they are and what they would like to do, or be good at doing. As for me, I wasted too many years doing what I was reasonably good at, that there was an easy-to-satisfy market for. My journey to find the ‘sweet spot’ will probably be harder than that of most people because I have so many things to unlearn and illusions to dispel before I can see clearly, and because it’s harder for us ‘old’ people to try something completely new without raising eyebrows.

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