There’s construction going on in the hotel by my office, and union members are outside protesting the use of non-union labor. There’s was giant inflatable rat on 9th avenue and now two guys have been passing out fliers with a headline that talks about “desecration of the American way of life.” Powerful stuff.
Sadly, the guys passing out the fliers didn’t show the same passion as the words in the flier. Far from it.
In fact, here’s one of the guys who was handing out the fliers. (And no, he didn’t just glance at his phone for a second.)
Sure, he’s just a bored guy on the street early one morning, but it felt like a metaphor to me.
I worry sometimes that the online tools at our fingertips are so powerful and so engaging that, even when we use them in support of our cause, they can become an end in and of themselves. That the quest for members, followers, likes and retweets massages away the blood, sweat and tears that brought us here.
The moment we trade in our conviction, our outrage, and our commitment is the moment we’re just standing on the corner looking at our phone…just like everyone else.
One of the best pieces of advice I got about five years ago was that I should have “strong ideas, loosely held.”
The feedback I was getting was on the “loosely held” part. At the time people experienced me as having “strong ideas, strongly held.” I think I’ve made some good progress on that.
Five years hence, as I come back to the central paradox inherent in this notion, I’m understanding that the suggestion isn’t to have any less conviction around my ideas. Indeed nearly all of the time we need more conviction, more passion, greater commitment, and greater follow-through.
The real point here is that the passion we have for our own ideas must be coupled with a core, deep-seeded belief that most ideas, most of the time, get better when they interact with, and are changed by, other ideas.
I vividly remember an end-of-year b-school class – my leadership professor asked the class where they’d like to be in 25 years. Answers varied, but most sounded pretty lofty until one guy said what I suspect others were thinking: “This is all great, but I’m going to make as much money as I possibly can, then I’m going to buy an island and retire there.”
That wasn’t my dream, but I appreciated the clarity and the honesty.
The problem, though, arises after the first six months (or year?) on the island: then what?
I meet a lot of people who have had a great deal of financial success, and what I’ve found is that there’s a pretty low correlation between financial success and having a sense of purpose – that is, some people who are hugely financially successful have a great sense of purpose and passion; others don’t. I can’t seem to find any greater or lesser tendency amongst uber-successful people in knowing why they were put on the earth.
As we all live (hopefully) longer lives, we will at some point have to start on the work of figuring our our passions, what we love, what inspires us.
My friend living on that island will be starting that work in 25 years.
You could start it today.