Wednesday, February 22, 2012

To find your calling, forget about passion! (huh?)

So this post wins for the most counter-intuitive title. I named it in honor of a fascinating little Harvard Business School blog post entitled "To Find Happiness, Forget About Passion" by Oliver Segovia. You can read it here.

When I first saw that title, I thought "oh, this is wrong!" But Segovia actually gets it absolutely right. His point (and you should read it for yourself) is that the world indoctrinates us to just follow our dreams, but then we sometimes find out that our dreams don't make us any money, or even get us a job (think of the starving artist syndrome).

Segovia argues that the key to happiness isn't prioritizing your own dreams, but rather finding a need that you can fill. Basically, he says we're getting it backwards when we put passion before service. That turns out to be a hollow passion. If, however, we put our passion INTO service... well, that's sustainable passion, and a recipe for professional happiness.

This argument is actually a page straight out of the Protestant Reformation. John Calvin taught that you find your calling in life by discovering your gifts and talents (he might have used the word "passion" if he was writing today), and then by identifying where they are needed. My favorite Calvin quote is this: “For as God bestows any ability or gift upon any of us, he binds us to such as have need of us and as we are able to help.” (Sermons of M. John Calvin upon the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Galatians, 1574; p. 307). 

I love the notion of our talents "binding" us to other people. Having a passion is actually a responsibility -- an obligation to give your best to the world. As we rush off to pursue our dreams, let's stop first and give some good hard thought to who needs them. You are much more likely to make a living if you do. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How to Work Beautifully

I mentioned in my last post that I have been studying voice lately to stretch myself. My amazing voice teacher, Kathryn Little, said something in a lesson a couple of weeks ago that rang all kinds of bells for me (she's full of wisdom). It's a principle that I believe has everything to do with finding meaning in our work.

Kathryn has been trying to convince me that my voice has natural beauty. I've found that tough to swallow. But a couple of weeks ago, in the middle of some soft legato exercises, she stopped me and said the following (reproduced verbatim from my recording of the session):

"OK, here's something to think about, because I know that this whole idea of your voice being beautiful is foreign to you and kind of embarrasses you a little bit... Um, instead of thinking about your voice, think about what your voice is doing to someone. If you could hug someone with your voice, if you could envelop someone with warmth and love, instead of 'oh, it's about my voice.' To give. To give to somebody else. Does that make sense?" 

It did. And when I started thinking about singing to express love for someone, the energy changed, the focus changed, and things flowed much more naturally. Maybe even a little bit - dare I say it? - beautifully.

There is a powerful principle here! I've discovered it with my teaching as well. When I walk into the classroom thinking "how can I get my students to like me today?," I'm never at my best. Instead, I've found that the recipe for success is to walk into the classroom thinking "how can I love my students today? What can I give?" I'm so much more effective on those days. And I'm a lot happier too. 

It's ironic. Finding meaning at work means forgetting about seeking it for yourself. Meaning comes as a by-product of serving others. And of course, that principle is true in every aspect of life, not just work.