Find the Passion in your Life

which_way objectivesDeirdre Mullan, a Sister of Mercy nun, is from Derry and taught in that great city for over 2 decades. She is currently Director of Mercy Global Concern at the United Nations in New York.  “As a teacher I felt privileged to interact and work with young people. When asked what I did for a living, I usually replied: “I touch the future – I TEACH”

Inspirational Mentors:

I’m always struck by how many successful people report that teachers were inspirational in their lives. Perhaps it’s because they meet students during a formative period. But not all of us work in the education sector, so we have to find some other avenue to ‘touch the future’ –  both our own and others. The central question can be reframed as follows: If you pressed the ‘pause’ button right now, are you doing something meaningful with your life?

Middle Class:

Of course, the question itself can be labeled as ‘Middle Class Angst’ in the sense that it only becomes relevant once your basic needs are taken care of. 50 years ago Abraham Maslow put forward the view that as each ‘layer’ of human need is fulfilled, we move onto the next level. At the very highest level, which he labeled ‘self-actualization’, there is a sense that you live purposefully, that you are maximizing your talent and contribution. So, how can you discover what ‘self-actualization’ looks like for you? A good place to start is to ask: ‘Where is the real passion in my life’? A recent experience may help to illustrate this.

Principal Meeting:

Over the summer, I worked with the Principal of a Secondary School. At one time, the school had upwards of 700 students but this had fallen to less than 300. 43% of the students are delicately labeled as ‘international’ and the school has been designated as DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity – a mechanism for providing extra support to schools in disadvantaged areas). As Ruari Quinn TD, the Minister for Education, stated that 1,000 kids is an economic model for secondary education, schools with declining student numbers are under threat. The Principal was looking for support – but was unclear in what direction he should go.  We explored a number of questions: If he wanted the school to become the Very Best, what would this look like? Should they review core teaching (including the use of emerging learning technologies) and lead on this? Would success be based on the % of kids going to third level i.e. should the school become more academic focused and how realistic would this be? Should they attract a tranche of kids who want to repeat the Leaving Certificate to get higher points i.e. develop a new income stream by becoming a sort of ‘Leeson Street’ for working class kids? Would they consider a totally new direction e.g. post-Leaving Certificate courses to offset the decline in student numbers and revenue? Perhaps he could run the ruler over his own managerial style to see how the school is being run and focus on improving internal processes, and so on.

I have long believed that consultants are in the questions business and that the clients need to figure out the answers themselves (most of the time).  This man’s passion was his school. He wanted to ensure that this school was the best it could possibly be and was not afraid to ask for help in finding a way forward. Making that school great was his life’s work. The issues all wrapped around a single, meta question: What legacy did he want to leave? And, the same question can be asked of each of us i.e. what legacy do you want to leave? If we jump from education to banking this might become a bit clearer.

Senior Player:

A couple of years back, I completed an assignment with a senior manager in one of the main banks. He was new into the role and extremely capable.  The organization asked me to help him set objectives for the coming year.

I enquired what he wanted to achieve in the new role, what was he passionate about.  His reply was blunt:  “I don’t really have time for this. Can we get on with setting the objectives and skip the philosophy lesson?” I asked for a couple of minutes ‘grace’; if I couldn’t convince him that this was a worthwhile approach, we would quickly move on. So, I re-phrased the question as follows: “In 3 years time, when you are moving on from this job, how do you want to be remembered? Do you want to be known as the Revenue guy, who pushed the top line through mergers and acquisitions? Alternatively, do you want to be known as ‘Mr. Bottom-Line’ – the guy who chased organizational fat like a ferret hunting rabbits? Or, take on a Feargal Quinn ‘Customer is King’ challenge–pushing the Net Promoter Score through the roof? Perhaps you are going to be remembered for your work in staff engagement, the manager who listened to employees, who understood and progressed the staff agenda? As soon as you tell me how you want to be remembered, then I’ll help you craft your objectives for this year and I‘ll will make sure that they align with this future goal”. He bought the argument and we worked productively on this project.

Our Passions:

So, what legacy do you want to leave? Is it becoming successful? Well-known? Wealthy? Raising confident kids and making them self-sufficient? Helping people you manage to  develop their potential? Doing something great in music or social justice? The good news is that you get to pick. The bad news is that you don’t get to skip a turn. Because people without passion in their lives are missing their turbo-charger, the thing that helps us perform optimally.  The next step is easy. All you have to do is answer a single question: What am I really passionate about?

Happy Christmas:

At this time of year I always feel a bit sad for Santa trying to wriggle down the chimney. It’s getting more and more difficult as the years pass (“Yes, pass me that last mince pie”). On a ‘lighter’ note, I’m sure that you are looking forward to time out with the family. Put your feet up and take a moment to enjoy the important stuff. Thanks for keeping up with the blogs in 2013. If you are up for ‘continuing the conversation’ in 2014, I certainly am.