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Out of Our Minds
Wednesday, September 28, 2005 3:55 PM
The Passion Economy
Kevin Salwen on Culture

I wrote something the other day for the newsletter of Vocation Vacations about how the world of work is changing. Figured you might like it. Love to hear what you think...

We ran a profile in Worthwhile magazine not long ago about a superstar lawyer named Dahlia Lithwick. From the outside, she had it all -- a top-tier Yale and Stanford Law education, an impressive career at a Washington law firm, where she was on the partner track, and a hefty six-figure paycheck.

There was just one problem: She was miserable.

Her career was someone else's definition of success, not hers, and Dahlia realized she hated the box she had created for herself. She longed for something more inspiring, something that would make her come alive -- in particular, she wanted to be a writer. She knew it would take work but she also knew she needed to feel alive again.

I'll circle back to Dahlia, but in many ways she is emblematic of what we call the Passion Movement. It is a movement based on the principle that work increasingly must connect to an individual's personal values. More and more educated, talented workers -- those who form the core of our intellectual capital -- are no longer content to exchange their time for money in the absence of meaning.

A Harris poll in 2003 last year summed it up well: 86 percent of those surveyed said that they wanted more fulfilling work. Suddenly, the kinds of things that people talked about over their lunch hours are coming into prominence: relationships, values, standards, bosses, friendships. (By the way, earnings per share don't seem to be on that list of lunch topics.)

Where did this come from? Let's take a quick look back at the last few decades of American business. Consider these images: \n-- 'What's good for General Motors is good for America'\n-- Dolly Parton's 'Workin' 9 to 5' -- about the tedium of the everyday grind\n-- The Glass Ceiling\n-- Gargantuan executive pay\n-- Gordon Gekko's line in Wall Street: 'Greed Is Good.'\n-- Chainsaw Al Dunlap, Wall Street's favorite CEO, who never found a job he didn't want to slash\n-- Layoffs, outsourcing, bankrupt pension funds\n-- And of course, most recently, the CEO parade turns 'perp walk', starring Bernie Ebbers, Ken Lay, Dennis Kozlowski, the Rigas father and son and many, many others.\n\nAnd we're surprised that Corporate America has become a dirty word among so many, particularly the younger generations? As comedienne Paula Poundstone says, 'Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up -- because they're looking for ideas.'\n\nBut the Passion Movement is changing our world of work for the better is so many ways. You can feel the sense of unshackling out there, you can feel the connections that companies are beginning to make to what consumers and employees need and want. \n\nIt began in the mid- to late-1990s, when the Internet age began to take hold for real. Suddenly, all those laid-off, downsized, outsourced people became free agents. For possibly the first time in their lives, no one was telling them what to do; they were responsible and in control of their own careers. And they were motivated to not only create what the world needed, but also what they WANTED to do.\n\nThe Internet age is often the butt of jokes these days, with the euphoric optimism, and of course my personal favorite -- the Foosball table. The joke around the dotcom world was that the Foosball makers were the biggest winners in the Internet age.\n\nBut here's what you need to realize: The Foosball table reflected something bigger -- that people no longer saw their work as a place to sacrifice or to swap their hours for dollars disconnected from any meaning. Work was their lives. Not their sole lives, but as much of their lives as family or recreation.\n\nSmart companies have begun to connect to that too, think Whole Foods, which does a marvelous job of empowering its team members, or Washington Mutual, which connects its entire workforce to its Wamoola program for education, or Fedex, which has never had a layoff in good times or bad.\n\nInto this changing work environment, we have created a completely different kind of business publication: one that embraces the concept that businesspeople -- and increasingly businesses themselves -- harbor a desire to work toward something fulfilling in their lives. While business magazines for decades have focused on the mind, WORTHWHILE is focused on the heart and soul as well as the brain.\n\nSo let's circle back to Dahlia Lithwick. She worked her tail off, writing before heading for the law firm each morning. She finally quit the lucrative job, surrounded herself with supportive people who believed in her for what she wanted to be instead of the 'success' they defined. Her background set her up wonderfully: In mid-1999, when the online publication Slate needed someone to cover the Microsoft trial, she was the perfect lawyer/writer for the job. She loves the work.\n\nBut I love what she says about what the switch means to the next generation: 'Being able to model happiness for your children outweighs anything you can buy them.' Amen to that.\n


Liz - 10/1/2005 1:29:12 PM
It's so simple! We just have to keep getting the word out!
Will Ashworth - 10/1/2005 8:39:22 AM
Worthwhile Mag's tagline is 'Purpose, Passion, and Profit.'

I've always felt that Purpose multiplied by Passion equals Profit.

Doing what you were meant to do (Purpose) and multiplying that by a love for what you do (Passion) produces happiness (Profit).
Liz - 9/30/2005 11:33:11 AM
Absolutely. Support is essential. I've been very lucky to be surrounded my a wonderful group of like-minded Dreambuilders (http://www.dreambuilderscommunity.com) that were there when I was 'proded' (read: laid-off!) and took that leap without any attempt at holding on to the past. I guess I was just ready. I admit that I'm lucky that I WAS ready and that I already knew the direction I wanted to go in when I became 'joyfully jobless!' I think that those of us who have crossed that 'bridge' as you put it, should always be ready to support those that are just coming up the ramp. I don't mean to sound 'Polyanna-ish', like Tamaree said, there have been days when I was tired and wanted to take a break, but overall I'm amazed at how much happier I am now that I'm really doing what I feel I was meant to do. I wish this on everyone.
David Silberkleit - 9/30/2005 10:47:58 AM
It seems to me there are two types of people... those who will leap, perhaps with a bit of proding, and those who will think about leaping but hang on to what they have... they understand the possibilty of a life with passion, but their fear keeps them off the bridge. The later group has been the group that traditionally finds me to be their coach and it is often pain that motivates the need to finally make a change.

I believe that the magnitude of the 'passion movement' is limited by the lack of tools to support people onto the bridge. For massive change to occur, I think we all need tools and compassion for the longing group, those who want so badly to leap, but they need more tools to take that step.

Liz - 9/29/2005 11:59:56 PM
Isn't that the definition of a 'leap of faith?' Faith in yourself and faith in the fact that as long as you take action in the direction of YOUR goals, you will eventually get there. Come on in!...the water's fine!
David Silberkleit - 9/29/2005 7:58:29 PM
What I find most interesting about this thread is what occurs between the realization that work is soul sucking... and the creation of a new reality. I have found that not all people are really willing to live in the void that occurs in the transition... to move from 'security' (a check and benefits) to a career that is new and while passionate, unfamilar, takes so much courage, especially for people who are really invested in the notion of security!
Tamaree Littlefield - 9/29/2005 6:29:50 PM
I love this 'new' movement I love all your comments too. May I share with you my story? I to love what I do for 'a Living' My companys names is Profitable Hobbies> I sale engraving, sandblasting, and airbrush systems, to do all kinds of artwork. Then we teach our customers how to market their art to a higher economical level of consumer. We have a saying I think you will like, 'Having A Good Time-Is my job' We also like what Confucious said 'If you do what you love-you will never work another day in your life'.
I'm not saying I don't get tired or would rather work in
my garden for alone time or rejuvination, but to help and lift another is what it's all about. To see someone create a piece of art that they never thought possible, is absolute joy. I have been doing this now for almost 20 years. I'm not a millionaire but my life has had
a million joy's. So I say lets keep this thinking going!
Liz - 9/29/2005 1:08:58 PM
I agree with all of you! You have to love what you do or else you're just wasting way too many hours of your life being miserable. We all spend a lot of time 'working' but I'm so glad that the definition of 'work' is changing. I rememeber reading somewhere (Worthwhile maybe? ;-) that when someone was watching Picasso, you could never tell whether he was working or playing it all flowed one into the other. That's so cool! As an example, I spend about 2 hours yesterday fixing some 'bugs' in my website. But it was MY website. It's the expression of MY passion to help caregivers...and so it was actually fun! I was 'working' for MY passion, not for someone else's definition of it. What a concept!
Janet Auty-Carlisle - 9/29/2005 11:01:43 AM
Good point Kevin,
Having worked in the relocation industry for more than ten years taught me a lot about blue collar, white collar and ...no collar. I worked with people who were considered 'kings' within their industry and those who were considered 'workers.' It was more often than not the 'workers' the movers and van line workers who were happier. They knew what they wanted, they did their work and they had fun. One guy I know was an amazing piano player...I mean amazing. When there was a piano to move he was the guy to make sure it was done right because he loved them. It wasn't unusual to see him, in the truck, banging on the keys with a bunch of the guys standing around singing the blues or just chillin....Your comment 'I help people start new lives ' was the reason I loved having my relocation business too.....Living la vida fearless, Jan
Kevin - 9/29/2005 9:59:49 AM
Cuccu, I think that's a great point that I glossed over in shorthand. White collar, blue collar, it doesn't matter as long as you're connected to what you do. I remember a great story about a mover in New York who loved his work; when you asked him about it, he'd say: 'I help people start new lives, and that's important.'
Seward - 9/29/2005 9:50:32 AM
I love what she says about role-modeling for our kids. I think that's a point that so often is overlooked -- we give our kids things (the latest and greatest gameboys) then we shlep home from a job that sucks our energy and we can't even show our kids what joy is. Joy is often a hard thing to talk about, but can be role-modeled.
Cuccu - 9/29/2005 9:48:24 AM
You don't have to be part of the 'intellectual capital' to know that work is not all of life and to find ways to be passionate and creative.

I'm lucky to work for a company that knows that work isn't the end-all be-all of life. We're part of the manufacturing chain, and we take our work seriously. But working until exhaustion isn't part of the deal.
Janet Auty-Carlisle - 9/28/2005 5:17:09 PM
Amen to that indeed. As a coach I see this everyday. People are not happy and they know they are not happy but they don't know how to become happy.
You know another perspective on this issue is that we have all watched our parents stick it out with awful jobs just because that's what was expected of them. We owe them a lot as it has taught us to question such decisions. The other side to that is that we, in this country, are often able to make decisions based on our well being. Not everybody has that luxury...and it is indeed a luxury to be able to find your passion and then go and work with it! Keep on keepin on....Living la vida fearless, Jan www.tobeyourbest.net


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