Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Live from FEI 2013: Reflections on Todd Henry's Discussion of Passion

(Author's Introduction: While Todd Henry's talks at FEI were covered in other blog posts, he raised one important point about passion that deserves a bit more depth.)

"Every place that you add value in your life where it didn't previously exist...is work." -- Todd Henry

In order to add maximal value, however, Todd Henry suggested that we must find our passion.  Citing many different sources, Todd described the need for understanding passion, knowing how to find one's passion, and living one's passion.

Todd Henry opined that people use the word "passion" without really understanding what it means (and, as I noted in an earlier post about the myth of hiring passionate employees, without creating room for passion).  As Todd noted, the root of passion is the Latin "pati" -- to suffer.  It takes a great deal of suffering to follow our passion, and yet doing so is critical to pursuing the lives we hope to live.

To help answer Todd's call, I thought I would post a few links to help people explore passion.

First, Kathryn Britton wrote a great overview of the research on passion, which is based on the research of Dr. Robert Vallerand on the two forms of passion: obsessive and harmonious.  You can find video overviews of the two types of passion here and here, but the short version is that obsessive passion is a near-unhealthy drive to engage in an activity, while harmonious passion is an internal desire to engage in an activity that reflects a harmony between the self and the activity (which Todd Henry called "resonance").  For research on this topic, see Mageau, Vallerand, Charest, et al. (2009), the less-technical chapter by Vallerand and Houlfort (2003), or the 2007 address by Vallerand.

Finding one's passion, however, is a difficult task.  Todd Henry cited Gretchen Rubin's work on this endeavor, and led us through several lines of questioning designed to help the audience find a path to passion.  As Todd noted, it is hard to think about when being questioned on the subject so directly, and yet he exhorted all of us to rise to the challenge.  In that spirit, I recommend taking a look at the comic that Chari Pere created for Rubin's book: "The Quest for a Passion".

Even when we find our passion, however, Todd Henry warned against losing it.  He pointed out that far too many people get into top positions, or meet some of their early goals, and then forget their drive.  Rather, said Todd, we must constantly renew ourselves and reestablish a beginner's mindset.  As he pointed out:

"Your focus, your assets, your time, and your energy -- where you put those four things determine your fate."

With our passions in hand, Todd told us that we must, as Mike and the Mechanics put it in The Living Years, "Say it loud, say it clear."  While Todd went for the chorus, I will leave you with my favorite part of the song:

So don't yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different day
And if you don't give up,
And don't give in,
You may just be OK.


Orin C. Davis is a positive psychology researcher and organizational consultant who focuses on enabling people to do and be their best.  His consulting work focuses on maximizing human capital and making workplaces great places to work, and his research focuses on self-actualization, flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring. Dr. Davis is the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory and the Chief Science Officer of Self Spark. (@DrOrinDavis)

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