The Voice, Mike Rowe and the Problem of Following Your Passion

Don't Follow Your Passion
I like to watch The Voice, and not just to enjoy the eye candy. As a coach, I am always interested in the ways that the four superstars “coach” their teams. Seeing the way they nurture, critique and inspire is interesting- showing there are many different ways to be a good coach. I am also always amazed by the people on the show- young and old who are pursuing a passion. All are very talented – indeed, I appreciate the format on The Voice where only the talented appear on stage- rather than American Idol which brings on people who have no talent in order to mock them.

The contestants on The Voice are not only talented, they are driven. I am always shocked by the number of them who are so committed to their passion that they have forsaken everything else. Hopefuls confess to the camera that they have dropped out of high school or college to pursue music – that they don’t know what they’ll do if they don’t get a super star coach to choose them.

I am always amazed by this. And not in a good way. As a Jewish mother, I worry for them and as a coach, I question the wisdom of their decisions. I think Mike Rowe, host of Dirty Jobs, captured it best recently. He explained to a fan that the worst advice he had ever received was “follow your passion”

It might seem surprising to you that as a coach I love Rowe’s statements- especially as it seems that one of the stock ideas of our work is “follow your passion.”

But the follow-your-passion-reality/talent-be-damned type of coaching has never appealed to me. Rowe eloquently states what I have always felt was missing from the discussion: “Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it. And just because you’re determined to improve doesn’t mean that you will. Does that mean you shouldn’t pursue a thing you’re passionate about? Of course not. The question is, for how long, and to what end?”

There are many people who are passionate about something but do not have the talent necessary to make it their chosen profession. Perhaps even worse is that there are many very talented people who, for whatever reason, cannot “make it” in their field. For a million and one different reasons, life doesn’t always let us pursue our passion as profession. For so many of the talented folks on The Voice, this is the case.

But Mike Rowe’s comments would be little more than a parental lecture if he didn’t also include some insight and advice. Rowe, who travels the country (and the world) profiling people in “dirty” jobs that many people shun, points to the ways in which people find passion in places they never would have thought they would find it. He highlights people who are passionate about work that even they never thought they would be passionate about. Rowe offers this advice, “Don’t Follow Your Passion, But Always Bring it With You.”

What does this mean in real terms? As a first step, figure out what your passions are. The second step is to pursue those passions- with a deadline. Determine how long you will give your dream to take off and if the time elapses, re-asses. This does not mean giving up on passion- but it does mean adjusting. That adjustment will look different for everyone. There are so many people who resist having a Plan B because they feel that even to imagine not succeeding is to give into failure. But having a Plan B is not a sign of weakness.

I wish for all of those contestants on The Voice who do not make it to the winner’s circle that they find ways of channeling their passions that leave them feeling whole and satisfied. I wish for them lives that are full and meaningful. I hope that they allow themselves to develop new dreams and passions. I hope they bring their passion with them, wherever it is that they go.

Living by the List


I live by lists. Or, rather, I do now.

I came to lists later in life. Lists imposed order on the chaos of my life- on the deluge of commitments and appointments that often left me drowning and gasping for air. So many things were carried away on the currents of life that I found myself overwhelmed, over-committed and sadly, under-performing in many areas of my life.

And then- somewhere along the way- I discovered the magic of the list and now my life is ruled by its rhythms and routines.

As a person who once chafed against the constraints of schedules, worried that they would quash my creativity, I now embrace the list and the order it brings. I have learned to channel my creativity through the list and I am happier and calmer for it. My work is also better.

Now, my morning begins with a meditation and moves into lists.

With my morning coffee, I organize my day (and my thoughts and my life.)

I engage myself in a visualization of my day- where will I go, when and in what order. And as I mentally walk myself through the day, I write down the steps.

My list includes things like “shower,” “eat breakfast” and “call mom”- because you need victories in a day. There is a joy to crossing things off the list and it gives me a little momentum.

Not all the things on my list are easy to do. Sometimes my lists include blogging, client appointments, grading, lecture preparation and housework. On other days my lists include organizing, presenting, networking, and caring for my children. My lists can be subdivided into smaller lists (grade 6 papers, review readings for first half of lecture, promote blog, email son’s teacher, attend coaching conference, read LinkedIn posts, review math facts with daughter). And each task on my list may itself be subdivided when I sit down to do it.

My lists shrink and grow throughout the day as I cross items off and add them on as they come to me.

My lists are connected to yesterday and to tomorrow, with unfinished items carrying over, insisting on being finished and remembered despite the limits of a 24 hour day.

I externalize my memory onto a pad of paper because my own memory seldom can carry all of the things I need it to. My house is littered with notebooks filled with lists. They are the record of my days, weeks, months and years*- of a life full of tasks, accomplishments and meaning.

* Note to self- add throwing away old lists to the to do list.