a portrait of passion
someone once said “lack of passion is fatal.” at first blush, it seems a bit dramatic. certainly a lack of food, water, oxygen: these are the things that can actually threaten our survival…but passion?!
if you think about it, so much of what we do on a daily basis—in work, chosen hobbies, the people we spend precious time with—has to do with purpose.
no purpose. no passion. no reason to get up in the morning. or to believe that it matters.
my hunch is that many of us are succumbing slowly, perhaps without even knowing it. death by a thousand paper cuts…or useless meetings…or anything that stands in the way of feeling that fire in your gut.
it’s usually subtle. you hardly notice it as you scurry about to tend to your daily business. but then you encounter that rare someone in the light. with the kind of passion that emanates from their being. that you can feel when they walk into the room. and you realize that the little void is actually a chasm—between you and the life you want to be living.
we arrived en masse: myself, the lead creative, the account director and two designers. a perky blonde popped up from behind the glossy, white lacquer reception desk and whisked us away to the conference room. we followed in single file, weaving between cubes and meticulously assembled scale models with perfectly placed mini-trees and glorious architectural projects that would put the 5,000-piece "millennium falcon" lego set to shame.
when we arrived at our destination, we graciously sat down—pleasant, client game-faces beaming—to await the arrival of the stakeholders. the assignment we were waiting to be briefed on: creating a brand identity for a new skyscraper being built in chicago's famed river north district. after several minutes of fidgeting in our spine-hugging aeron chairs and doodling in moleskins, the door opened.
"hi guys, it's nice to meet you. i'm russ!" salt and pepper hair, cocky and self-deprecating, he was the project manager, a proud "southern boy" with firm handshakes for all of us gathered around the table.
"now lemme tell you about this building," he said in his best george "dubya" accent. "it's gonna be special." he paused for emphasis and we perked up in our chairs, anxiously awaiting every detail of the new gem planned for the city's heralded skyline.
"state-of-the-art building. the fastest elevators. LEED certified. that's a big one." he fired off random phrases as we furiously scribbled them down, hoping to make rhyme or reason of them later.
i scanned the pages of my notebook. a lot of words...not much of a story.
and then he walked in.
the particles in the room shifted. he was an older gentleman, grey hair effortlessly combed back, in a perfectly fitted french cuff shirt and shiny, black onyx cufflinks. he didn't glide in, but rather descended on the table, clearly well-versed in rushing from one important meeting to the next.
now it was russ who perked up, as if the headmaster had just arrived with a ruler in hand. "all right guys, enough from me. he's the boss and he's gonna tell you exactly what you need to know." he smiled like an adoring puppy dawg. "take it away!"
he was responsible for some of the most prestigious buildings in the city. even with no real estate knowledge whatsoever, you knew instantly that you were sitting in the presence of power.
but on this day, for the hour and half that he spoke with us, he was simply a man with a pure, intense passion. unlike the rapid-fire sound byte session we had just endured, we sat riveted, as he wove a story of architectural legacy (the building was designed by mies van der rohe's grandson) and future possibility. he talked about every single facet of the building "experience": from the grand entrance and private drive to the luxurious marble and granite appointments, stunning floor-to-ceiling glass, and the vibrant surrounding neighborhood. he talked of the address as a status symbol, attracting world-class tenants to a building worthy of their business. it would be a landmark—in a crowded urban landscape—that was second to none.
he wasn't merely reciting facts and figures or selling office space. he was delivering a manifesto, which he believed with every ounce of his being...and we all felt it viscerally.
i watched him intently during the entire gorgeous sonnet, but when my pen stopped writing for a brief moment, i peeked down at my arm. goosebumps.
passion is infectious. it makes you feel. it's the fire in your gut. the reason that you push further, stay up later, do what it takes to pursue it.
it's also rare. elusive. it's not going to be served up to you on a silver platter. you have to look for it. work for it. fight for it. in fact, it's been years since i've met anyone with as much love for what they were creating. suffice it to say i've managed to cope thanks to a healthy diet of steve jobs commencement speeches and inspirational TED talks.
but the moral of the story is this: finding your passion, fanning the flame, or even just blowing on the tiny little ember that's inside, is worth it. it's the difference between flat-lining and feeling something.