You’re probably familiar with this scenario: Person A gives her all to pursue her passion—practicing; researching; talking to individuals who share her passion—whatever is necessary. Person B stumbles upon this particular passion and decides, Maybe I’ll give this a shot. On her first try, Person B achieves a level of success Person A only dreamed about.
When I was an undergraduate, I roomed with someone majoring in performance studies. She seemed very passionate about the craft, often walking around singing loudly and quoting from well-known plays. But over the years, I’ve never seen her name in lights anywhere. Yet a guy in my graduating class who never seemed to care one way or the other about the performing arts (he had an entirely different major actually) went on to gain recurring roles in television shows and in movies.
Life has its twists and turns, huh? My life has taken some strange ones. A few years ago, a publisher asked me to write curriculum for kids 3—8. “Why me?” I asked. “I don’t know anything about kids this age! I never studied early childhood development. I don’t even read books or watch TV shows geared toward kids this age!”
Don’t worry. I wasn’t silly enough to say those words out loud. Instead I said, “Okay,” thinking that project was a fluke, surely. Yet last year someone at another publisher said, “I saw on your resume that you’ve written preschool curriculum. We’d like you to write preschool and kindergarten curriculum.” Again, I thought, What?! I still don’t know why I was asked to write for this age level before!
In Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell mentioned opportunity as a factor that has led to success for some. He said
Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them. Page 267
Whether or not you agree with this book, my experiences above show the beckoning fingers of opportunity. Yet when I analyze the years I spent writing preschool curriculum—yes, years—I have to say that passion did indeed have a part. I have a passion for producing a quality product. I’m willing to work hard to produce that product, even if I’m asked to write for an age level about which I know very little.
Am I always successful at that? Nope. I’ve been fired from projects. “Here’s a kill fee,” one editor at a magazine told me after reading (and disliking) an article I had written. Also, over a decade ago, I was passionate about a four-book series I had written for a publisher. Yet that passion did not keep it from going out of print within two years. But I learned something in both cases: to persevere through utter failure. So in a way, both projects were a success though not in the way that I had envisioned.
Does a lack of opportunity or opportunities that seem to lead to dead-ends mean that our passions are misplaced? Not necessarily. Sometimes failure can point you in a direction you wouldn’t have considered had you succeeded right away.
Opportunity may give us wings, but passion makes us soar.
A good article on passion is “Unleash Your Passion to Unlock Your Leadership.” Find it here at Forbes.com.
What do you think? Does passion or opportunity lead to success? A combination of both? Neither?
Passion image from lifebites.com. Malcolm Gladwell from nbforum.fi. Outliers cover from Goodreads. Flying people from rock.genius.com.