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Essential One: Rediscover Your Passion

"A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral."
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery- French novelist

Recently I was in a theater watching an adventure movie. While the movie only covered a few months of the main character's life, I was struck by the incredible excitement surrounding the lives of these characters on a daily basis. Each moment brought a new series of thrills as people dodged bullets, jumped off of buildings into speeding trucks and drove speedboats through flames of explosive fumes. But perhaps the most attention-grabbing element of the film (even more than the exciting action in the lives of the characters) was the music, a feature I have all too often taken for granted. For some reason on this particular evening, my hearing senses were more acute, and I became aware of the shaping power of the music on my own personal mood. When the characters were in danger, the music shifted to slow eerie tones. The tempo increased when characters were running for their lives. It became light and cheerful when people were laughing. And you could hear the melodic strings of the violin and cello crescendo as a love scene was introduced. With each decision the main character had to make, the music set the mood and walked him through the experience.

I began to think about the adventure, excitement and fun in my own life and I wondered what the soundtrack would play like. Certainly, life never is as exciting as an action-adventure film all of the time. We all have days when we wake up grumpy in the morning, the coffee doesn't taste as good and we feel a little unnoticed. But I dreamed on. If Weber and Rice were to write the soundtrack for my experiences in life, would it win an Oscar? As I was fantasizing about my personal soundtrack, I realized that it would contain periods of complete silence. When I have had the rug pulled out from under me, I feel as if the soundtrack suddenly becomes deathly silent.

I don't hear any music sometimes. It's as if I'm standing in the shower in Janet Leigh's place, unaware of the killer lurking on the other side of the curtain. Hitchcock was a master at creating mood through music and silence. In the famous death scene in Psycho, the only sound heard as the killer slowly approaches Janet Leigh is the sound of water in the shower. I remember jumping out of my seat the first time I saw that famous death scene. Why did I jump? I jumped because the screeching music broke through the silence. When silence occurs for a prolonged period of time, we often find ourselves jumping at any music, good or bad, simply because it has broken through the silence that we've settled into.

As I have spoken with thousands of people over the years, I have discovered that many people caught in the midst of transition often don't hear any music at all. Paralyzed with fear, or perhaps numbed after prolonged silence, they have lost their passion to even get out of bed in the morning. And when they do rouse themselves to finally pull back the covers and crawl out, it certainly isn't to the beat of any exciting music. Have you ever felt afraid of a silent score, wondering if a killer was lurking just out of reach?

Why do you get out of bed in the morning? Recently, I asked this question at a teambuilding retreat. One of the participants, Beverly, stopped the conversation cold and confronted each of us by saying, "Tom, I hate that question. I hate it when people like you ask us to discover our passion. I don't know why I get out of bed. I would like to come up with some great answer, but I usually get out of bed because I have to get the kids off to school, go to work, or many times, just because I have to go to the bathroom. That is a stupid question!"

Maybe you are bothered by this question too. I am sure that others at the retreat felt the same way Beverly did, but may not have stated their feelings so boldly. Beverly had lost her passion for life. She no longer heard any music in life. Her soundtrack had stopped.

What Beverly was experiencing in her life is what I call the survival mode of living. Survival mode is when you get out bed in the morning because you "have" to and not because you "want" to. Tragically, many people find themselves trapped in the survival mode of living and consequently lead unfilled and unfulfilled lives. I have been there. We all have been there. It is a part of life that none of us enjoy very much. But in order to embrace change with a sense of hope and passion, we must be able to move out of our survival mode into a transformational mode. If we don't, the burden will intensify and we will end up feeling hopeless and discouraged.

The survival mode of life is a necessary component of our daily lives. Like its name implies, it assists us with basic survival. It includes the normal changes that happen in the common activities of personal development. But there's more to this life than just surviving! That's where the transformational mode of life comes in. Transition is the go-between between just getting by in the survival mode, and living the exciting and fulfilling life you've always dreamed of in the transformational mode. During periods of uncomfortable transition, we must recognize that life doesn't have to be a rut, but that it can be more. Such thinking leads us to the transformational mode, which encompasses the dramatic changes that occur through the revolutionary activities of development. Notice the choice of words: dramatic (drama) and revolutionary (revolution). To many, these words are frightening. But they don't have to be. They can be words of excitement and hope. Change doesn't have to be a four-letter word.

Two analogies help to understand the difference between survival and transformational living: School Daze and Home Improvement.

School Daze

Picture yourself in your high school days. What motivated you to get out of bed in the morning? Maybe it was Mom or Dad, but whatever the external impetus, you rolled out of bed and went to class to survive. In the process of attending classes, your knowledge increased and you were challenged to grow and stretch. But while you sat in class, another activity was occurring. You were discovering your own personal role. As it developed and you played your part, everyone in the class came to know you by that role. Perhaps you were the campus athlete, clown, brain, nerd, beauty queen or jerk. Regardless of your personal role, you discovered your own mode of survival, and you learned and grew within a role that you personally owned and felt comfortable in.

In contrast to the survival mode of life is the transformational mode. Lori Bard had an identity in high school that contributed to her security and significance. She was a cheerleader, ice skater, swimmer and excellent student. Her family did not have the money to send her to a university and like many 18-year olds, she wanted to venture out on her own rather than stay at home and go to the local community college. The only way she could see that happening was to join the Air Force. She packed up her identity and moved from Phoenix to Texas to enter boot camp.

Lori's first week in boot camp was one of the most difficult weeks in her entire life. Not only was she being pushed physically and psychologically, she was far from the things that made up her previous identity. After a couple of days of being screamed at by several of the Air Force's stern drill instructors, the girls in Lori's flight were allowed to make one two-minute phone call. All fifty girls lined up at the phones and called home in turn. As Lori stepped up to the phone to call her mother, her drill instructor stood behind her with a stopwatch which was already started. As soon as her mom answered, Lori immediately broke down in tears and said, "Mom, please get me out of here. Do whatever you can, just get me out of here!" (Later she found out that this was the same thing that most of the other girls had said during their phone calls.) Standing before a new world, Lori didn't like what she saw at first. Her new world was a scary place. In the midst of incredible transition, a transformation was occurring. No longer did she get up and go to high school classes and activities. She moved across the country, saw new faces and strange places, and found that life was not the comfortable little box that she had grown accustomed to. Her high school roles were no longer recognizable to most. She lost a little bit of the identity she had formed, and began a transforming process a process of becoming.

Eventually, Lori overcame her fears and became a squad leader. At the end of her nine weeks of bootcamp she was the honor graduate of her flight. She then went on to technical school and graduated with honors again. Finally she passed her CDC's with honors receiving what few Air Force enlisted men and women have achieved, and graduated with triple honors.

At first Lori had felt overwhelmed without her old roles to support her. She had been stripped of her security and significance. But as she developed new friends and new skills, her confidence and comfort began to grow. She was trained as a medical technician, worked with doctors and nurses, and began to find a new identity in the medical field. She joined a local church and met new friends. When transferred to Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento, she spent the weekends skiing in Lake Tahoe, traveling to San Francisco and going on activities with the church college and career group. It was there that Lori met my son Jonathan, and shortly thereafter they were married. Lori had experienced transformation.

Transformation is the psychological time of letting go of the past and beginning again. With each new transformational journey we embark on, we take knowledge and wisdom gained from past experience, apply it to new situations and expand and explore into new areas of thinking, believing and acting. The transformational mode of life is a time of discovering a new passion. It is a time of creativity and development, and should be a time filled with hope. However, when we allow fear to dominate during times of inescapable change and transition, the joy of the journey can be lost, transformation stagnated and we may find ourselves slipping into the rut of survival mode living.

The most dramatic changes take place through the transformational mode of living. It is a rite of passage in which a radical departure from former ways of thinking and doing takes place. If we allow it, change can be an agent of hope and excitement, putting an end to the old patterns of the survival mode and ushering in new strategies to excel in the transformational mode. Push out of your mind for a moment the subtle thoughts of inadequacy that may be creeping in. Thoughts like "I'm not good at change," and "I like things the way they are" need to be replaced by feelings of competency and enthusiasm. Change is inevitable. While it may seem intimidating, it never needs to be threatening. In fact, change is a sign of life. At its core, life necessitates change. Without change, there is stagnation and ultimately death. Our challenge is to seek to capture and comprehend change from the chaos of the surrounding culture and be able to utilize it in transformational ways.

It is easy to get in a rut in the survival mode of living. We are comfortable within the roles we have adopted and the school environments we are familiar with. But all of a sudden we graduate and move out of our homes and into new towns and go off to college. Many of us have experienced this transformational mode when we were 17 or 18 years old. We moved into a new community, sometimes thousands of miles away, leaving behind our homes, families, friends and roles. For many of us, the first few days away from home were some of the scariest days of our lives, not because we were threatened by real killers, but because we feared the unknown.

Situations like these illustrate the transforming power of change in our lives. They are periods in which we are stripped of all our former roles. While we are establishing new identities, we are just a name or a number in the computer. We may feel momentarily off balance, unstable and fragmented. In such times, our values and principles determine how we will respond. How do we deal with these changes? Do we fear the unknown so much that we remain paralyzed? If so, the idea of change most likely brings to mind memories of fear, pain, frustration, and isolation. Or, do we view the transitions as a necessary part of the transforming process and allow ourselves to broaden our perspective? If so, the idea of change is an exciting one, beginning with the initial uneasiness of culture shock and gradually giving way to feelings of competency and enjoyment.

Home Improvement

The second analogy that illustrates the difference between survival mode and transformation mode of living is "home improvement." Most people clean their house on a weekly basis. This is survival mode living. We vacuum and dust and pick up the house. We wash windows several times a year. But one day, we decide we are tired of our home, so we remodel. We go in and tear out the kitchen and add a family room.

Some years ago, when my wife, Susie, and I remodeled our home, it was total chaos. The transition from survival mode to transformational mode was unbelievable. We had been told it was going to be bad, but the stories we heard were not even close to the upheaval we went through. We ate dust for weeks as we cooked in a microwave in our bathroom. When the project was done, it was wonderful. But the disorder we went through was "transformational living" at its core.

There are three types of people in this world: those that love the finished product and are willing to wade through the messy transitional periods (these people have beautiful homes); those who hate the transitions so much that they're willing to stay in the status quo (these people haven't remodeled since the seventies); and those who can't seem to make up their mind and constantly fluctuate between change and stagnation, never reaching any final product (these people have disheveled homes "under construction" at all times). What does your house look like? Do you hate the smell of wet paint and the taste of sawdust in your coffee? Does your dislike for chaos and your desire for orderliness and continuity prevent you from renovating rooms? Or do you visualize the final product and enjoy the chaos of the moment? What happens when we adventure into a transformational mode of living? We begin to develop and act out new passions. When we were remodeling our home, it was exciting chaos. Sure, it was a mess. But every day when I came home, I was excited to see what was done. Every morning when I got out of bed, I was excited to see what the new day brought. Granted, my sons kept wishing for an Amish barn-building day, but the process of remodeling our kitchen was a little lengthier and a lot more chaotic.

Are you in survival mode? Have you lost your passion? Would you love to restore that passion? Perhaps you need to take the leap from the survival mode into the transformational mode. Maybe you are being forced to take this leap and the process is filled with fear and resentment. But regardless of the force behind the change, it must be bridged. Change is inevitable.

Feeling Passionless?

I remember vividly the day I lost all my passion. I felt so defeated that I could not have even answered the question, "What is your passion?" I had been hired to help start a new company. The whole process energized me, and for two years I worked night and day, making next to nothing in an attempt to get this company off the ground. But the company was not making it. I realized that in the next few months I would probably lose my job. I had always been successful, and in an attempt to suppress the growing reality of pending joblessness, I refused to believe that we would fail. The fateful day arrived. On Halloween, a Friday evening, as I was packing up to go home to several hundred trick-or-treaters, my boss called me in and let me go. For the moment, I was out of a job.

I was devastated. As I walked out of that office and went home, I felt drained, defeated, and exhausted after two years of tireless work. But, most of all, I felt rejected. In addition to my passionless feelings, I went home to an empty house that night. My wife, Susie, was out of town for the weekend, and I was left to man the door and attempt to be cheerful. It worked for about the first 20 trick-or-treaters. Finally, after about 15 minutes of distributing candy to our neighborhood children, I turned off the front light, went into my bedroom, turned on the TV and ate every single one of those tiny Snickers bars. I don't know how many I ate. All I know is that I ate them all and I got terribly sick.

The next day, after I went for a long walk and got over the chocolate hangover, I began the process of outlining the business that has restored my passion, given me a new sense of hope, encouragement and inspiration, and has culminated in the development of this course. It dawned on me that change was a force that was inescapable. But as I looked around me in my immediate family as well as in the surrounding community and world, I realized that many people were simply existing, devoid of passion and hope, surviving day to day, sometimes minute to minute. They had lost sight of the joys of life and yielded to a pattern of existence that would get them out of bed, their kids dressed and to school, their dinners on the table, and around it went.

I had found myself in this same mode. The epiphany of the moment gave me a new sense of hope and direction. But I must be honest. While I felt some immediate reenergizing as I outlined my basic goals, the energy soon gave way to frustration as I struggled for a few months to construct my new future. I felt like a giant rug had been pulled out from under me, and I didn't know exactly how or where to stand. Was I going to step on another rug only to have it yanked out again? I didn't like the uncertainty. I was in a period of transition. But what I didn't realize was the exciting future that awaited me. For the moment, I felt lost and passionless. I realized that I couldn't be in survival mode for long. I had been thrust into a transition that I wasn't prepared for. Despite occasionally overwhelming feelings of gloom, I decided to be an optimist and look to my future with hope.

The next steps are those I followed to help me discover my passion. But a critical ingredient for success must be stated here. In order to even begin exploring my passions, I had to be in the transformational mode. When we enter the transformational mode, it is like letting go of one trapeze and looking for the next one to appear. I didn't know when my next trapeze would come, and I felt like I was hanging in midair with no safety net. There were days when I had a hard time getting up in the morning with feelings of excitement. But, the beautiful part of the transformational process is that those were also times when I began to discover the process of restoring my passion.

You may be in one of three places in your life. You may have a passion that you have never followed. You are tired of survival mode living and are ready to let go of one trapeze and move into transformational mode. Your passion is just an idea, and at times you want to take the risk. The next essentials are a way to map out your plan to follow your passion.

You may also find yourself in the place where I was in that in-between period. The day that I was let go from my job turned out to be the beginning of an exciting period of my life. I began the process of discovering a hidden passion of mine and learning how to develop that passion in a free agency market.

Or, you may be in a period of stability, comfortable within your roles, responsibilities and environment. In this environment, you feel confident and competent to handle chaos within established and experienced boundaries. But the idea of change may feel intimidating. If there is one thing that I can convey in this book, it is that change will happen. If you are presently in a "stable" situation, expect that things will change, but don't be afraid of the process. This book is designed to inspire the passionless, direct the discouraged and equip the comfortable to face changes as they occur.

The experiences I went through during those few ensuing months after losing my job have produced the general outline of this book. They have also formed the content of our workshop entitled "Facing a New Piece of Music in Your Personal Life." I have experienced firsthand the importance of these essentials in facing change and what it means to be an agent of change rather than a victim. The result of stepping out of survival mode into transformational mode is that power is unleashed and we are able to face any new piece of music or circumstance in life. How does this happen?

  • We must have hope.
  • We must manage the transition phases.
  • We must increase our value with intellectual capital.
  • We must focus that hope into a new future.
  • We must think strategically about the future.
  • We must have faith when in doubt.
  • We must act on our hope, strategy and faith.
  • We must return to the first essential and become passionate about our future!