Grit: Passion and Purpose
Posted on December 8, 2016
There might not be a better place to write about grit than at Coke’s Diner in Fountain Colorado. If Hollywood ever needed a small-town diner, Coke’s would be the place. As I’m enjoying my hash browns and oatmeal, the conversations shift from Christmas trees to deer hunting to the new snow that fell last night. I’m here today to continue our work with the Fountain-Fort Carson School District hoping to secure a grant to fund a multi-year project with the goal of creating a trauma informed school district. While I feel slightly out of place at Coke’s in my suit, I also feel right at home.
One of my favorite books of 2016 is Angela Duckworth’s Grit. In her book, Duckworth examines why some people experience great success in life and work while others seem to struggle or get stuck in mediocracy. Her overall conclusion was that successful people brought a mix of passion and perseverance to their work and life, a combination she terms Grit.
I talk a lot about the importance of passion for our well-being and effectiveness. For most of us, our jobs are much more than a paycheck or just a step in some grand climb up the career ladder. When I ask people why they do this work, the answer speaks to a connection between the work and a deeper purpose. Duckworth states, “What ripens passion is the conviction that your work matters” and “the intention to contribute to the well-being of others.”
Our purpose brings us into our work; passion is the joy we get from the privilege of helping others. Passion motivates us to do better, learn a new skill, take on a new challenge, or apply for a new job or promotion. Our benefits might not be the best; our wages might near seem adequate; our hours are long but damn it we have the purpose and passion piece nailed.
In occupations like ours, everyone should be motivated and passionate as we get a chance to fulfill our purpose every day. Unfortunately, I often witness organizations lost in the stressful and emotionally challenging aspects of the work. Where passion should thrive, only a void exists and I can feel it the moment I walk through the door. The physical space feels dirty even if it appears clean (I leave some places feeling like I need a very hot shower), the staff are milling around like extras from the Walking Dead, and some seem dissociated from the reality surrounding them.
These organizations break my heart for several reasons. First, these zombies with name tags called staff were once people with purpose looking for an opportunity to express their passion. Second, the clients are getting terrible care or services. Third, being in this reality is destroying the well-being and health of the staff while doing harm to clients by not meeting their needs and failing to provide hope for a better future.
Our purpose is our lifeline to self-care, well-being, and strong performance. If we lose connection to this lifeline, we become lost in the waves destined to be overtaken by burnout, secondary, and vicarious trauma. Reminding ourselves why we do this work and enjoying the passion we get from helping others is critical if we want to be effective helping others.
Connecting to our purpose and passion forces the focus on the amazing aspects of our work. When we lose our passion, we start to focus on all the paperwork, terrible meetings, burnt-out co-workers, and the avalanche of voice mails and e-mails. From time to time, most of us have experienced this shift from positive to negative. The important thing is not to stay in the negative or it will eventually overwhelm our resiliency.
Luckily Duckworth provides a few ideas to help us rediscover our passion. The first step is to find and area of our work which draws our interest. If you cannot find anything interesting in your work you might be either in the wrong field or at a dangerous level of burnout.
Second, find a purposeful role model with a similar interest to the one you identified. The role model might be someone new to the field and bubbling over with passion and motivation. It might be someone who had been in the field long enough to achieve mastery and expertise. The essential characteristic that you are looking for someone with passion for your shared interest.
Third, find a problem in the world that needs solving. No lack of these in our field! End homelessness. Stop the HIV Epidemic. Create a trauma informed school. Advocate for universal health care. Your role model might already be working on such a problem. If not, two passionate people can usually come up with several big issues in which to channel or reignite your passion.
My challenge this week is to take a moment to write down the purpose you fulfill by doing this work and write about the joy and passion you feel by fulfilling this purpose. If you want to share, please use the comment section.