What Are You Passionate About?

I read an interesting article in a recent issue of Fortune Magazine about Hobie Alder who was coined, at least in the article, as the “Founding Father of the Surf Industry.” The article chronicled how Adler, starting in the 1950’s, began building surfboards in his parents’ garage and eventually, through significant sacrifice and hard work, grew his business, Hobie, into an international, multi-million dollar brand.

Adler’s advice to the readers of Fortune Magazine was to “Have passion for what you are selling.”  I thought that was an interesting statement.  Adler built his very first surfboard when he was 15 yeas old and determined that he was good at it. He took that first design and through a lot of sweat and long hours, built a leading and lasting brand.  In my mind, he was following his own advice and his entrepreneurial spirit led the way.

I couldn’t stop thinking about his advice, “Have passion for what you are selling.”  For eight years I worked for a Fortune 500 healthcare company. I sold a myriad of products to surgeons in hospital operating rooms.  Of all of the products that I sold through the years, I never had a hand in creating or building even one of those products. That being said, when it came to selling those products, I was passionate, but I was not necessarily passionate about what I was selling. I was passionate about building lasting relationships with my customers. I was passionate about understanding their needs and developing creative solutions to meet those needs. I was motivated to expand my market share. I enjoyed teaching and mentoring new representative (especially former JMOs) and sharing my ideas and methods on how to be successful.  I was passionate, but as I consider what I was passionate about, I can not say I was passionate about WHAT I sold.  Instead, I was passionate about HOW I sold it.  Don’t get me wrong – I appreciated the fact that what I was selling had a positive impact on people’s lives, but that really was icing on the cake.

On a recent recruiting trip, I met a JMO who was interested in partnering with Cameron-Brooks.  I really enjoyed hearing about his background and experiences and was feeling positive about moving forward with a partnership.  One of the last questions I asked him was the type of career fields he was interested in. He said he wasn’t really sure; he just wanted to do something that he felt passionate about.  I thought the response interesting, so I probed further.  He said he did not know what he wanted to do, but whatever it was, he wanted to have the feeling of accomplishment. He said he wanted to finish each day feeling like he had made a difference and that he wanted to work with a company or product that he felt excited about.  I asked what company or product he thought that might be.  He told me that he was really open to a lot of different things so I asked what he was passionate about today.  He said that as an company commander, he really enjoyed leading his company to achieve operational goals and that he appreciated the autonomy of setting the direction that his unit would take.  I asked him to continue.  He said he liked solving problems and making things better.  He said in every job he’d had in the military, he made it his mission to leave the unit or job better than he had found it.  I finally asked, “Well, is that you are passionate about?”  He paused and considered.  He was quiet for about a minute.  Finally he said, “Yes!  That is what I am passionate about.”

Passion is something that you give to your work.  I sometimes watch JMOs transition from the military thinking they are passionate about surfboards and believe that if they could only make surfboards, they’d be happy.  The challenge comes when we approach our work expecting our job to fill us.  That approach is backwards.  My advice is to approach your career with passion – passion for leading, for adding value to your employees lives, for growing and expanding your business and for using your creativity to solve problems.  I would argue that when you take that approach, you will find that passion is something that you drive, not something that drives you.

Pete Van Epps