Director’s Cut: Passion

(Thoughts from Daniel Kirkpatrick, Director of Explorations Academy)

Each day… every single day… today… we create another chapter in the story of our life.

If you haven’t already stopped reading, I can celebrate with you the absolute pithiness of that phrase.  It sounds like a slogan from a cheap motivational poster, the sort of phrase that might appear alongside a large photo of a kitten doing something heroic.

But behind the mockery that we might make of it, that statement reveals a crucial truth: that we are the active creators of our world.  The evidence is increasingly piling up to affirm that how we bring ourselves to our experiences is more important than what we experience.

Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert asks people:  “Given the choice, would you rather become a parapalegic, or win the lottery?”  Sounds like a trick question:  who on earth would choose to be a parapalegic?  Yet Gilbert’s research shows that, one year after the event (the injury or the win) the contentment level of the affected individual is the same!  Conclusion: we overestimate the impact of external events on our contentment.

What this tells us is that we are the creators, not the recipients, of the circumstances of our happiness.  We may not be consciously engaged in that process, yet we are the key factor in our contentment.  So what is the essence, the thing that brings us live happily?  What is our passion?

At Explorations Academy we’re out to do something not commonly attempted in schools: to take the world of passion, of dreams and ideas, of personal vision and peak creativity, and bring it into alignment with the daily activities of the individual.

This process of building passion into daily life, which sounds like a liberal campain slogan, is actually very hard work.  It demands consistent and structured effort.  It requires getting clear on what matters most, assessing one’s skills and strengths, and in essence getting a job — either literally or metaphorically — that allows for the implementation of those core values and key skills.

Finding what you love is perhaps among the most important things for a person to achieve in life.  Can school help young people do this?  We think so.  It’s certainly worth the effort, because when young people are passionate, they do their best work without anyone telling them to!

Three students in our Linguistics class recently demonstrated this.  They went well beyond the ideas presented by the teacher, researching at a deeper level entirely on their own initiative.  The teacher, Bacchus Taylor, was so impressed that, even though the class didn’t originally have an Honors section, he created one as a way to honor these kids for their advanced work.

Passion is what directs our actions when we’re not obligated or compelled to act… and when we aren’t distracting ourselves with petty diversions.  (It turns out we’re remarkably good at distracting ourselves, but that’s another essay.)

Ken Robinson, author of the 2009 book The Element, describes passion as the ‘element’ that makes a task joyous and calls us each to face the challenge of finding our passion.  Robinson points out that this is not just feel-good psychology.  Rather, when we are doing what we love, we are at our peak, not only in satisfaction but in economic productivity too.  Passion pays off!

So for the betterment of your life and your work, we encourage you — as we encourage our students — to create your day with passion.  Forget the kittens — it’s worth it!

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