Passion vs. Success: At Odds?

“So you’re a stay at home mom?  summarized a grad school mate of mine during a phone conversation at the holidays.  I was surprised at his characterization.  I’d just spent a few minutes telling him about the meaningful work I’m involved in…funding female-led start-ups, a healthcare board role, authoring a blog & researching a topic I care deeply about.   Was he listening?  Ok, it may be a bit of an exaggeration to say he listened.   Did he try?   Can success cloud one’s ability to hear?

His characterization caught me off-guard.   If I was in a witty moment I would have thrown in a funny quip from the 1983 movie, The Big Chill.  In it William Hurt, one of my favorite actors, plays Nick an unemployed former radio host and Vietnam Veteran.   At one point Nick does a mock interview with himself using newfangled technology, the hand-held video recorder.  Nick asks himself about his job status.  He responds saying that it would be a gross misrepresentation to say ‘unemployed.’ Rather, he says, “I am evolving.”

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I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that my friend’s mis-characterization frustrated me. Couldn’t he see it?   Didn’t he understand the energy required to align my passions with my pursuits?  For the past twenty years he’s been on a traditional linear life-long career model.   I was too for many years.    By the way readers, please don’t interpret my frustration as a judgment on stay at home moms.   The key here is pursuing your passion not the ‘right‘ passion.  The answer is highly personal.

So why channel a Christmas conversation as we stand on the verge of spring in the Northeast?  As I was listening this week I heard two important things.

First, I watched a bit of PBS’ Makers:Women Who Make America, a documentary and digital encyclopedia featuring vignettes of a cross-section of American women.   In one vignette Christiane Amanpour of CNN fame notes, “I don’t care what anyone says about being a woman and being an extreme professional.  It is very difficult. That is not to say you shouldn’t do it.  That is not to say you can’t manage it…..I’ve developed a way to do both (referring to parenting and to professional pursuits).”  She is quick to relate that she came upon this merging of both when her son started requiring more of her.  When he was 18 months old she was on assignment almost non-stop for 90 days covering 9/11.    Needs change.  So too the answer.  Highly personal.

I loved Amanpour’s vocabulary when I heard it: highly personal.    She also remarked on passion by saying, “don’t trust success.  Success is fleeting…What really matters is your passion.  Your commitment.  Your mission.  Whether you like what you do and whether you are doing something worthwhile and something with purpose.” (Makers: Christiane Amanpour)

Highly personal may sound easy but I think getting comfortable with a highly personal answer is what’s taken time for me in transition.  It’s been a gradual decoupling of my notion of self from the expectations of others and my own learned expectations gleaned from years in the corporate and entrepreneurial arena.

The other topic I heard this week I happened to bump into twice in seven days.  Curious?  Personal advisory board.  Do you have one?  They are informal groups that serve as a personal distributed mentoring team.

When I ran EMaven, a venture capital backed tech services firm I started, I had a wonderful advisory committee.  There were half a dozen on it.  A tech ceo. A former supermarket coo. A professor.  An investment banker….  You get the picture.  Invaluable.   After selling the company I kept these folks in their roles…they were my consigliere team.  I loved their connection, their insights and their perspective.

This week I realized that I haven’t kept these folks very close in the past twenty-four months of transition.  Why?   They were great.   I wonder now if they’re the right ones.   Maybe time for a refresh…

I’m hopeful that success isn’t misaligned with passion.  I’m convinced that they share at least one common element: they’re highly personal.   Advisors or not, I know that I’m listening in an entirely new way and my holiday phone list just got a bit shorter.

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