The difference between ordinary and exceptional? It’s a magic nectar…
Listen to a truly great singer singing. Note the effect the song is having on you. Now listen to the same song rendered by a more ordinary artiste. Note the difference in what you feel.
The first singer probably invoked deep emotions in you, heightened your senses, made you feel better, even euphoric, about the world. The second? Well, it’s just a song.
It is easy to attribute the discrepancy to God-given talent. Certainly, there are differences in natural ability that become apparent at a young age. But there’s something much more important happening here. There’s a magic nectar at work. It’s called passion.
The truly great singer is always and in all ways in love with her craft. She has immersed herself fully in her song. How well she sings that song matters more than anything else in the world to her. She’s committed, lock, stock and barrel. She has, in fact, become the song.
Watch accountants at work. Most are merely adding up columns and following arcane rules, and then collecting their reward. A precious few, however, are passion-play accountants. They absolutely love what they do. They would rather do it than anything else in the world. The adore the way the numbers behave when tickled. They understand deeply the business story that creates the numbers. You’ll know when you meet such an accountant (but don’t hold your breath waiting).
An ordinary cook assembles ingredients and mixes them in accordance with a recipe. A truly great chef throws his own heart into the pot every time, and feels genuine, wrenching pain when the result is inadequate.
An ordinary writer lines up letters on a page. A truly passionate one makes them dance across, and into your head.
Look around you. Whether you observe a shoeshine boy, a chief executive, a biologist, a poet or a photographer: it’s the passion-people that produce the real results. If you want limits tested, boundaries broken, borders breached, frontiers affronted – you have to look to the people who love their work with unyielding fire. You have to find the equivalent of the mother’s laser-like focus on her child.
Is passion enough? No. You must also develop a deep capability, and that takes application. Too many talented folk don’t feel strongly enough for the subject of their talent. They don’t dive deep; they swim on the surface, looking around for other pools to dip into. Those who are wholeheartedly in love with their work, however, will never look around. They have blinders on. They need to do their thing, only their thing and no other thing, and do it to the highest possible level of achievement before they’re done.
Does passion always yield success? Again, no. Sometimes, the world does not value the thing you’re passionate about, and won’t reward you for it, at least in your lifetime. At other times, the passion creates a self-absorbed madness that yields no benefit to the world and consumes its bearer.
But so what? The trying is the thing. For the passion-people, it is better to explode and go down in flames than to choke slowly to death in the ashes of timidity.
If you don’t understand that last sentence, or indeed today’s column, don’t fret. It wasn’t written for you. It was written to make the mad-passion people dance, and I suspect a few are twirling.
You may have a question, though. If passion-inflamed purpose is the key to this kind of success, how do we find the thing that will ignite our passion? How do we know when we have found the occupation that will preoccupy us for the rest of our days and give us a shot at greatness? More on that next week. You know the page.