Years ago, I was having dinner with one of my daughters at a local restaurant and we got to talking about the classes she was taking at her high school. Even when I was a student – and your own experience is no doubt the same – I was struck by the enormous variation in teacher quality at every level of my education. And so as we were talking about her own teachers, I asked: “What do you think makes your best teachers great? What separates the great teachers you’ve had from the other ones?”
She immediately answered it – in a way that someone answers a question they’ve already thought a lot about – and it was an answer I’ll never forget. When I asked her what made her best teachers great, she immediately said “they want to be there”.
They want to be there.
This tells us those teachers are bringing their passion and energy to the classroom. Their
customers and fellow employees students could immediately tell that these teachers weren’t mailing it in, and these same customers and fellow employees students were infected by the teachers’ passion.
Most of us have lost someone close to us (bear with me during this sudden transition). When that happens, we grieve and reflect upon how short even a long life can seem to be. We also recognize that our own time is limited.
Much has been written about the regrets of the dying. As the old adage goes, “nobody on their deathbed ever wished they had spent more time in the office”. Their regrets tend to be similar: they wish they had spent more time with their families, they wish they had had the courage to live the life they imagined, they regret the wasted time etc.
The message is clear: our time is short, we want to do great things, or at least engage in worthy activities that bring us and those around us some joy.
Most people are tightly grouped in terms of their intelligence and innate abilities. Let’s face it: most of us aren’t geniuses. The trait that can make one teacher mediocre and another teacher of similar skill level great is the degree of their passion. Someone who is laboring to improve their output at work might do well to drop the self-help book and work to expand those elements of their work they enjoy the most.
Two cautionary notes:
- This whole “follow your passion” mantra has been repeated ad nauseum from podiums at a million commencement ceremonies. There is a trap here – the same trap that exists whenever we take a good idea to it’s illogical extreme – and that trap is, well, to take it to it’s illogical extreme. Even the most passionate teachers will go through dry spells. So do I, and so will you. Let’s not get carried away here. Even if you’re passionate about where you are, there are parts of any job or undertaking that lead to annoyances and aggravations. No one is immune.
- We can fall into a mental trap where we think that life pursuits that are “worthy” and “great” involve things like curing cancer and bringing peace to the Middle East. Compared with our own lives, we can be discouraged when we read stories about great entrepreneurs who have built huge companies or large-hearted philanthropists who change the world. It’s normal to feel that our accounting job at the local auto-shop isn’t quite as glorious as the progress Bill Gates is making toward eradicating worldwide malaria. So the rule is, when we think about our passion and where we want to be, I am pushing you to consider this question within the context of the life you lead now. You can find passion without leaving your home and moving to an ashram in India.
With those important caveats in mind, the question to ask yourself if this: do you WANT to be where you are?