Passion: The fork in the road between Nelson Mandela and Discovery Channel’s Mike Rowe? by Roz Usheroff

While President’s may not one day eulogize you as being a “great liberator,” you can nonetheless cast a giant shadow within the context of your world – big or small.

At least this is what I have taken away as one of Nelson Mandela’s enduring legacies, which was exemplified by his famous quote; “Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.”

In a life steeped in challenges and hardship, yet firmly anchored in the eternal principles of serving the best interests of others and the world in general, Nelson Mandela truly walked his talk.

But beyond the global outpouring of accolades, what does Nelson Mandela’s life really mean to all of us in a practical sense?

In this context I found it to be an interesting irony that in the very same USAToday online edition, that paid homage to the above Mandela quote, an article talking about an equally noteworthy quote by Discovery Channel’s Mike Rowe also appeared.  Rowe, the star of the hit show Dirty Jobs, stated that “follow your passion” was the worst advice he ever got.  What is even more interesting is that Rowe made the comment during his recent TEDTalk.

Mike Rowe's TEDTalk . . .

Mike Rowe’s TEDTalk . . .

For those of you who may not be familiar with TED, it is a global set of conferences featuring some of the world’s leading minds talking about technology, entertainment and design – hence the acronym TED.  As of November 2012, TED conferences had been viewed more than 1 billion times the world over, so in referencing the Rowe comment we are not talking about someone shooting from the hip over a cup of coffee.  TED is to global conferences what Harvard or Oxford is to education.

Getting back to the Rowe comment – which was generally seen has being insightful as much as it was thought provoking – is dedication and passion as Mandela had stated, critical to success?  Or to put it another way, is Mandela’s life and the values by which he lived something upon which we will only reflect when reading a history book of great men and leaders?

To better answer this question, I delved a little deeper into Rowe’s TEDTalk, and more specifically his story on of all things a pig farmer.

In explaining his temperance when it comes to one following their passion, Rowe said the following;

“The pig farmer is not happy because he was born with a pig farmer gene, or because he grew up feeling a deep pre-existing  passion for pork. He’s instead happy because he’s making a great living, has tons of autonomy, and does work that’s useful to the world (he raises his pigs on food scraps from nearby casinos that would otherwise go to waste).”

Georgetown University professor and writer Cal Newport reported similar results in relation to his study of passion amongst white collar workers.

In an article he wrote about Rowe, Newport observed;

“If we return to my own study of passion, which focused more on white collar work — programmers, writers, doctors — than the trades, I found  similar conclusions. Few of my subjects followed a pre-existing passion into the careers that they now love. Their contentment instead grew over time as they got better at what they did, and then leveraged this skill to gain traits like competence, autonomy, and impact — exactly the same types of traits that made Rowe’s pig farmer so happy.”

Taking into account the above findings by both Rowe and Newport, rather than contradicting Mandela’s quote regarding the importance of passion, they actually go a long way towards confirming it in the context of dedication preceding passion.

Let’s face it, Nelson Mandela was probably not passionate about taking on an unjust political system.  Nor would he have been passionate about the idea of spending 27 years in prison.  However, Mandela was dedicated to his cause, and was therefore willing to endure all that he did to achieve the desired outcome.  Or to put it another way, the more dedicated Mandela became and the more willing he was to commit to doing that which was necessary to get the job done, the more passionate he became.

So I will present to you in the form of a question, the important lesson we can learn from Nelson Mandela; are you dedicated enough to your present position, employer, client to become passionate about your work?

Your answer to this question will make a world of difference.

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2 responses to “Passion: The fork in the road between Nelson Mandela and Discovery Channel’s Mike Rowe? by Roz Usheroff”

  1. piblogger says :

    Reblogged this on Procurement Insights and commented:

    Editor’s Note: Does dedication come before passion, or passion before dedication? Roz Usheroff’s poses this interesting question by linking two people I would have never thought of in the same wold, let alone the same article.
    So here is the question . . . are you dedicated or passionate about procurement?

  2. Lenora Billings-Harris says :

    Roz, Thank you for asking this thought provoking question! I can see a “correct answer” coming from both directions. Some people are passionate about a cause (e.g. social justice, preventing child abuse, treatment of animals) or profession (medicine, teaching) from an early age, and thus pursue their passion with great dedication in order to become successful. Others consider their circumstances and find ways to utilize the opportunities presented to them. In the process they become passionate about it. I believe the key ingredient needed in either case is the ability to see that one’s efforts make a difference in the lives of others.

    Yes, there are those who believe “greed is good” and are passionate about finding ways to make more money for themselves, thinking money is the end result instead of a reward for good work, but the true leaders and trailblazers are those who see a bigger picture and are dedicated to creating a sustainable impact.

    This drive – passion and dedication– fuels both positive leaders, like former President Mandela, as well as evil leaders such as Hitler. So when you come to that fork in the road, be careful who you follow.

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