A few years ago, my friend Dan McGinn — who is constantly asking why a different Dan McGinn has not been granted his rightful place in Cooperstown — came up with this idea. A dream, really. Dan has been one of America’s most successful crisis managers for a long time, more than thirty years, and he has been brought into the boardrooms and CEO offices and panicked homes of some of the most prominent people in the world, people in trouble, gigantic companies in peril, men and women who for countless reasons (usually but not always involving their own wrongdoing) had hit a crossroad and did not know what to do. It has been an extraordinary and impossibly intense life. I have no idea how he has done it.
“You know what we should do?” he said to me one day. “We should study people’s passions.”
It was an idea that had been banging around his head for more than a decade. His thought — and my thought as well — is that it is passion that moves the world forward. And by “passion” we don’t mean some vague enthusiasm for work or making money or improving the world, though these things are hugely important. We also don’t mean the passion you find in romance novels or religious passion though, again, important stuff in life.
No: passion with a small p. What is your passion? What is it that you think about when you let your mind wander even for a moment? What is it that takes you out of your daily life, that lets you feel closest to your truest self? Where do you spend your free time, whatever you can find? What do you spend your free money if you can find a little free money? Is it adult coloring? Hunting? Gardening? Playing golf? Performing magic? Looking at cars? Scoring baseball games? Taking photographs of birds? Singing Karaoke? Doing crossword puzzles? Banging on an old manual typewriter? Going to see one musician perform 150 times?
It doesn’t matter precisely what it is … what matters, Dan was saying, is what that says about you. What that says about us. He basically said: “Let’s go on this little adventure together and learn all we can learn about passion. Where does it come from? Where does it go? Why does yoga trend up while, say, bowling trends down? Does yoga trend up and bowling down? Did you know that Dr. Ruth collects dollhouses? That Dusty Baker makes wine? How do some people turn their passions into their careers and lives? Why is it one person can read “Lord of the Rings” and it does nothing for them and another can read it and spend a lifetime thinking about it? What can we learn about people when we talk them about their passions? What can we learn about America when we better understand those passions?”
He didn’t say that all at once … we had many, many, many conversations about it over those years.
Today, we started our new project — Passions in America. It is, as we start, a still blossoming idea. We know that there are so many places to go. But we have a fun and interesting national survey that got into the passion of people, you can see some of the results on there about football and violence and why a substantial number of people watched less football this year than last (maybe it won’t surprise you, but it surprised me that politics were far and away the No. 1 reason, particularly for people 55 and over). There’s more to come from that.
And there are a bunch of stories on there, early thoughts we have about passion, some of the things we have been able to gather in our lives.
It’s just a start but we would love for you to come along on the journey too.