By In Stuff

Passions in America

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.




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22 Responses to Passions in America

  1. MarkW says:

    Are you sure this isn’t just an excuse to get a cushy gig for Westley?

  2. Rob Smith says:

    I hope you haven’t lost your passion for Houdini. You haven’t said anything about it for at least a week.

  3. DjangoZ says:

    I like the idea, but…that logo? Oof.

    What is it supposed to be? Two sailboats making love at sunset? A ripe beet with red leaves being harvested? Please let us know what the original intention was as I think that will only add to the entertainment.

  4. Patrick says:

    So, the baseball 100. Is that thing is officially dead at this point? Coming in book form? Every time I see Joe has shifted projects, I keep wondering about that.

  5. Gene says:

    The website, as far as I can see, begs the question of the existence of passion in people. I’m not sure I have any passions and I’m betting a lot of other people don’t either. The constant statements about “my passion” that you hear in the world of work these days are tedious, given that some people are bullshitting about it (because god forbid I admit to my boss and coworkers that I don’t have any “passions”) and that others are humble-bragging by talking about theirs.

    I’d be interested in having Dan and Joe address this issue. Seems pretty fundamental.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I take your point. Some of us are more passionate than others, and I’m probably more like you than not. After a lot of thought on this, I’m currently taking passion to mean something that is work, but which doesn’t feel like work when I’m doing it. Even when I’m tired, the act of doing it energizes me. I then started noticing things like that in my life. There aren’t a ton of them, but there are a couple. Those are my passions. It’s different for everyone, so my passion might sound moronic and deadly boring and awful to someone else… and vice versa. There is literally no right answer for a particular person. So I think people get sideways on the idea of passion because the passions of others, or the passions we think we’re supposed to have do nothing for us. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I knew a guy who had a passion for playing horseshoes. That really threw me for a loop. But hey, it worked for him. It had nothing to do with what my passions are. Others have a passion for serving in particular areas of the world or in disadvantaged areas this country. I respect that, and we need those people, and it makes total sense. But it’s still not my passion. You can’t pound a round peg into a square hole.

      • Gene says:

        Maybe I just have a wrong definition of the word in my head. I think of passions as exceedingly strong interests, the kind that can push aside almost everything else in life. Perhaps there’s an element of obsessiveness in it. You read stories occasionally of people who knew what they wanted to do with their lives at age 7 and then stayed single-mindedly on that track for 70 years. Maybe that’s not passion, maybe it’s mental illness. I don’t know. I do know there’s a lot of bullshit in the rhetoric around passion. I’ll assume Dan recognizes that and accounts for it in his vision.

        • invitro says:

          Gene, I think you have the right definition, or are very close, anyway. I think Joe and the other guy are extending “passions” to include plain old hobbies. Because while I know plenty of people who enjoy adult coloring books, it seems a stretch to say that there are many people to whom adult coloring books are a *passion*. Maybe a website called “Hobbies” doesn’t have quite the heft that one called “Passions” does.

        • Mark Daniel says:

          I think this is correct. Rob’s thought about passion meaning doing work but having it not feel like work sounds good, but it falls flat. It fails because if you want to believe that passion makes the world move forward, then why are all the leaders (in anything) so hell bent on telling us how hard work is so important. Passion is part of it, I think. But it’s mostly obsessiveness and energy. Those who have boundless energy (and health) and a relatively unhealthy obsessiveness are the people who move the world forward.
          That’s probably a cynical take.

          • Marc Schneider says:

            Mark Daniel,

            I agree with you. And passion isn’t always a good thing. Hitler and Stalin (yeah, I know Godwin’s Law) were pretty passionate about what they do. Passion is a double-edged sword. Without it, you wouldn’t move the world forward. YOu wouldn’t have smart phones or, going back, cars, planes, etc. On the other hand, you might not have wars of conquest either. Bill Belichick is probably passionate about winning (Brady certainly is). Or you could call it obsessive and it’s probably the same thing.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      Yeah, I’m suspicious when I hear management consultants talk about stuff like this. To me, it just seems like another way to get people to transfer their souls from home or hobbies to the corporation. In my job, I read a lot of documents prepared by mid-level managers in business and, it always seems to me that they exhibit an inordinate amount of “passion” if you will for their job and/or their employer. I assume a lot of it is, as you say, bullshit, trying to appear committed to the organization’s mission rather than it just being a job.

  6. Unvenfurth says:

    Passion is one of those over used corporate buzz words that were popular back around 2000-2005. I am not sure where this project is going or supposed to go, but it feels very dated.

    • Biointen says:

      I don’t think a passion can be confined to a certain time period. They have been found in some but not all individuals throughout history and will continue to be.

  7. Biointen says:

    Where are you, Joe?

  8. Bob Coates says:

    Just as time goes by slowly, and all of us must grow ever
    Older, a baseball season goes on until reach the looming
    End. It’s a perfect metaphor.

    How we face the end is the key. Do we face it gracefully?
    And do we do our best at all times? I have to admit that
    Sometimes I fall short.

    Nevertheless, baseball is My passion and the greatest
    Of my joys. Nothing else comes close.

    Don’t mistake this for mere sentimentality. It’s more.
    I trace time by the start of Spring training, says at
    Comiskey Park, and the World Series. Who can forget Mays,
    Koyfax, Aaron, Mantle… Not me.

  9. Matt says:

    If Passions in America means the end of JoeBlogs, then I passionately hate it.

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