It was a drive like so many others: My son and I driving through the heart of Silicon Valley to his swim practice. My wife or I make that trip six days a week and sometimes twice a day. No doubt a huge commitment for all of us. This particular day, he was resting his eyes as he transitioned from student to athlete and I was marveling about how fortunate we were to live in a place where following personal passion, embracing failing fast, and committing to big audacious goals are the standard. As we pulled onto the Stanford campus, a place where so many people have come to prepare themselves for the dreams that lie ahead, my son’s eyes opened. As we neared the parking lot, he said, “Dad, I’m thinking about quitting swimming.” Knowing the time he devotes to the sport and the things he gives up to realize his potential in the pool, that didn’t surprise me. I acknowledge how tough it is to balance something you love with the opportunity costs of doing that something. As he opened the door with swim gear in hand, he replied, “Dad, the thing is I don’t love swimming. I’m pretty good at swimming and I just want to be good at something.”
So many of us are told that following our passion is the path to realizing our potential and enjoying a fulfilling life. How many times have you heard, “If you do something you love, you never work a day in your life”? I believe much of that, but I will admit that I love what I do AND I feel like I work most days. There is nothing wrong with work and there is often great pride that accompanies true work. There are things I have done that I absolutely was not passionate about, but was pleased I did. That was my internal adult monologue as I pondered my teenage son’s even more adult comment. As a child, soccer was to me as swimming is to him. I played football and baseball as well, but soccer was what I was best at. Soccer was a big part of how I saw myself and how others identified me. I stopped loving it long before it opened the doors to college that it did. Though I stopped loving it, I didn’t stop loving the feeling I would get after scoring a goal, winning a game, or just spending time with my teammates. Oddly enough, I stopped loving it when I was the very age my son is now, but I stuck with it because I was good at it.
When I picked him up from practice later that evening he was all smiles. Like most nights, he enjoyed time with his teammates and felt good about his effort. We drove straight home so he could finish his homework, go to bed, and get up at 0400 for his next practice. He may not love swimming, but he’s committed to realizing his potential, whatever that might be. And I guess that is what makes me most proud of him. It’s not always the passion for the doing that drives us, it’s the passion for the result, the person we become as a result of the process. None of us love what we do every day, but most of us are proud of what we accomplished by the end of the day. Whether we love what we do or not, we ought to be the best we can be at those things we choose to do.
- How important is it to you to love what you do?
- When was the last time you encouraged someone in their quest to be good?
- What do you want to be good at?