What comes to your mind when you read the word “passionate”? For most, the word comes with an image of energy, drive, well-spoken promises of change and transformation, ideas, and movement. Here’s the issue. This kind of passion doesn’t cut it when we are addressing children dying of hunger, species dying due to environmental pollution, or women devastated by abuse. In fact, the mindset of “I will change the world”, though inspiring and nice to listen to, is actually one that contributes to careless decisions, bad management and ego-driven organizations. I hold this as a warning especially for the upcoming generation of leaders- Gen Y. For years, we have heard how special and unique we are-and how much we deserve and unlike the opinion of the recent column in The Chronicle On Philanthropy, I believe it has posed a challenge for us. The fact of the matter is wisdom comes with a combination of experience and age. We must be eager to pay attention and resolve to not partake in any mission fueled by ego and pride. And that takes brutal honesty.
I want to challenge us to redefine passion. Because if we don’t, then we run the risk of becoming useless in a world that so desperately needs a flourishing generation. The picture of “passionate” that I want to describe comes from conversations with several mentors, colleagues and friends, as we all seek to be people of impact, specifically in the social development space. This picture is one of a person who is quick to listen, slow to speak, and deliberate in action. This individual is so completely devoted to their purpose or goal that she or he cannot refuse the opportunity to observe, listen, and ask questions of those who have gone before them in leadership.
Great leaders are students first. President Barack Obama has Laurence Tribe; Nelson Mandela had Walter Sisulu; and Helen Keller had Anne Sullivan. The lives of these students have in fact shaped the history of their countries and communities. Their commitment to listening, learning and executing with wisdom has been fundamental in this process.
We live in a world, in a culture, where we are told that we can do anything. We are the ones going to change, we are the ones with the power. And as amazing as it may feel to be recognized as such, if we truly wish to be people that fit the description, we must fiercely commit ourselves to pursuing mentorship, studying the science of our cause, and understanding the world in which we operate. In order to be passionate in such a way that is effective and transformative, we must be students at all times.
Doing powerful work in social development- whether on behalf of the environment, AIDS prevention, or anti-trafficking efforts- requires a unique combination of humility and confidence. Humility comes from recognizing that we do not know everything, and frankly cannot do everything on our own. It takes the work of those who led before us and around us. And confidence is employed in the application of the learning we gather. With the support of mentors, colleagues and communities, we must move forward, make decisions, and pursue our goals with strength and, again, humble grace.
Much work is to be done in the social development space and it requires a team of intelligent, excited and grounded individuals who leave their egos at the door and see learning and observing as an active part of making change. We have no choice but to be passionate.