Meet Curtis Martin. The American football legend who amassed the fourth highest total rushing yards in NFL history. In 2012, Curtis was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame after 10 years of professional football for both the New England Patriots and the New York Jets. Clearly, Curtis was a man who loved the game and embraced the grind.
Curtis actually never liked football. He never enjoyed watching or talking about football. Surprisingly enough, Curtis even hated running. He shared his thoughts during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech,
“Everyone here who knows me, you know that I was never a football fan. I wasn’t the type of guy to watch football. I could probably count on one hand how many football games I’ve watched from beginning to end in my lifetime. Also, another thing about me is I played running back. I’m up here because of how many yards I ran. Everyone who knows me also knows that I hate to run. I don’t like to run at all. I box now to stay in shape just because I don’t want to run anywhere.”
To the amazement of the crowd, Curtis explained that despite not loving, or even really enjoying his job, he still pressed on. He was determined to be committed to excellence and achieve greatness. For most of us this seems counter-intuitive, how could someone who is unsatisfied achieve this level of success?
Genetics and great coaching aside Curtis explained his motivation to continue playing, despite his lack of enjoyment,
“I can remember draft day like it was yesterday. My family and I were sitting around and were watching the draft. The phone rings and it’s Bill Parcells. I answer the phone and say “Hello,” and Parcells says, “Curtis, we want to know if you’re interested in being a New England Patriot?” I said, “Yes, yes, sir.” And we hang up the phone. As soon as we hang up the phone I turn around to everyone, and I said, “Oh my God, I do not want to play football. I don’t want to play football. I don’t even know that I like football enough to try to make a career out of it.” My pastor at the time was a guy by the name of Leroy Joseph, and I’m so glad he was there to talk some sense into me. He says, “Curtis, look at it this way, man.” He said, “Maybe football is just something that God is giving you to do all those wonderful things that you say you want to do for other people.” I tell you, it was like a light bulb came on in my head. That became my connection with football. I don’t know if he wouldn’t have said that to me if football would have gotten out of me what it got out of me. I definitely wouldn’t be standing here. And ever since he said that, I knew the only way I was going to be successful at this game called football is if I played for a purpose that was bigger than the game itself because I knew that the love for the game just wasn’t in my heart.”
Curtis found a bigger purpose in what he did, it wasn’t the job itself that instilled his passion to succeed, but rather something “bigger than the game itself”.
This flies in the face of a lot of common sense advice about finding and doing work you love. The “find your passion” industry is one that generates millions of dollars annually and generally panders the same message – “find your passion and never work a day in your life”.
Passion is important, but nailing it down is like trying to hold onto a greased-up fish. Once we have something that we feel passionate about, our excitement quickly dissipates when confronted with reality. What we are passionate about is often based on assumption and not years of cultivated experience.
Most of us have no pre-existing passion. This is a sad truth.
Passion takes years of commitment, hard work and sacrifice to develop a level of mastery that brings you the fulfillment required to feel “passionate”. Anything else is just excitement. Basing your future off what makes you excited today is a surefire way to jump from one thing to another, resulting in mediocre results and lack of commitment.
Often what is not addressed in the search for work we are passionate about is the idea of freedom. Work or art that we love to do is not limited by time and monetary commitments. When what you do is what you love, you’re able to freely and effortlessly commit more time and energy into it. The result is that you’ll be more likely to get better at it and succeed.
This outcome is a result of the freedom to work when, how and where you want. Freedom is one of the the guiding principle of passionate work.
When your passion becomes your method of putting food on the table, the game has changed. The art that you once loved to draw and create now needs to be sold and marketed. The poetry that you once wrote, now needs to be monetized and sold. The entire nature of the relationship has changed and so has your freedom to express yourself.
Perhaps, this is what Curtis decided. He understood what his passion was, and understood that his “work” was the engine of its success. Although, work can be fun; it’s called work for a reason. Work is hard, challenging, frustrating and often times unrewarding; in the end, it’s the fuel you need to keep your passion alive and flourishing.
One Man Knows What Hard Work Truly Is
In Dirty Jobs, host Mike Rowe performs the strangest, most difficult and disgusting jobs you have ever seen. He works with typical employees in a “mini-internship” where he explores all the joys and excitement of doing jobs that most of us would never dream of engaging in. Needless to say, Mike understands what hard work is. In a 2014 response to fan mail Mike shared what he thought about following your passion, “
“I would never advise anyone to “follow their passion” until I understand who they are, what they want, and why they want it. Even then, I’d be cautious. Passion is too important to be without, but too fickle to be guided by.”
The decision to follow our passion has been drilled into most of our heads. We take it as an indispensable piece of wisdom that seems applicable to everyone. While we might be passionate about something, it doesn’t mean we won’t be terrible at it. Passion does not equate to excellence. Your willingness to improve doesn’t guarantee you will.
Instead Mike asks a better question – should you follow what you are passionate about? If so, for how long and to what end?
To this he leaves us with an even more important nugget of wisdom,
“Don’t follow your passion, but instead always bring it with you”