Let’s Get Excited



I was seated at Mass when a young lady sat next to me on the pew.  Caroline was in my lap.  In the middle of Mass, the twenty-something girl pulled out a Blackberry and began to text.  While I at first mistakenly believed that maybe she was just texting something like “Don’t bother me, I’m at Mass” or shutting off the phone, she instead continued to text throughout the entire service, as well as hold a conversation with her friend next to her.  I guess it’s possible that she was drunk at 0900 on a Sunday morning, but I doubt it, so that just leaves pure stupidity.

Needless to say, I moved Caroline to the other side of me as to shield her from the burns that would certainly come when a bolt of lightning struck so close by.  God must have been in a particularly benevolent mood that day (but then again, no one gets hit by lightning that really deserves it, no matter how hard we wish it) and she escaped unharmed, free to annoy for another day.

While I have resolved not to let things like this affect my whole day, there’s no amount of understanding that I can summon that enables me to accept this as appropriate behavior.  But I digress; my example was actually to point out that levels of passion about certain aspects of our lives will be different based on our life experiences and our values, and as such, so much of what we do to make us more successful really depends on how much passion we devote to it.

And while I may not ever understand what the purpose of the girl going to Mass that day actually was, you can’t convince me that she got anything out of being there.  Was it the act of “checking the box” that caused her to attend church that day?  If she was raised to believe that showing your face at Mass was simply enough to say you attended church that week,  by definition, I suppose she scored.  But from the aspect of her seriousness about being there, like maybe to pray a little, even to check out what everyone else was wearing on Sunday morning, she was pretty much oblivious.

So my question is, “What are you really getting out of what it is you are doing?”  Are we just going through the motions to do what is expected of us, or are we devoting a certain amount of energy to the event?  If we don’t have a certain amount of passion about what it is we do, how can we expect to create any excitement about what it is we do in order to motivate the people willing to follow us?  If all we are doing is showing up to collect the paycheck or to feed our ego, we aren’t doing anybody any good. We aren’t being true to ourselves and we certainly can’t expect that we are leading others.

I spoke in other blog posts about my observations of Bruce Springsteen, my wife Kathleen, my friend Firuz – and of the passion they had for their own vision, to elevate what it is they do to art form.  I know firefighters who are just there from 0800 to 0800 and would much rather be doing something else.  And obviously if you’d rather be laying around, or hiking, or getting drunk, or something like that, career opportunities are pretty limited for those fields, but you should also understand that having a job supports your ability to engage in those activities.  When the job ends, so does the lifestyle.

But Firehouse Zen as a whole isn’t addressed to those who just want to punch the clock, especially since I doubt that many of them can read anyway.  This entire blog, if you have wandered here unexpectedly, is about leading in an ever-changing world, and how to be that transformative leader the masses look up to.

To me, however, the difference between passion and zealotry is that passion isn’t all-consuming.  There is certainly more to live than non-stop adoration, but if that adoration is bringing you that much closer toward total enlightenment, then maybe you’re onto something.

There are times we have to do certain things well that we’d much rather not be doing.  I am not the least bit passionate about taking out the trash or cleaning out the garage, but there are things that must be done and require doing.  My oldest daughter will sit at the table with four bites of something she doesn’t want and I keep trying to reason with her, that if she simply ate them quickly, she’d be done and moving on with her life, but it’s like trying to reason with a cinder block.  But what I have also told her is that if you have to do something you’d rather not be doing, at least have fun with it.  Get motivated about the task, understand the task, and make it happen.

So being a zealot isn’t the answer, and being a lump isn’t either, and in my eyes, passion sits closer to zealotry in the grand scheme of things, but isn’t quite there.  And I think you would all agree that being passionate about our job is necessary to achieve success.  It’s the question of what we want to do.  What is our vision of success?

We all have to remember, being a success isn’t defined by being the boss.  Plenty of people are happy and successful as middle managers or workers, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  We can’t all be leaders in the sense of being the head honcho, but we can be leaders in that we set positive examples for others and provide an excellent service.  Whether you are the lowest grunt on the totem pole or the CEO, leading goes hand-in-hand with that passion for what you do.  That passion can be infectious; if people like where you are going and like what they see, they will follow you whether you like it or not.

Don’t just go through the motions.  We can all make our world a better place by leaning forward and putting extra effort into everything we do.  Build value in our actions and we will be seen to be more valuable.  But don’t plan on going anywhere soon if you can’t drum up at least a little excitement about what you think is important.


  • I just found your blog, thanks for writing it!

  • Jon D. Marsh says:

    Thanks for another thought provoking article. You bring great fascination with each composition! Many of our younger folks seem to forget about passion in their work and through reasons unknown to me, try to insert competition. Perhaps they become passionate with their own ideas without consideration of anyone else…therein creates a void. On the other hand, it is disheartening to see zealous-passionate (about their jobs) fire officers and young firefighters who are scorned for their team building motivating actions and efforts by politically obsessed fre chiefs’. Be that as it may, I have always offered this advice to frustrated young firefighters…Forget about the order you received in a political sense, forget about the personal indignation or embarrassment that may have come with the memo or command from administration, however, concentraate on exactly what you have been asked to do. Do it better than anyone else or at least to the best you can. Lead and encourage your group to enjoy the task at hand regardless of how stupid, demeaning or ignorant the idea or order may seem to be. When the task is completed with ultimate passion, you have succeeded. You can now put that accomplishment on any of your life experience headings, or your “been there done that” wisdom list.

  • Peter Lupkowski says:

    OK, “Let he who is without sin…”
    I love reading and digesting your thoughts. Quite possibly in our quickly changing world you must be a “Passionist” just to keep up on all the changes. It is certainly readily obvious if someone is just going along. Compassion, commitment, and maybe a little prayer certainly heads you in the right direction.

    You’re right, at mass or on the job just going through the motions just doesn’t cut it. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Tom B. says:

    I love my job and I’m motivated about being a firefighter. Of course I have my bad days where I question what the hell is going on and I’m not as outgoing as I should be, but those are few and far between. We’ve recently been hiring new guys after 6 years of none and what you wrote is what I try to tell the rookies I have in my house. Thanks again for another great post.

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