How to be Passionate..and Compassionate
By Shlomo Maital
I once surveyed a group of 50 Israeli chip designers, gave them a list of key qualities that were important for innovators – and asked them to rank them. To my surprise, “resilience” came up first, by far. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from failure, adversity, disasters, and continue on to your goal. It requires a great deal of mental toughness.
Today’s New York Times column by David Brooks (Aug. 30) has many useful insights into this subject. “Making Modern Toughness” begins by quoting a common perception: “Today’s students are more accomplished than past generations, but they are also more emotionally fragile.” Kids in earlier days were tougher, many of us in the older generation say.
Brooks has second thoughts. “….let’s not be too nostalgic for the past. A lot of what we take to be the toughness of the past was really just callousness. There was a greater tendency in years gone by to wall off emotions, to put on a thick skin — for some men to be stone-like and uncommunicative and for some women to be brittle, brassy and untouchable.” The result, Brooks claims, was in some cases alcoholism or depression.
So, if we rethink toughness, for the modern age, for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, what do we get? What does Brooks suggest?
“The people we admire for being resilient are not hard; they are ardent. They have a fervent commitment to some cause, some ideal or some relationship. That higher yearning enables them to withstand setbacks, pain and betrayal. Such people are, as they say in the martial arts world, strong like water. A blow might sink into them, and when it does they are profoundly affected by it. But they can absorb the blow because it’s short term while their natural shape is long term. There are moments when they feel swallowed up by fear. They feel and live in the pain. But they work through it and their ardent yearning is still there, and they return to an altered wholeness.”
In short: “True mental toughness that entrepreneurs and innovators need desperately come from the passion of believing fervently in a goal or mission. That that passion, too, is driven by compassion, by caring for others, and by the desire to change the world for them. In this way of thinking, grit, resilience and toughness are not traits that people possess intrinsically. They are not tools you can possess independently for the sake of themselves. They are means inspired by an end. …. We are all fragile when we don’t know what our purpose is, when we haven’t thrown ourselves with abandon into a social role, when we haven’t committed ourselves to certain people, when we feel like a swimmer in an ocean with no edge.”
I begin all my classes by asking students what their true passion in life is. Many do not know. They have not been asked that question, nor have they tried many different things to find out experientially. But often parents push their kids to ‘get on with it’, rather than try things.
When are people really tough? Brooks writes, “People are really tough only after they have taken a leap of faith for some truth or mission or love. Once they’ve done that they can withstand a lot.”
Have you taken that leap of faith? Changed your job, your profession, your destiny?
“We live in an age when it’s considered sophisticated to be disenchanted,” Brooks notes. “But people who are enchanted are the real tough cookies.”
Innovator! Be enchanted. Find your enchantment. If you do you will be able to undergo an almost unlimited amount of adversity. That’s toughness, of the right kind.