I can remember being a Junior in college, 20 years old, sitting in my apartment near the campus of The University of Kansas, pondering my future career options.
I knew what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to sell insurance.
At the time “selling insurance” was to me the prototypical “job.” No offense to insurance salesmen. I’m sure there are plenty of them who love what they do, but to me, it was the epitome of what I didn’t want in life. Even at that young age, I knew myself fairly well. I knew that if I wasn’t internally motivated, there was no amount of external motivation that could make me move. Nothing could make me sell insurance. I didn’t care about it.
I knew what I did care about, though. Music. There was nothing that I loved more. There was nothing else that I could work at so effortlessly. At the time I played in a rock band with my friends. We were nothing to write home about, but I tell you what, there’s never been a mediocre college rock band who was promoted more. My drive to hang flyers, hand out CD samplers, and call radio stations was tireless. (Before social media you actually had to leave your house to be a promoter.) So my career choice was easy. Marketing music was like second nature. I didn’t think it could feel like work.
But eventually, it did.
It took almost 10 years, but by 2012 I was done. No longer was I impressing myself by setting up digital campaigns for the biggest artist in hip-hop. Talking to managers and agents in LA had once felt glamorous and terribly important, but after almost a decade it had become meaningless.
So it was time for a change.
It was time for me to remember what else I was passionate about. Sports. Before I became music obsessed I was a sports nerd, and I was still a big fan. In an incredible stroke of luck, my favorite team on the planet just so happened to be hiring for a job I was confident I could do. Rock Chalk. I got the opportunity to sit courtside for three seasons watching my favorite team play night in and night out. It was an incredible honor and thrill, and I’ll never forget it.
I can remember in my second game I was sitting next to a co-worker who had spent nearly 10 years in the athletic department. A brief comment she made stuck with me. “I’d rather be anywhere else than here.” I was stunned. You don’t want to be in Allen Fieldhouse right now? The cathedral of college basketball? The best place to watch hoops in the entire nation, courtside, and you’d rather be anywhere else? I couldn’t believe it.
I never got to the point where I didn’t want to be there, but three years later, I could understand the sentiment. No longer did “The Phog” produce the chills it once had. It seemed to me that the loss of passion was accelerating.
The music industry lost its special place in my heart in ten years. Sports had only taken three.
So I moved on. To a position and hopefully the beginning of a new stage in my career that’s driven by mastery more than passion.
Here’s my hypothesis. Passion can take you a long way in your career. It can kick start things when you’re young and provide the fuel you need to develop your craft. But passion can be fleeting, and unpredictable. I suspect it’s difficult to sustain a career on a foundation of passion.
I can’t say that I began my career passionate about marketing, or about social media. I CAN say that 10+ years of work in the field, driven by passion, has gotten me to a point where I’m not so bad at it. Instead of passion for the topic/subject I’m promoting, I’m now driven by the mastery of the craft.
The commonality across my entire career has been a desire to connect amazing brands with the fanatics who can’t get enough of them. That’s something I’ve never grown tired of. The specifics might change, but the craft doesn’t.
In the words of Simon Sinek, this is my WHY. I come to work every day to try to build and further an emotional connection with a brand. Promoting punk-pop tours, creating basketball photos, promoting golf equipment, those are WHATs. Meaningful for sure, but they’re nothing without the WHY.
Learning and developing that purpose within yourself is what turns passion into mastery.
surprising obvious part. I’m enjoying my work now as much as ever.