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Wellness and Personal Development

Finding the Pass and Passion in the Impasse: Keys to Unleashing Purpose, Persistence and Power

Mark Gorkin, LICSW

The Stress Doc outlines three recent encounters that stimulated the design of a new speaking program. He also provides a paradigmatic preview: the emotional tasks and trials, tears and small triumphs as well as key skills and strategies for cultivating "Passion Power."

Finding the Pass and Passion in the Impasse: Keys to Unleashing Purpose, Persistence and Power

At a recent Society of Government Meeting Planners (SGMP) luncheon I was confronted with some cold hard marketing reality. An experienced hospitality-hotel-conference planning consultant explained that today's meeting planner or hotel salesperson would not immediately bite on my Practice Safe Stress program line. While there is considerable stress in the industry, in the current highly competitive, numbers-driven economic climate these professionals are obsessed with the bottom line. Based on feedback from running scores of focus groups, the consultant declared that industry personnel are thinking of themselves first and foremost: will a speaking or training program help increase their sales; will a program make them more influential communicators or more savvy marketers; in the eyes of clients or potential customers, what skills and strategies will have these folks perceived as more powerful, responsive and effective?

This was the first of two other recent encounters that began pushing me out of my presentation program comfort zone. The second encounter was actually the culmination of a series of interactions that almost always occur right after I've delivered a keynote or workshop. I'm no longer surprised (though always pleased) when people come up and tell me that they really enjoyed the workshop or "great program." But for this essay, even more salient is how they aver with a touch of amazement, admiration and/or gracious envy that, "You really love what you do, don't you!" Or someone will comment on my "great energy."

Clearly, the motivation is not simply due to a desire to express one's appreciation. The implicit message is: How can I get such an emotional charge from my work? How can I bring such intensely focused, exuberant energy to my professional (and/or personal) life?

A Mentoring Moment

And just two weeks ago, a workshop participant took her exploration one step further. During a break in my Safe Stress Program, a social worker approached me about her interest in doing public speaking. People have told her she has a flair for communicating with groups. When I encouraged her to choose a subject that for her evokes feelings of passion, her immediate reply: "That's what everyone says." But alas, she claimed she wasn't feeling passionate about anything right now; she couldn't focus on a particular subject.

I suspect she may have been dealing with some form of BBS: Bjorn Bored Syndrome. BBS is named after Bjorn Borg, the Swedish,'80s tennis great who suddenly burnt out and dropped out of the pro tennis circuit despite being, seemingly, at the top of his game. After so many championships, the glamour was gone while the daily grinding practices remained. The Bjorn Bored Syndrome: When Mastery Times Monotony Provides an Index of Misery! The Stress Doc's rejuvenating elixir: "Fireproof your life with variety!"

This woman intuitively understood the need to shake up her career puzzle. What helped her find the proverbial pass in the impasse? I made and raised several additional suggestions and questions:

1) identify a source of or an experience related to major personal pain or trauma and/or life-identity challenge or crisis

2) reflect broadly and deeply on how this experience impacted you and significant others?; what were past-present-future fears, frustrations and fantasies exposed or cultivated by this trauma or challenge?

3) how did you not just cope but fight through the warring external dungeons and dragons and internal self-doubts and demons?

4) what did you learn from the initial or ongoing trials, failures and successes? What aspects of your life - substance and style, mind-body-spirit - were transformed? and

5) how will you organize your newfound understanding in your head and heart and how will you share this hard-earned wisdom with others?

And suddenly the light went on. This seeker had a pregnant concept to ponder, nurture and pursue. She stated that she would credit me for her launch once she's on the national speaking circuit. And with practice and persistence, along with a healthy dose of such attitude, she just might make it!

So these three encounters - professional confrontation by an expert, audience affirmation along with attendees' covert and overt desires to capture some of that Stress Doc energy and exuberance, as well as a brief mentoring experience - have moved me to design a new speaking and workshop program. Its name: Unleashing Your "Passion Power": The Four "P"s for Generating Powerful Presence and Peak Performance. (The Four "P"s in the program subtitle is based on a model for powerful public presentation developed a couple of years ago. Email stressdoc@aol.com for the article and those magical "P"s.)

Walking My Talk

I will close this essay with "Seven Keys for "Unleashing Your 'Passion Power.'" (Hopefully, the book will come out in 2007!)

1. Let Go of Toxic People or Situations. Perhaps the biggest drain on unleashing your dynamic, positively motivated and visionary self occurs by tying up time and resources, energy and ego in dysfunctional relationships or self-delusional undertakings. In each circumstance you believe your identity and well being, more often psychological than physical, is dependent on staying in the draining or self-defeating situation. In your clouded mind, even trying to break out of the toxic box would yield disheartening if not devastating consequences, e.g., fervent dreams or financial opportunities would be dashed or lost forever; feelings of failure and humiliation seem like an eternal cross to bear.

Or you feel stuck in emotional quicksand or bound by golden handcuffs. Or self-righteous and enraged battling with a partner or significant other more likely reveals some codependency, difficulty being alone and/or a fear of striking out on your own than it reflects a healthy relationship worth fighting for. In truth, if you resign yourself to a "no exit-no option" scenario, if you do not reach out for help, then, over time - sometimes quickly, more often inexorably -you will truly erode your sense of confidence and competence. You will increasingly feel helpless and hopeless.

While letting go definitely stirs feelings of anxiety and anger, shame and sadness, you are actually taking the first steps out of your burnout or depression tunnel. And if we can stay on this courageous path of liberation, there is often a rainbow at the end of the psychic storm. As Nobel-winning author, Albert Camus, observed: Once we have accepted the fact of loss we understand that the loved one [or loved position] obstructed a whole corner of the possible pure now as a sky washed by rain. Plan for your first step!

2. Pursue a Passionate Path of Excellence. Choose a stimulating activity, a role or facet of a job description, a hobby, an entrepreneurial, athletic or artistic dream, etc. in which you have a strong desire to excel or succeed. And to excel or to realize your goal, you must embark on a learning path that continuously provides evolutionary challenges: grappling with or hurdling unexpected barriers, absorbing data, tackling new problems or tasks that have you feeling stuck, and generating solutions that are imaginative, that have you breaking "out of the box." On this journey, you must find resources and develop skills to forge insights, methods and designs that are both obvious and obscure. Grappling, hurdling, absorbing, tackling, breaking and forging…these are charged action words. Clearly, in the pursuit of excellence, focused aggression is a vital component for realizing ambitions or aspirations.

3. Bring Your Whole Self. To heighten your energy and determination engage in an activity that asks you to bring your fullest self (without being full of your self). This includes bringing a paradoxical or "yin-yang" and holistic perspective. As much as possible, you should be challenged to be both analytical and emotional, to possess substance and style, to give play to both your masculine and feminine sides, to be aggressive and empathic, to be intuitive as well as logical or sensation-driven when processing data, and to integrate your mind-body-spirit for maximum health and vitality.

Here's a brief example of my being a walking and talking (actually rapping) paradox. At the close of my speaking programs, I pull out a Blues Brothers hat, black sunglasses and a black tambourine. I proceed to let folks know that I'm pioneering the field of psychologically humorous rap music. Naturally, as a therapist, calling this endeavor "Shrink Rap" ™ Productions. (Go ahead; imitate the audience…groan loudly.) Invariably, once the audience gets over the shock, they dig the clever lyrics. For example:

When it comes to feelings do you stuff them inside?
Is tough john Wayne your emotional guide?
And it's not just men so proud and tight-lipped
For every Rambo there seems to be a Rambette!…

And with respect to bringing one's fullest self, participants eat up this rhythmically-challenged expert coming alive as a "psychohumorist" ™, prancing around in a joyfully absurd and self-absorbed manic mode. And just yesterday, on an evaluation form, I received the ultimate post-rap, contradictory yet harmonious compliment and outrageous moniker: "Stress Doc, you are a 'righteous dawg!'"

4. Work through Old Hurts. Another means of bringing your fullest self and heightening your "passion" is to choose an activity that: a) challenges you to relive past painful feelings, especially childhood feelings of humiliation, failure or unworthiness, and b) has you grappling with these emotions as you build a skill-based sense of competency and confidence. Overcoming longstanding fears of embarrassment and a sense of inadequacy through public speaking has significantly closed the gap between my real and ideal self-image. Earlier I mentioned how people come up to me and say, "You love what you do." One reason for this is that I am literally feeling self-love; each speaking opportunity reminds me how far I've come from being the fearful, shame-based child and young adult.

5. Generate Audience Synergy and Self-Effacing Laughter. For some, passion power is released by being on stage - through self-expression and by engaging with an audience. Energize your audience, but also allow your audience to turn you on or rev you up. You don't have to be a star or a charismatic authority figure to feel the power. Through Q & A and interactive exercises, from being a playful provocateur to a low-key orchestra leader, you can enable and encourage others to bring out their best music. Learn to bask in and feed off this communal energy and "higher power" expression.

Also, people feed off your being genuine, especially when revealing both your vital and vulnerable sides. And one powerful way to be both real and to reveal your imperfect humanity is through gently poking fun, first and foremost, at yourself. People admire and identify with the ability to use self-effacing humor, to reduce perceived status and cultural differences between you and your audience. Such humor fosters a sense of "we're all in this together." For example, sometimes people razz me for needing to be in the limelight, soaking up all that attention. My two retorts: "You haven't heard the old expression, 'Vanity they name is Gorkin?'" Then I inform them that my greatest desire is "to get enough exposure so I'm finally arrested for indecency!"

6. Harness Time Pressure. Learn to structure and harness time and psychic energy. Passion power isn't just unleashed at the eleventh hour. Passion power is cultivated by having sufficient opportunity to work on and sleep on a problem. You want an optimal cycle of performance anxiety, problem-solving focus, hitting the wall in frustration, grieving or letting go, taking, as I call it, an "incubation vacation" to hatch a new perspective, etc. You need sufficient time and space to allow this new perspective and high-energy mix to unfold.

At the same time, for intense motivation, it helps to feel somewhat that time is running out, and not simply because you are wondering if there can be "life after deadlines." But time sense can be tied to other existential concerns. Gail Sheehy's writings on mid-life crisis in her groundbreaking book, Passages, pose such bridge questions:

a) to what degree are your decisions and choice of actions determined by a sense of security and/or danger; i.e., do you tend to be bold and decisive or do you procrastinate out of fear?,

b) to what degree does your life and sense of self reflect aliveness and/or stagnation? Of course, too much security or too much "dead time" or "time to kill" without a sense of time limits or time consciousness can lead to ennui, apathy and helplessness? Conversely, when we believe time is running out, we often get into a higher gear.

7. Embrace Evolution and Risk. Finally, if you are feeling trapped and are having to dull your senses in order not to feel empty, lonely or helpless, if you are suffering from that Bjorn Bored Syndrome - when mastery times monotony equals degree of misery - than reach out for help. Don't suffer in silence. While significant change or shaking up your life puzzle can be difficult and scary, chronic stagnation can be both existentially and medically injurious if not deadly. With proper coaching, you too can turn pain into purposeful and powerful passion and persistence; you too can transform stagnancy into a new life journey. And while pursuing this risk-taking path can generate moments of angst or painful periods, consider the wisdom of the medical pioneer, Jonas Salk: Evolution is about getting up one more time than we fall down, being courageous one more time than we are fearful, being trusting just one more time than we are anxious.

So go ahead, start breaking down the walls of the self-imposed prison. Take a chance on new life over false security. One must not just risk failure but actually fail over and over again to realize one's rich, complex and imperfect self, to narrow (never completely close) the gap between the ideal and the real. To be reborn, to ignite your "Passion Power," consider this psychic-poetic tinder:

For the Phoenix to rise from the ashes
One must know the pain
To transform the fire to burning desire!

Closing Summary

The article opened with a strategy for identifying an area of passion in one's life. Then I enumerated "Seven Keys for "Unleashing Your 'Passion Power.'" These are:

1. Let Go of Toxic People or Situations
2. Pursue a Passionate Path of Excellence
3. Bring Your Whole Self
4. Work through Old Hurts
5. Generate Audience Synergy and Self-Effacing Laughter
6. Harness Time Pressure
7. Embrace Evolution and Risk

Finally, let me close with a passage penned years ago:

Errors of judgment or design rarely mean incompetence; they more likely reveal inexperience or immaturity, perhaps even boldness. Our so-called "failures" can be channeled as guiding streams (sometimes raging rivers) of opportunity and experience that ultimately enrich - widen and deepen - the risk-taking passage...If we can just immerse ourselves in the these roiling yet unpredictably rejuvenating waters.

Surely words to encourage the cultivation and release of "Passion Power" and words to help one and all… Practice Safe Stress!