Early in my adult life I was frequently described using less than flattering terms like driven, aggressive, and relentless. While my drive to achieve generated professional success, I simply was not a pleasant person. I always wanted more. No level of accomplishment was ever enough, so I pushed myself and everyone around me for the ever-elusive gold standard of perfection.
Since perfection inevitably proved impossible for me I would shift my efforts to making those around me perfect. My colleagues, coworkers, and family exhibited the proverbial patience of Job just to tolerate my never-ending quest for more, more, more.
Over the course of time the planets of my life aligned causing me to realize that I am not the center of anyone’s universe. I still remember the moment while on a flight from Seattle to Charlotte when this reality struck me like a ton of bricks. That poignant and sometimes painful journey is another story for another day, but the essence of it is this — through a series of deep frustrations and self-inflicted setbacks it became increasingly clear that I am not the sum total of my accomplishments. I embraced the full truth of my faith tradition and discovered that relentless pushing for perfection is not necessary. I discovered the ‘rest’ of the gospel that I had so arrogantly short-sold all my life. Realizing that my identity had been established in the work of Christ and not my own my own performance brought a welcome wave of relief not only to me, but to those around me. Gradually my obsessive drive receded and in its place a newfound passion emerged. I began working from who I truly am, not who I want to make myself appear to be.
What made this difference? What is that changes one from relentlessly driven to purposefully passionate? For me, it was simply acknowledging with my heart and my actions, rather than only with my lips, that there is a God. Once that happened, I no longer had to control every circumstance of my life. I could trust God’s plan. And from honoring God, it was simply natural to honor His creations, who were the neighbors I had previously viewed as competitors.
This shifted perspective caused me to begin pursuing the power of partnerships and collaboration because I no longer had to hoard all the credit to feed my own fragile identity. No longer did I have to insulate myself from failure. Instead I could work wholeheartedly with others, encouraging their successes and not just my own accomplishment. Every interaction with every person became a fresh opportunity for partnership. Accomplishments became victories to celebrate – not for my own ego, but for my community, my friends, my colleagues, even people with whom my belief set might differ on significant issues.
Even failure could be embraced as a learning opportunity. The drive for perfection was replaced by seeking, finding, sharing, and caring. Your success became our success. Together we grew. People became partners, not projects or competitors.
That, in a nutshell is what keeps the passion alive in my life. It may seem a bit simple but simple is good. It has been said that these kinds of things are ‘deep enough for elephants to swim, yet shallow enough for children to play.” I invite you to join me in the sea of passionate partnerships. Some may swim. Some may playfully splash. But everyone is welcome to engage their passions as together we collaborate for the common good.
Dwayne Burks serves as executive director of the Gaston Faith Network. You may reach him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org