Love of the Game
Love of the Game
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Love of the Game

Tony Kern, Ed.D

By Tony Kern, Ed.D
Chief Executive Officer, Convergent Performance

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” –Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Remember the first time you became aware you might get to be in the aviation industry? I remember it like it was yesterday (and it was quite a few yesterday’s ago). After some interesting discussions with my Air Force recruiter, he told me I would have to take a couple of tests, pass a physical, and get through Officer’s Training School (OTS). But if those went well, I had the chance to be a pilot.

I was certain this was a line they fed everyone to get them to sign on the dotted line and commit the next few years of their young lives to Uncle Sam. But nonetheless, the thought that I might be able to fly was a driving force in my preparation and execution of those gates.

Back in the day, there were no guarantees, but as I jumped through the various hoops, I got closer to finding out whether I had made the grade. The day before my OTS graduation, a young airman sought me out and told me to report to the Wing Commander’s office – never a good thing.

As I came to attention in front of his desk, he looked up impatiently with those steely blue fighter pilot eyes. “Kern,” he said. “When you throw your hat in the air at tomorrow’s graduation, you’d better catch it, because you start pilot training in two days and you’ve got a lot of packing to do.”

Every set of wings has its own story, but I’d hazard a guess that most of you reading this had some kind of similar moment where you said to yourself, “Oh my gosh, I made it.”

Of course, we hadn’t made it yet, but the doors were opened to a new career. One that touched the sky. One that we were passionate about mastering. But as the years wore on and we mastered our craft, something diabolical happened. We got bored, frustrated, complacent, and even cynical about little things. We lost our love of the game.

A few months ago, I ran into another aviator who lamented he too had lost his passion mid-career but had found his way back though others. This was an interesting perspective to say the least, and I listened with rapt attention as he told a story of being “pecked to death by chickens” but recovering his joy by first observing younger professionals who were still enthusiastic, and then helping them fuel their fires.

“I went from being a burn out shell of my former self to completely reenergized,” he explained. “And I did it by working on the little things I had control over, like my flying skills, my CRM (Crew Resource Management) and my briefings. People started to notice and began to ask me questions like I was some sort of role model or mentor. The pride came back. And so did the passion.”

Here’s what I took from this interesting discussion. The old saying about “follow your passion” is not particularly helpful to those mid- to late-career professionals who are engaged in highly repetitive environments they can’t just walk away from. Passion is perishable, and you can’t always choose what you need to become – or remain – passionate about. You find something interesting in what you do and refine it until you can’t do it any better. You feed off the improvement. Anyone can become passionate about something inside their sphere of influence, and once you become passionate about one thing, you learn how to become passionate about others.

Passion is when you put more energy into something than is required to do it to standards. It is more than just enthusiasm or excitement about something. Passion is ambition personified, materialized into action. It may be the most motivational force this side of survival.

Don’t forget the pride and joy we all felt when we came into this wonderful industry. And if you find yourself in need of a passion booster shot, remember the door to high performance opens outward through helping others achieve their full potential.

Work smart, care about others, and stay engaged.

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