Let’s begin with a little story. Not too long ago, we met a young woman who is a successful executive. After some small talk, we asked her the question that, a few years ago, we began to ask everyone:
WHAT IS YOUR PASSION?
In politics and business today, there is increasing pressure to put voters and customers in demographic and philosophical boxes. Political strategists and marketing gurus obsess over our income, age, gender, race, education, sexual orientation, and health status. They study our purchasing habits and our voting records. They use this data to develop a profile of who we are.
But do they get who we are? Yes, they know who is more likely to respond favorably to a pitch about raising the minimum wage or a $499 lease offer on a new Lexus. They pinpoint their targets and develop their strategies to reach those targets. But we are more than targets, deeper and quirkier and so much more diverse than the sum of our data. Longtime baseball manager and player, Dusty Baker, has been interviewed tens of thousands of times, and yet he often does not recognize the man presented in the newspapers and on television. Every story inevitably characterizes him by his race and his age. He says, “I thought I was more than that.”
The woman executive was easily placed in a box. She was clearly very serious, driven, focused. When we asked, “What is your passion?” -- and explained our fascination with how Americans spend their free time and free money -- she immediately said what so many people have told us: she had no time for frivolous things. Her passion was her work. We have heard this many times from many people; they almost always begin by saying that they have no passion and, when pressed, admit only that their passion is work or family or faith.
But we have learned to dig deeper. What is that thing that you love doing when you have spare moments? What is it that Americans daydream about when their mind wanders? What are they doing in those moments when they aren’t going to work or caring for their families? Where do they spend their discretionary dollars? What is it that takes us out of the daily drone of life, the thing that releases us from the boredom or the stress or the worry, that thing that we do for ourselves?
A little while later, the woman came back to us. She had thought of something. She liked to sing karaoke. It was surprising and charming, and we asked how often she sang. She smiled sheepishly and said, “Two or three times a week.”
The more she talked about it, the more she opened up. She talked about the ten best karaoke bars in New York -- she had been to all of them and many more -- and she talked about the intensive karaoke equipment she had at home, and she talked about her group of friends who would sometimes meet online just to talk about their karaoke performances and how to make them better. The more she told us about her love of karaoke, the more we could see her light up. The more we understood who she really is.
Our simple theory is that we can understand a person and a society in a much more meaningful way if we know their passions. Some of the questions we intend to explore here at Passions in America:
- Which passions are rising and falling in the U.S., and why?
- What is behind the rise and fall of passions?
- How do passions vary by generation, geography, race, etc?
- What are the lessons of those individuals who turned a passion into extraordinary business success?
- What are the secret passions of some of the America’s most prominent people and what does it tell us about them?
We fell in love with this big story because, in our own way, we have been studying passion all our lives in sports and business. Dan has spent his life as one of America’s leading crisis managers, and this has meant a lifetime of delving deep into the deepest passions of business and politics. Joe has spent his life as one of America’s leading sportswriters and has seen the world through the passion of Alabama football fans, St. Louis Cardinals baseball fans, North London soccer fans, Kentucky basketball fans, on and on.
We have come to believe that passion, as much as anything, pushes us forward, moves us to create our most original and breathtaking art, inspires us to our boldest ideas, leads us to our greatest insights.
One last clarification... this site won’t explore the passions of religion or sex. This is not to downplay the importance or intrigue of those topics, but they are infinitely explored elsewhere and would drown out what we want to explore.