Wear Your Emotions on Your Sleeve

There’s a fine line between passion and emotion.

Passion is somebody showing a strong love for something: a topic, a cause, a person. Emotion is how we respond to that passion. Those emotional displays can be positive or negative.

Showing emotion has been given such a bad rap that we’ve learned to keep any displays in check. It’s perceived as weakness. Of not being in control. It’s not professional. Or so we were lead to believe prior to the age of innovation.

Passion is human fuel. Passion allows people to transcend their raw talent. Innovators rely on passion to persevere. Passion is the difference between those that have great ideas and those that execute. But too often passion is killed off at an early age.

My son has loved to play ice hockey since he was 4-years old. He would exhaust himself skating from one end of the ice to the other. His legs seemed to be working twice as hard as the other players to travel the same distance. Suffice it to say he didn’t seem to be born with a natural physical talent for skating.

But he had passion.

Fuelled by that passion he was an above average player by the time he hit his teens. Not because he learned to skate more effectively but because he had heart. Nobody worked harder or wanted it more than he did. His passion scored goals and won games — and he often wore the Captain or Assistant letters in recognition of his leading position on the team.

It also got him sent to the penalty box a fair bit.

Not for maliciously inflicting injury on others, but for acts of emotion like hitting the boards with his stick in response to a bad call; or expressing his views directly to the referee when he didn’t agree with him.

I vividly remember one game when the team lost on a late goal while my son sat in the penalty box. A parent approached me after the game, “You might want to get your son’s emotions in check. He lost us the game.”

My response: “and that same passion has won us a lot of games.” Still, part of me also regretted his emotional outbursts and wished he could express his discontent with less consequence.

At thirteen years old it was complicated to try to extract the displays of emotion without negatively impacting his passion. We would remind him gently to be mindful of the implications of his emotional displays — but never berate him. It was a delicate balance.

And over time he figured it out on his own. He’s an adult now, and while he may still have the odd outburst on the ice he understands the price he pays for those outbursts. And he has every bit the same passion for the game that he always did.

I believe if we had punished him for each penalty minute served we would have knocked out his passion at an early age. It’s too difficult for a child to figure out how to love something as much as he did the game of hockey and not get emotional about it.

As teachers, parents and bosses we can be too quick to snuff out what is perceived as negative emotion. We don’t give enough thought to the trade-off being made when we punish emotional displays. It’s often a way to gain control, not inspire greatness.

Passion is the driving fuel that makes human beings exceptional. It can’t be reproduced by machinery or technology.

Feelings, emotions and passion should be celebrated. Tears of joy should be welcomed in any context. Excitement, cheers, and hoopla are emotions that allow humans to connect with each other. Yes, even ‘negative’ emotion like anger are natural human displays that can be catalysts for positive change.

Of course all emotional displays have to maintain the boundaries of law and respect. As joy can’t manifest in overturning cars in the street after a gold medal victory, anger can’t be expressed by throwing a desk through a window. But those are extremes. It’s a mistake to assume extremes are natural extensions to people outwardly expressing what they feel. Healthy expressions of all emotion are just that. Healthy.

Innovation research talks about an innovators ability to ‘make connections’. Emotion and passion are the spark that allow those connections to happen. Innovators persevere. Passion is the key to perseverance. Innovators are inspirational because only they have the power to infect others with the possibilities of their idea. Their ability to inspire is fuelled by passion.

You won’t meet an innovator that lacks passion.

I had an Economics professor at university that was well loved by his students. We always left his class inspired and invigorated after this mandatory class. Simply because he loved what he taught. With each new concept he would race from board to board drawing curves and intersection points with such animation you couldn’t help but share his enthusiasm for the topic.

One day he had to fill-in and teach a subject that not only was he not passionate about but didn’t even believe in philosophically. His materials were solid and thorough. His delivery was dry. The material just didn’t resonate. The Teacher of the Year fell flat.

When I called him on it he was horrified.

“Was it that obvious?”. “Yes, I didn’t believe a word you said.”

Passion brings a depth to words that can’t be conveyed on a powerpoint slide. It wasn’t what he knew that made him a great teacher, it was his passion.

Authentic passion is an exceptional gift to share. No matter what your context — social, professional or entrepreneurial set your passion free.

And when others around you do the same, don’t judge them for being ‘out of control’ — allow yourself to become infected.