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We’re sent here on a mission

April 13, 2016
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

As I wrote in my DNA column a few months ago, I found out some information about myself, which most people take for granted. First, who was my biological father? Answer: an eleventh grader at the time of my birth, who did care about my also-sixteen-year-old birth mother and probably did about all he could with the opportunities he was given at the time. He was also a wildly talented musician, an army veteran, and a favored son, brother, nephew and uncle of his surviving family. He died at age 40 and left behind a son, my brother who knew he had a sibling out there somewhere, but whom I knew nothing about. My brother was born less than two years after me, to another mother, was very close to our shared father, and is now a semi-famous chef in Des Moines. We both inherited certain physical features of father, as well as intelligence, musical prowess (him far more than me), height, breadth, and humor, it seems.

What we also inherited: the warrior gene, which displays its traits based largely on the experiences and resilience of the individuals who have it. It can drive a talent for positive risk-taking, which means a lot of entrepreneurs (like my restauranteur brother) and artists and other self-reliant types show up with this gene.

A deprived upbringing, the trauma of abuse, being witness to violence as a young person, can, of course, cause negative displays of the warrior gene, and it becomes simply an inherent lack of impulse control. Hence, it has shown up disproportionately in prison inmates, but it generally is accompanied by an early life of poverty and witnessing violence, gunfire, and gang activity.

My brother and I both came up all right and we take risks in the area of new ventures, charity and generosity, and creating things. When I was younger, my warrior gene may have been what drove me to go rappelling off campus buildings, hitchhiking, staying outdoors at night in New York City, and believing I could accomplish anything.

Until last year, I knew less than most people know about themselves. I did not know who provided the paternal half of my DNA, and I did not know I had a brother. Now I know all of that and more. Thanks to the DNA test that proved our sibling relationship, and an analysis tool called Promethease, I also found out I have genes for greater height, light hair, green/grey eye color, and even intelligence, as well as less fun ones like a tendency toward Type II diabetes and some fun thing called BRCA2, which I don't even want to know about.

Which brings us around to mission. If we're given just a century to live, and sometimes a lot less, why are we here?

A general consensus among today's philosophers and big-idea bloggers is that "follow your passion" is poor advice. You neither have a predetermined destiny, nor a preexisting passion just waiting to be uncovered. But it's an appealing call to action, because it's both simple and daring. It tells you that you have a calling, and if you can discover it and muster the courage to follow it, your working life will be fantastic. A big, bold move that changes everything: this is a powerful storyline.

The problem is that we don't have much evidence that this is how passion works. "Follow your passion" assumes: a) you have preexisting passion, and b) if you match this passion to your job, then you'll enjoy that job.

When I studied the issue, it was more complex. Most people don't have preexisting passions. And research on workplace satisfaction tells that people like their jobs for more nuanced reasons than simply they match some innate interests. Cal Newport, PhD, of Georgetown University says most people think following your passion means taking up your greatest interests and love for your job or vocation will follow. But, passion must be cultivated. It's possible to work at having passion for what you're doing, right now, unless you absolutely hate it, in which case you should cultivate a path out of there.

Here's the key, Newport says in his book, "So Good They Can't Ignore You,"

"There is no special passion waiting for you to discover. Passion is something that is cultivated. It can be cultivated in many, many different fields. Therefore, it doesn't make sense to say, "I don't know what my passion is." What does make sense is to say, "I haven't yet cultivated a passion, I should really focus down on a small number of things and start this process."

So how does that translate into mission? I think it falls into becoming the person you want to be first. Do you want to be kind? Patient? Courageous? Generous? Full of self-control? Competitive? Just? Discerning? From there, what could you pursue that would play to those strengths and goals?

This isn't an exercise only for the young. My dad (the one who raised me) said he found his perfect job at 50 when he became head of an alternative school. Then he said it again closer to age 60 when he became a student teacher supervisor at his alma mater and witnessed the fun happening in first and second grade classrooms. He thought he had it made in his early 40s as a junior high guidance counselor in a small school. Later he said, "Maybe I'll never know exactly what I want to be when I grow up, but the journey is definitely fun." Take the journey. You can fulfill your mission from many different angles, as long as you pursue truth along the road.



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