Friday, March 12

Finding Intention: Because Passion Is Everywhere


I haven't thought about it in some time. But one of my favorite under-the-radar movies of all time is a 1984 film, The Razor's Edge, based on the book by W. Somerset Maughan. It was Bill Murray's first starring role in a dramatic film.

Murray had an incredible passion for the project: writing the screenplay with director John Byrum, including his farewell speech to friend John Belushi in the script; and taking a hiatus from acting after the film's disappointing reception and financial disaster.

There are several moments in the film that stuck with me, but the scene I've been thinking about since reading Bill Sledzik's post on passion is one where Murray's character Larry Darrel first meets Raaz, played by Saeed Jaffrey.

While Raaz is washing dishes, he mentions to Darrel that it might be enjoyable to be rich. Darrel confesses that he is not rich, offering that he worked in a coal mine to earn enough money for his journey. Raaz considers the answer, and then asks Darrel what was the intention of working in a coal mine. Darrel doesn't know what he means, because he worked in the coal mine to earn money to travel. No, Razz says, that was the reason, not the intention.

If work has no intention, it is not work at all. It's an empty motion.

While it might have come from a film adaptation, I've carried the lesson with me since I first saw the film. Whereas most people advise that people find their passion and pursue it, I casually disagree. It's the other way around.

Be passionate in everything you do. Otherwise, you'll find yourself drifting along in a series of empty motions, fooling yourself into thinking those motions are somehow a temporary situation before you finally have time to pursue your real passion. It's also why so many people, especially in the United States, felt unsuccessful as they jumped jobs every two years in the 1990s or early 2000s. Most had reasons, but few had intention.

I more or less told the students in my class the same last night, without mentioning the film or the greater context of my meaning. (It's not a philosophy class, after all). It was my takeaway after reading their news releases, written around a fictitious CPR class offered by a recreation center in cooperation with the American Heart Association.

I give the assignment, year after year, for one simple reason. Event releases are very common. They are so common that most students, especially those who are working professionals, tend to look upon them as among the most boring. The scores, a range of 50-78, reflect the problem. Almost none of the releases demonstrated that the students had found passion.

Except, there was plenty of passion to be found. The outcome of such a release is to encourage people to learn CPR, which could eventually save lives. And if you cannot find intention in such a purpose, the real challenge isn't learning about passion as much as it might be to find some semblance of empathy. Not to mention, if you cannot find passion in the context of any communication, chances are that the journalists, bloggers, or consumers won't either.

This doesn't only apply to writing. It applies to life in general. There is a reason I choose to clean my home every week rather than hire a maid or surrender most of it to my wife. I found intention in the action. Much like Raaz, despite owning several boats, found intention in the simple act of washing dishes. And Murray, unfortunately, forgot his intention when moviegoers passed on his portrayal Larry Darrel. Fortunately, he seemed to rediscover it in later films like Lost In Translation, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Broken Flowers.

Success doesn't come from fame, fortune, or untold wealth as there are plenty of people who have all those things and never feel successful. Real success comes from living life without empty motions.

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