I’m Paul, the creator of Thiebaut Method, an education nonprofit aimed at ending poverty by cultivating students’ passions.
My mission for the last 10 years since founding Thiebaut Method has been to help each student we work with find what they are so passionate about that they could spend the rest of their lives on a mission pursuing their passions.
As crazy of an idea as ending poverty through passion may sound, the number one explanation I hear the world’s most successful and fulfilled people give for how they got to where they are is that they are passionate about what they do.
I read about the passion phenomena in books and research studies; I watch documentaries, interviews and presentations about it; I listen to it on the radio and in conversations with people. The power of passion is always swirling around me.
Pastor Rick Warren wrote the bestselling book, “The Purpose Driven Life”, which asks one of the best questions I’ve yet to discover:
What on earth am I here for?
Speaking for myself, my answer to that question is:
I’m on earth to figure out what each person’s passion is and to help them develop the intellectual, creative and practical skills needed to succeed in school and pursue that passion as a career and calling.
Because I work with underserved preschool and elementary students, this starts with finding out what topics bring them joy and showing them how they can learn the skills needed to be successful in school through those topics.
Cultivating a student’s passions requires extreme personalization and attention to what makes each child tick and helping them build their own personal passion pathway.
A love of baseball hits a reading home run
We work with a boy two years behind in reading who loves baseball.
In the first two weeks we tutored him, we showed him:
- how to read and fill out a scorekeeping card
- how to make an interactive guide on how to be a catcher
- how to read about and draw the logos of baseball teams
- how to create a budget of players’ salaries
- how to read “adult” (his words) articles about baseball.
Over that time, the boy’s reading level shot up two levels and he became more motivated to go to school and learn.
Maybe most important of all, he began discovering many different ways to intellectually, creatively and practically pursue his love of baseball. I think this boy began to realize how much more to baseball there is than nine people standing in a field while one person tries to hit the ball.
There is nothing more inspiring to me than watching another human fill with passion and the motivation to learn everything about that passion. I think it’s the key to success and fulfillment.
Here’s what I think passion (intrinsic motivation) is really about
It is my belief that true human potential begins with each person’s intrinsic motivations — their passions, interests, inner voices, callings, basically, a true love of what a person does.
Intrinsic motivation gives a person the energy to be determined and focused, the desire to tackle challenges, the grit to be persistent, and the sensitivity to be adaptable and open-minded, all without the prospect of any reward, praise, punishment, or attention from others.
Intrinsic motivation is a person’s best friend, their most trusted confidant, their greatest strength, and their compass for how to navigate life.
Here’s why I believe in passion (intrinsic motivation) with all my…
In one sentence: Passion saved my life.
Up until my rescue, I had developed the bad habit of making bad decisions, including dropping out of high school and selling drugs, which had unwanted consequences, such as being incarcerated in juvenile hall and being homeless.
I also had some strokes of bad luck, including living in a home with an alcoholic mother, failing second grade because I couldn’t read, and arriving at the age of 12 without any mentors or guidance.
The day that changed my life was in 2003 when I was 23. On that day I read my first book. For maybe the first time since I was a child, I had one person in my life who had a head on his shoulders and who I looked up to. When he suggested reading Malcolm X’s autobiography I agreed because of my respect for him.
He and I didn’t know it then, but he was my mentor and teacher.
It was while reading Malcolm X’s autobiography that I was overcome with passion — a passion to understand why humans hurt humans and how a passionate human can overcome the slightest of odds.
In particular, I was struck by Malcolm X’s ability to overcome a life of bad fortune and bad decisions as well as outright discrimination and hatred toward him because he was black.
By discovering and pursuing something that was intrinsically meaningful to him, Malcolm was able to make history.
I had never been taught this in school. Only that I should get good grades and that if I didn’t I was a bad student. To be sure, I was a very very bad student.
While I didn’t know it at the time of reading Malcolm’s autobiography, I had discovered within myself that..
I was intrinsically motivated by intrinsically motivated people. I was passionate about passion.
Where my passion for passion has led me
The result of reading Malcolm’s book was a hunger for learning that has grown stronger and stronger since 2003 and has influenced most of my actions.
I used my intrinsic motivations to earn a college degree, start a successful tutoring business that cultivated the intrinsic motivations of higher-income students, and in 2009, started a nonprofit that has taught more than 700 low-income students how to succeed in school by leveraging their intrinsic motivations.
Here’s why I believe in passion (intrinsic motivation) with all my…
Just the other day while in a cafe, I overheard a guy in his late 20s say to the person he was with that he graduated from a top college without a clue of what he wanted to do. He then went to a prestigious law school, and still didn’t know what he wanted to do.
From my personal and professional experience with intrinsic motivation, I don’t think this guy’s circumstance is the result of destiny or bad luck. I think he never discovered or never decided to pursue his passions, and instead largely lived by other people’s expectations.
Contrary to this guy’s story about not knowing what he wanted to do, Albert Einstein and Bill Gates found and followed their passions from an early age.
Einstein didn’t speak until a late age, but was passionately learning about his physical environment from an early age. And, his parents allowed and encouraged him to pursue his passions. Gates grabbed hold of computer science at a young age and learned, learned, learned about the subject up until founding Microsoft. His parents, too, supported his passions.
Regardless of whether Einstein and Gates became eminent creators, they probably would have been very successful and fulfilled as a result of pursuing their childhood passions into adulthood.
First, because doing what you love takes the work out of work, which is almost the equivalent of a superpower. Second, because continuously learning about a subject from childhood into adulthood stacks up massive skills and knowledge that most people lack, giving its possessor a competitive advantage.
Some of the research behind passion I think you should know about
The 40 year research study, “A Guide to Developing a Creative Career”, by E. Paul Torrance may be one of the best studies on the personal, emotional and professional advantages that accrue to people who discover and stay committed to pursuing their passions from childhood into their adult working lives.
Here are the lessons its principal researcher, E. Paul Torrance, drew from his study on children pursuing their passions into adulthood:
You’ll notice that (1) a love of something, (2) pursuing that love of something, and (3) having people supportive of that love comprises almost 50% of the list. Einstein and Gates certainly followed these principles.
In the book, “Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas are Born”, its author found that McArthur Genius Award winners have these characteristics in common:
- Find your talent.
- Commit to it and make it shine.
- Don’t be afraid to risk. Or even failure, which if seen in its proper light, brings insight and opportunity.
- Find courage by looking to something stronger and better than your puny, vulnerable self.
- No lusting after quick resolutions. Relax, stay loose.
- Get to know yourself, understand your needs and the specific conditions you favor.
- Respect your culture….
- Then, finally break free from the selective pull of book learning and research and the million other preparatory stages that could delay for the entire span of a life and immerse yourself in the doing.
While researching the book, its author, Denise Shekerjian, heard again and again in interviews with McArthur Geniuses how passionate and purposeful they were about their occupations. They had what Torrance calls a “labor of love”, a “passionate love of what they are doing.”
In one of the largest biographical studies done on geniuses, “Cradles of Eminence: Childhoods of more than 700 famous men and women”, the researchers reached a definite conclusion about the most common “trait” associated with genius and offered some advice:
“If there is one trait that all of our subjects had in common, it is persistence in pursuing their own vision and goals. They followed their own inner voice and did what they wanted to do, or what they felt they had to do, regardless of what others were doing or what various authority figures told them. Psychologists call this trait having an “internal locus of control.” Poets may call it marching to the beat of a different drummer. Others may call it a strong streak of independent thought, of not caring if they are ‘different.’ Whatever we call it, it is this extra ingredient, vision-persistence, combined with talent, hard work, and luck (in that order), that leads to fame and fortune. (p.342)
“What parents and teachers can learn from this research study of eminent people is that it is important to encourage and support children to pursue their own interests, even if the likelihood of success may seem slim.” (p.343)
Where does “vision-persistence” originate? What is it that gives somebody the ability to have and steadfastly pursue a vision?
Maybe the best answer comes from a little known, but well researched book, “Quirky: The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed the World”. In it, innovation researcher Melissa Schilling concludes that the top quality that defines the world’s most visionary people is intrinsic motivation:
“All the breakthrough innovators I studied invested heavily in self-education. They were avid consumers of knowledge, but they followed their own rhythms rather than an instructor’s pace. They went deeply into a topic or broadly across topics they chose rather than following the path of the syllabus. They were fueled by intrinsic motivation — a true love of learning.” (p.79)
Injecting more passion into children’s education
This critical human faculty — the ability to love to learn, or be intrinsically motivated — is far and away one of the most powerful human capacities I have been able to discover during my mission to understand passion.
Yet, passion is hardly developed in students in the U.S. education system due to the many challenges that come with schooling large numbers of children.
We can make a contribution to our education system by being committed to ensuring every student has access to their passions.
Based on 12 years of teaching high- and low-income children how to succeed in school by leveraging their passions, I am convinced that at least one way to end poverty is by cultivating student’s passions.
Every parent and teacher wants their children to be successful and happy. Thiebaut Method can help deliver on these goals by continuing to give children access to their passions in an educational setting.
I hope you will consider helping me make passion more accessible to underserved students by sharing this article, reaching out with ways you can help, or by just asking kids what they are passionate about and giving them intellectual, creative and practical ideas for how to pursue those passions.
Lets make this world a more passionate place to live in!
PTIII. East Palo Alto, CA
More about passion: thiebautmethodtutoring.org/method