The easily given advice has become cliché: follow your passion and everything will turn out dandy.
Problem is, we can’t all be movie stars, professional athletes, or ballerinas. There’s a difference between an achievable dream and a fantasy. For example, I probably will never get drafted for the NBA at 5-foot-5 and 44 years old. Does that mean I should resign myself to a life of drudgery and soulless clock-punching and minimal impact?
Certainly the world needs Broadway performers and astronauts, but it also needs financial planners, drywall installers and farmers. You need not pursue a career based on your childhood dreams in order to find meaning and purpose in your work, and to achieve at the highest levels.
Take Mike McCloskey. Originally trained as a vet, he transitioned into a career in the dairy business. While not a trapeze artist or supermodel, McCloskey racks up wins until the cows come home. Quite literally. He is the cofounder and CEO of Select Milk Producers, the fourth-largest milk cooperative in the U.S. He’s the chairman of Southwest Cheese, which converts 10 million pounds of milk per day into 250 million pounds of cheese annually. He’s also the chairman of Fair Oaks Farms in northwest Indiana, an agritourism destination that makes milk, cheese and ice cream from the 15,000 cows on the property.
McCloskey’s passion may have been singing in a barbershop quartet. But instead of chasing an unrealistic passion, he decided to get passionate about his work.
So what did McCloskey get passionate about? Manure! That’s right. The thousands of cows in his business produce a whole lot of the smelly stuff, which is a big expense, giant mess and distracting hassle for workers.
He directed his best thinking to this problem, even though it wasn’t as sexy as becoming an Olympic gold medalist. McCloskey had an idea to turn this waste product into a profit center. To flip it from a problem to an asset.
The innovation came to life as Poo Power. The manure is processed and turned into energy, which fuels vehicles and creates electricity to power all of their barns and plants. They power 42 milk trucks and save 70 million diesel miles annually. Huge cost savings. Huge positive impact to the environment. Huge innovation.
You don’t have to become a celebrity chef or an urban poet to pursue meaning and impact. Getting passionate about what you do — even if it is the least glamorous aspect of all — can become a source of inspiration, positive change and meaningful results.
Find the opportunity right in front of you, and instead of a distasteful stench, you’ll end up smelling like roses.