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What Creates Passion and Passionate People, and What Defeats it In Us? Interview with Gregg Levoy

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Rob: Okay, we're going to stop there for a brief station ID. This is the Rob Kall Bottom-Up Radio Show WNJC 1360 AM out of Washington Township, New Jersey reaching metro Phili and south Jersey sponsored by If you joined this interview in the middle and you want to hear the beginning of it, go to, with an S on the end or go to iTunes and look for my name, Rob Kall K-A-L-L and you'll find this one - I would say give it a day or two, and hundreds of other interviews as well. Now, I've been talking with Gregg Levoy, the author of Vital Signs: The Nature and Nurture of Passion and a best selling, which just came out and a previous book Callings, a best-selling book. They're both brilliant and I highly recommend them and Gregg, I asked you about how you changed your job and we started talking about the refusal of the call, so pick it up.

GL: Right. So, let's see, I'm at the Cincinnati Inquirer, I've been there for five years at this point and I get the call; and I refuse it, and I refuse it, and I refuse it. And the symptoms of the need of the call itself only increase. It's not that by saying no it's going to go away.

Rob: The symptoms?

GL: The symptoms of the call, I think they only increase. I mean this is both the beauty and the curse of callings, and passions, is that the search party does not retire. Alright, you may turn your back, but they're not going to turn their back on you. And that's why I say for better and for worse. So the symptoms just got more so, the dreams got more violent, my restlessness only increased and it took a crisis for me to finally turn around and say okay, I've got to do something about this and the crisis was the loss of a job at USA Today because they're both owned by the same company and, Gannett, and Gannett took me from the Inquirer to Washington D.C. to work on the founding - as a founding staff at USA Today and the deal was four-month trial period. If the paper flies and you fit you're a journalist in Washington D.C. Alright, if the paper does not fly or you don't fit, for some reason or another, you're guaranteed your job back at whatever paper they took you from. So as elegant a job offer as you get. I lasted two months. It was absolute shock to me that I did not become a journalist at USA Today, but I was a feature style writer, an essay style writer and USA Today was reviewed by the Washington Post when it first came out and they called it news McNuggets. So, I was hating it there; literally falling asleep on the job; literally my colleagues would find me at my desk with some regularity asleep. And what am I doing by falling asleep on the job, you know? I'm reenacting the story of Jonah. He gets a call from God, essentially to be a public speaker, and doesn't want any part of it, books himself passage on a ship going in the opposite direction from where he's called to be. Again, classic refusal of the call stuff, and goes to sleep in the bottom of the ship. Alright? So I lost the job at USA Today and that was the wakeup call. That was the one that said oh, now I've got to go back to the Cincinnati Inquirer, but I went back with a desperation I did not have before, and a sense that I have to make this happen. I'm just you know, when people say I'm dying at this job, I take that literally. It's something - I don't think it's a coincidence that the American Medical Association found out that the majority of heart attacks occur around nine o'clock on Monday mornings. Now what are most people doing around nine o'clock on Monday mornings? They're going back to jobs and jobs they don't like, jobs that are a lousy match with their spirits and their soul; job that literally turns out can break your heart, right? So, I went back with a quality of determination and desperation I didn't have and then I made my plan, as you described. Then I sat down and I became the scientist that I have in me.

Rob: And what was the plan?

GL: Well the plan was, I want to be self-employed as a writer within one year. I'm not a leap and the net will appear type. You've heard the expression leap and the net will appear or you know, leap off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.

Rob: On the other hand, you have talked in the book about sometimes you have to start moving in order to see where things are, to get the clarity -

GL: Yeah.

Rob: You talk about people who wait for clarity and then nothing ever happens -

GL: Right.

Rob: And then sometimes you have to start moving to make clarity happen -

GL: Right.

Rob: So again there's that balance there.

GL: There is that balance and sometimes I generally recommend to people that they take the slow and steady approach to making big changes happen rather than the leap and the net will appear approach. But sometimes, a leap of faith is exactly what's in order because if the - you know, the prospect of turmoil is preferable to the psychological death you're experiencing by staying put, then I say let 'er rip, you know what I'm saying? So there's a place for both of them, but in this particular case I knew that my career depended on doing it smart, not just fast and getting a fix, which is what I wanted ultimately. I just wanted out.

Rob: So you wanted to be a freelance writer?

GL: Yeah.

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