Good Work: Confidence on a Mission

We must make the decision that we will live on a crisis basis because this is the condition
in which our world finds itself and this is what the love of God demands.
– Elizabeth O’Conner

In its second year, our school district’s Americorps program was named the best community service program in the country.  The reason is simple and powerful—passion.  When Monda Holsinger started the program she was determined to do nothing less than change the world — and she did.  Each of her 18 volunteers took on two schools and multiplied their efforts by recruiting an army of volunteers and business partners.  On their days off they served together in the community by painting community centers, cleaning parks, supporting fund-raisers, and doing anything else that was needed.  In her work with young people, Monda has found that confidence is what makes the difference between effective and exceptional volunteers.  Passion is confidence on a mission.
Monda met Kevin when he was an insecure junior struggling through high school.  She helped him find a teacher and a class that he could connect with and suddenly, with his new found success, his confidence soared.  After high school, Kevin spent a year as an Americorps volunteer where he blossomed in the service that he rendered.  The following year Kevin returned as an Americorps leader, a confident well-spoken young man with a bright future.
My father has a passion for providing health care to poor people.  He thought it was crazy that people didn’t have access to health care.  Twenty years ago he organized 450 doctors to provide free care to indigent people in Denver.  Last month, Doctors Care bought a building and celebrated the thousands of doctors that provide free care across Colorado and in similar programs across the country.
I spent the day Friday with a group of people who think it is crazy that American kids waste an average of 7 hours per day on entertainment media when similar technologies could be boosting achievement and improving life choices.  They have decided to change that situation.  Their vision is bold but bounded—it is specific enough that a decade long push will undoubtedly make a difference.
Like Geoff Canada who decided to own a zone in Harlem and Dacia Toll who committed to putting Achievement First, these people taught me about passionate work.  Though they display it differently, it is evident in the pace that they keep, the projects they attempt, and the results that they produce.  At some point, reconciliation registered—a world in crisis required them to lead.
So few will pay the price to lead.  So many are quick to criticize.  Leadership is immensely difficult on the practical level, but simple emotionally—you must care, and care so deeply that you are not willing to accept present conditions.  You must care so firmly that you’re committed to change anything including yourself.
Allowing needs to become personal creates an opening for conviction to form.  Reflection allows deeply held beliefs to come to terms with felt needs.  Purposeful conviction enables risk, involvement creates small wins, successes feed confidence, and passion emerges as driving force for change.  Passion, or confidence on a mission, is a powerful thing.  It helps you dream bigger, work harder, be more persistent, and pay a price unimaginable to the detached.
[The Good Work series started as journal entries while serving as a public school superintendent in the 90s]

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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