• Stephen Scott Johnson

The pursuit of passion (how to identify your X-Factor)

Updated: Mar 9

From an early age we are conditioned to compete with each other – in schools, in relationships, and in our workplaces. If we don’t immediately excel at something, we often give up under a false assumption that we lack aptitude. Notwithstanding, institutional education’s measure of intelligence sets a bad precedent. In Finding Your Element, author Ken Robinson argues that many schools make students learn through texts and place little to no value in alternative modes of teaching, such as abstract and visual learning. Hence, individual curiosity and creativity is supressed in a one-size-fits-all measure of intelligence, whereby mistakes are punished, and we are discouraged from exploring challenging situations. As a consequence, we avoid mistakes and become less creative, abandoning innate talents while believing we lack aptitude and will never be able to compete.

My high school years mirror this context – my parents opted for a sea change and I was uprooted from a peaceful life in the suburbs and dropped into an all-boys rural school setting that was akin to ‘Lord of the Flies’, whereby differences were shamed, and life became a ‘survival of the fittest’ contest. I was a curious and creative kid, excelling in non-academic subjects like art and music and failed dismally at math and science. In fact, I crashed and burned the ‘veggie maths’ exam so badly my math teacher scorned me, stating that my life would amount to nothing of significance.

Not surprisingly, the stress of my high school experience resulted in terrible grades and belief that I was of average intelligence. So, at sixteen years of age, I surrendered my university dream and dropped out of high school to pursue an apprenticeship. Truth be told, I was mad at the world but relieved to have escaped such a toxic environment to forge my own path. In hindsight, I spent more time at school self-protecting than actual learning. Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. A decade later I enrolled as a mature age student at Swinburne University, where I was later awarded a high distinction for completing one of the most competitive interactive multimedia degrees in Australia, discovering innate flair for design, algorithms and complex math, and my passion for behavioural sciences, which changed my life.

We are never too old to discover our passions. In fact, there are countless stories of people ‘coming into their own’ later in life. Hollywood composer, Hans Zimmer, is a great example. The legend with “no musical technique and no formal education” who bombed at school yet excelled when he started to learn music by understanding it visually. Zimmer ‘sees’ music as repeated patterns despite no teacher having ever taught it to him this way. As the saying goes, there are many paths leading to Rome.

When I think about my passions and how these translate into my work with teams, a few distinctive things stand out. I am obsessed about interpersonal dynamics and how people are ‘wired’, and the ‘X-factor’ linked to my passion is the ability to identify and resolve unconscious barriers that undermine performance.

What are you passionate about?

With the right environment and support anyone can realise their potential. Importantly, don’t assume that you aren’t intelligent because you didn’t grasp a subject at school, or because someone told you so. Take time to discover what lights you up. Challenge your comfort zones. Consider when time ‘stands still’ or when you ‘lose yourself’ in a situation – what are you doing? It’s usually a good sign that it’s something you are truly passionate about. You are never too old to explore new social and physical contexts and master new skills. Immerse yourself in situations that expand your thinking and help you grow. The more unfamiliar contexts you explore, the more likely you are to discover your true essence – hidden personality traits and abilities that align with your passions.

Until next time...