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reclaiming your passion with Shilbee Dhalla-Kim

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These days it's easy to feel like we're not passionate about our work. Very often we get into the sector because we are passionate about changing the world. And then something happens over time and we lose that passion. And now we layer over COVID and isolation (and now a new global conflict) and all the other things, and that passion feels like a very distant memory.

In today’s episode, Shilbee Dhalla-Kim, Passion and Social Enterprise Coach, talks about how we can reignite the fire within us and find balance in doing our passion without burning out.

Myths that Shilbee wants us to walk away from:

  • Passion is always a good thing: When there’s only one thing that makes us feel good and we give all our energy to it but less energy to other important aspects of our life, this kind of passion becomes obsessive and not harmonious.

  • Passion is always about your profession: Very often we determine our worth based on our job. And then what happens is our passion for our job becomes the only thing that we identify as a passion. And then we don't find worthiness and meaning and value for other elements of our lives, where passions can also exist.

Shilbee’s thoughts around Passion

  • Harmonious vs Obsessive: To recover from passion burnout, you need to identify which of the passions in your life currently, or passions that you had before, may have lost their essence. Which of these passions would you describe as harmonious? Or obsessive?

  • Practice detaching our identity to the passions: Attachment of our identity to passion can prevent us from seeing other things that we might be passionate about. When our passion is so linked to our identity, it can create fear and prevent us from doing something new or different. We must be mindful of how our realities and beliefs might come up to prevent us from exploring other things that we are passionate about.

  • Embodied values We need to identify what are those values that will help us stay anchored and grounded towards this better world. Passion can be one of our access points to help clarify our embodied values. We need to ask ourselves, what's the value that I'm willing to fight for?

Favourite Quotes from Today’s Episode

Post your favorite quote on social media to share with us!

“So we determine our worth based on our job. And then what happens is our passion for our job becomes the only thing that we identify as a passion. And then we don't find worthiness and meaning and value for other elements of our lives, where passions also can exist, like me drinking this tea and drinking it mindfully and enjoying this to me, activates passions. But I think we don't give ourselves permission or that time and space or the language to call it that.“

“ We need to shift those values in order to create systems and structures and policies and laws and cultures and relations that can ensure that all of us can not only survive but thrive. And so, what are those values that will help us stay anchored and grounded towards this better world? I believe passion can be one of our access points to help clarify our embodied values.”

Resources from this Episode

Shilbee Kim Instagram

The Good Partnership


Cindy W.: So these days, it's easy to feel like we're not super passionate about our work. I feel like people are run down and tired. And very often we get into the sector because we are passionate about changing the world. And then something happens over time and we lose that passion. And now we layer over COVID and isolation and all the other things, and it feels like a very distant memory.

And. What I want for you listeners is to spark that passion again. And so that is what we're going to be talking about on the podcast.

I'm your host, Cindy Wagman. And you're listening to the small non-profit podcast where we bring you practical and down to earth. On how to get more done for your smaller organization because you are going to change the world and we're here to help.

Today's guest is Shilbee Dala Kim, and Shilbee is a Passion coach, which is fantastic. And she spent 10 years of her professional life working around racial justice, or I guess at the intersection of race, racial justice, economic development, and social enterprise. And over the last little while has been doing passion coaching, which I think is so necessary. I've known she'll be for a while and I know her wisdom will be very well, very welcome to all of you. So with that, it's such a pleasure to welcome you Shilbee to the podcast.

Shilbee K.: Thank you so much for having me here.

Cindy W.: I'm so excited for this conversation because I do feel like we get into this work because we want to change the world. We want to have an impact. We want to do good things and we think of that as passion, but then it burns out and I don't even know if that's really what passion is, and then we need to figure out how to find real passion and show up as a whole, to our work in our lives.

I want to start with your story, and how you came to do this work, having worked in the sector and built a very, from what I've seen, very intentional life and balance and existence where you are creating intentionally, all the things that bring you joy and let you up.

Shilbee K.: Sure. I'll start with my personal story and situated in my immigrant settler experience. So coming to Canada when I was eight years old, there was nothing more that I wanted than providing financial security for my family. They sacrificed a lot. We moved here. There was a lot of uprooting and trying to stabilize ourselves. And so financial security was a key metric of success for me, and for us, and as I was navigating education and the privilege of going to university and trying to explore and experiment with what I might want to do in life, I kept gravitating towards classes and extracurriculars where some would ask, how are you going to make money doing that?

And then we'll do is coming home from university. And there was a group of people standing outside hanging out. And one of them yelled something across the street directed at me. And I'm not going to say it, but it was something racist about my Asian-ness. And typically, I've heard this time and time again, and I usually shrug it off and walk away, but something came over me that day. Something got lit and I was very insecure, very shy had a hard time speaking up in class, but at that moment, something came over me and I walked straight up to this individual, looking at them in the eyes. And I said you cannot say that, what you're saying is racist.

And I still remember when I said that. And then I turned around and I was walking away from this group and I could hear them laughing. I could still hear them mocking me. And it was both humiliating and also invigorating because at that moment I remembered my power. And a group of friends, Olivia Lynch, Vanessa Okafu Shazia Abji, and myself, Co-created a fashion show called synesthesia and synesthesia's objective was to use art fashion music to create an experience where we can challenge stereotypes that exist. The largest continent in the world, Asia, and these stereotypes are often rooted in ignorance biases, and also it is racist.

And through that experience for myself, I was able to transform my rage into a passion for change. And what was incredible was that I got to experience and see the power of passion. You asked what is the definition of passion, right? And there are multiple definitions. If you look at psychology, if you look at philosophy, if you look at neuroscience, there are multiple ways of describing passion.

And so when I looked at my ancestry, I'm Korean, South Korean. The word passion is Yul Jung and how that translates to English is Yul means heat and Jung means love. So it's the alchemy of heat and love that results in action. And that is what I experienced that day. There was love for myself and love for my community, that alchemize with heat that made me move from being stuck, being silent, to speaking up and standing up for myself.

And what's amazing about passion is that there was a group of people with shared passions around this initiative that came together and we also saw the power and the magic of what happens when there are shared passions. This show allowed people to express themselves for some of us like me to heal for some of us to find a different path in our careers. For some of us, we fall in love, It's that experience that I forever hold onto like an anchor. And for the last 10 plus years, I've been looking for experimenting with trying out to see how can I ensure that I'm using passion as a design principle in my decisions or, projects that I collaborate with values that I'm looking for in partnerships and teamwork.

As well as romantic decisions, and you know what I must say, I've learned a lot, passion is not an absolute thing either. There are nuances to it. Which I would like to talk about at some point. And I have seen its potency. So I have become a student of building a practice around passion so that people can activate that for the kind of change that they're seeking.

Cindy W.: I think you, in some way, just described the sort of origin story of every non-profit, especially the small ones, which is who we're talking to, most of our work grows out of that place. And I absolutely love that heat combined with love to move towards action is very much what sparks movements and organizations and our work.

And I'd love to dive into some of those nuances around, it is not linear, right? It's not, and it's probably not constant. So now let's talk a little bit about how we can cultivate passion especially as, as we, I don't want to say as we get older but as we are in this work for a longer period of time whereas we are in relationships, you mentioned romantic relationships. I think everyone experiences that to where that starts to fade over time. So how do we bring back passion where that initial action. starts to fade into the back of our minds.

Shilbee K.: Often I use the metaphor fire to talk about this because, in many myths and cultures and also ancient traditions, we liken passion to fire and so if we think about a fire starting and fire building, there are some interesting metaphors that we can use as a way to discuss this topic. So to your point, right now many people are burned out. Many people are burned out. And that's also thinking about the language burning, right? So the question I have there is using that matter as a metaphor for burnout.

What parts of your life are burnt out? Let's get specific, right. And what do you need for burnout care? And that will look different for everybody. What do you need for burnout care? And that speaks to you, but also your team and then looking at, okay where are the embers? The ones that are still flickering, the ones where there are still some dimmed passions. And then how do you fan that flame?

So when we're thinking about fire, certainly there's the oxygen that's required. You blow into it, but it also can't be too strong. It has to be just the right amount for the embers to pick up heat. Also, it requires fuel, right? What fuels do you need? So for some its logs, I'm using that as an example tinder,

so what fuel will help you get that Ember to grow? And then finally, a question I ask is which of these passions in your life currently, or passions that you had before that may have lost their essence, which of these passions would you describe as harmonious? Or obsessive. So this is a key distinction that Robert J Vallerand speaks about.

He does a lot of research on passions and harmonious passions are ones that are in harmony with other aspects of your life. So let's say I'm passionate about my work. I'm passionate about the cause that I get to work on through my work. And it is in harmony with other aspects of my life because I come home and I feel fulfilled. It helps me in my relationships with friends and family members, cause I show up more happy and filled, et cetera, et cetera. So it's harmony and some passions can be obsessive. And one caveat I want to add there is that the same passions that I just described as harmonious can also sometimes turn obsessive and vice versa.

It's not mutually exclusive necessarily. So let's say at some point my passion and that caused become obsessive. It's the only thing I do is the only thing I talk about. It's the only thing I put energy towards. See the only thing that makes me feel good. And that can become obsessive. And what that means is it's no longer harmonious with other aspects of your life.

I'm burnt out. When I come home, I give a lot of my energy to the cause, but then with my children, less energy. So becomes not harmonious and could be obsessive. And so thinking about that as again, this thing, this practice around looking at passions through a nuanced lens, through discernment for us to identify which of these passions do you want to fan the flame of which of these passions actually, do you not want to.

Wow, that is such a great distinction. And I feel like we've all seen that, we can probably look at ourselves and look at the people around us and have seen those passions go from harmonious to obsessive and back at various points. And. I w I want to come back to that around how to contain the obsessive or move it towards harmonious.

But before we do that, I want to talk a little bit about the oxygen and the fuel and moving from first, a point of burnout where we have categorized to too little space or too little capacity for passion. And then later we can talk about when it becomes obsessive and it takes up too much space. So we have we, how do we even identify?

I feel like when we get to a point of burnout or social isolation, which a lot of people have been experiencing over the past couple of years, we can't, we have to identify, what that priority passion is, and it can change over time. So it might not be what it was. Do you have any questions we can ask ourselves or exercises to help us think about this is our passion priority right now.

Yeah, I think that the first consideration can potentially help open up possibilities. And the ways we think about passion is one to practice detaching our identity to the passions first and this is something also where we learn and research passion will uncover is that often our passions are attached to our sense of identity and vice versa. It's. It's self-reinforcing right. My identity as an Asian woman and my lived experience has meant that I'm passionate about this, cause, and then my passion for this cause is reinforcing my identity as an activist. And it's powerful. It's amazing. And it's something for me with that example I love claiming.

And when we and research also show that for some people. When they monetize their passion or their passion becomes their profession. They actually, the fire dims, not for everyone, but for some, and then for others, it can fade we change, context changes. We're complex beings and so it can change.

And that's also absolutely normal for some folks. And then for others, it's what I use the metaphor of the fire starting and fire growing is that we have to maintain it.

And so what are the different tools to maintain? And so back to your question about, with the consideration of detaching our sense of identity, because that attachment can actually prevent us from being able to see passions that maybe exist on the periphery or maybe completely differently on a completely different path. And sometimes that idea that we might be passionate about something else can feel scary, and again, research shows that many folks are risk-averse and change adverse. And especially given the pandemic for me personally, there's nothing more than stability right now.

And that can feel, and that can be scary to be able to ask ourselves what is it that maybe, I'm passionate about because it might actually lead us to something else completely different. And then our fears of what will people think, or that means I need to change. And that means I have to my ch I might have to make decisions that will create ruptures and disruption.

So those types of realities and beliefs might come up to prevent us from actually being able to explore that question. Be mindful of how those two things can happen. And then the third thing I would say is what do you need in order, to be honest with yourself? What do you need in order, to be honest with yourself?

Because we live in a society where being honest is very difficult and for political reasons too, in certain power dynamics, it's hard to be honest because we get penalized gas lit seen as a nuisance or as a disruptor. And so it's very hard, to be honest. And so what do you need in order for you, to be honest with yourself is actually the starting question that I use with people that I work with and then creating that container for you. And that again will look different for people. And it will also include things like boundaries.

Cindy W.: Yes. I love that. So we start to get honest, we start to identify what that passion is for us right now, where we want to go with the passion or build it or, I think your piece around the connection between identity and passion is so astute. Like we, this is big. This requires us to really question a lot of things we take for granted about ourselves. And so we have that container. We create that space to be open to it. But as you said, change is not easy, right? For people. How do we start to, and sometimes I think, especially these days, people are looking at bigger changes in their lives and around their passion than potentially they have before because whether it's the great resignation or all these things are happening where people are like, I'm done. I'm not settling anymore. And so how do we continue to either hold space in that container? Or is it we burst the container? How do we move forward with that change? For ourselves. These are two questions, but I also think that it has an impact on the people around us because we probably start to see ourselves differently. Our identity will start to change and that also affects our relationships. So I don't know. That's like a huge question. I don't know where you are to start with it, but yeah, what have you, how do we move forward?

Shilbee K.: For me given in North America, there are many organizations' systems ways of being that are being challenged right now, to your point. Great resignation is an example of that manifestation. It's very turbulent and disorienting. And as we're thinking about and building towards a better world, better society, better city, a better community, a better town, better relations.

For me, that anchor, the anchor that will help me stay grounded as we're in this turbulence, disoriented, but also trying to still build, cause that's going to be our way out is through values and I'm not talking, intellectual values that are universal. And when I say intellectual, what we've been taught and intellectualized as aspirations, I'm talking about embodied values within emotional charge and, humans are storytellers, right?

And so we put meaning to things and we put value to things and the systems that are crumbling right now that are challenged right now are the values that we have put the meaning that we have put on things that have become skewed, where we put more supremacy, more values on being a man being a white class, ableism like those things, those are our values.

And we need to shift those values in order to create systems and structures and policies and laws and cultures and relations that can ensure that all of us can not only survive but thrive. And what are those values that will help us stay anchored and grounded towards this better world? And, I believe passion can be one of our access points to help clarify our embodied values.

So even the story of me walking up, feeling emboldened to speak up, what is that? What is it about that moment that my passion was teaching me? What is it that, that what's the value that I'm willing to fight for?

Cindy W.: Yeah. And that, that brings us right back to what you said earlier around, the action piece of passion, right? That is, is it truly a w the way you describe embodied values to me is really very much about behavior and action and how we move through the world and not just what we think. And I think that insight is very, important in how we change as human beings as well because we can intellectualize and think about things all we want, but the only way we change our story and our place in the world is by behavior and doing things differently.

So I think that's a really amazing place to think about how you can move forward with your passion. Let's talk a little bit about that, obsessive, we talked about moving forward and starting and finding that space again, but what happens, I think that a lot of people are also experiencing I've never thought about this before, but. As much as we're experiencing burnout, I absolutely see this extremism which I would S would say is that obsessive passion. And so how do we also navigate that? And I would say grounding ourselves or coming away from that extremism?

Shilbee K.: Yeah. So I think for some of the obsessive passions and the ways that they manifest, as I mentioned to you sometimes often passion is attached to our sense of identities and there is an ego element to that, and our egos can attach to said passions. And, one of the ways that it becomes a form of stubbornness or unwillingness to hear different perspectives comes from ego inflation that thinks that your passion and the ways of being as the only way.

And that is something that I think can be checked if we don't attach such primacy to one passion.

Again we're multifaceted, as people, as humans, we're constantly changing. And so getting a touch to one passion can mean that, we don't allow our other multiple multiplicities to also shine. And an example of that is I think within capitalism, we have, again, put more meaning and value and worth on certain types of professions as your sense of identity.

So we determine our worth based on our job. And then what happens is our passion for our job becomes the only thing that we identify as a passion. And then we don't find worthiness and meaning and value for other elements of our lives, where passions also can exist, like me drinking this tea and drinking it mindfully and enjoying this to me, activates passions. But I think we don't give ourselves permission or that time and space or the language to call it that. And that's because we have, capitalism has co-opted passion to think that it's mostly an only about work

Cindy W.: That I love, I want to jump off that point because I ran out of time, but I feel like that piece around let's call, I don't want to call it micro passion, but the finding passion. The small things in life. I think it's something we all need to cultivate and that you've done a really good job personally doing. So now let's wrap the conversation or spend a little time thinking about or sharing how we can build a habit of experiencing passion. Not just in the work identity areas, but in the things that bring us joy that ground us throughout our day mindfulness, tea, whatever it is, how do we cultivate that?

Shilbee K.: I love creating passion rituals. What are the things that bring you heat that alchemizes with love? And so in your day, maybe there are certain kinds of music that activate that for you, maybe it's tea, maybe it's writing, maybe it's some kind of texture. So thinking through different senses that you have available to you and to experiment with. Okay, what do my senses? And what does that touch or that texture or that smell evoke and allowing yourself to be mindful and be really present with that activation because, to your point, passion can also bring pleasure?

And I want to read this quote that Adrian Marie Brown says on pleasure activism because this is what passion work is rooted in. Pleasure activism is the work we do to reclaim our whole happy and satisfiable selves from the impacts, delusions, and limitations of oppression and or supremacy, pleasure activism asserts that we all need and deserve pleasure and that our social structures must reflect this in this moment, we must prioritize the pleasure of those most impacted by oppression. Pleasure activists, seek to understand and learn from the politics and power dynamics inside of everything that makes us feel good. This includes sex on the erotic, drugs, fashion, humor, passion work, connection, reading, cooking, and, or eating music and other arts and so much more. And passion work is a part of this movement.

Cindy W.: I love that. And as you read that, it actually reminded me of something that Otto said to me, so for those listening this is a very distinct memory I have of we were. So adults, your partner, a friend of mine as well, who's been on the podcast and I ran into him at a music festival a number of years ago.

And we were talking and somehow it came up and he was like, what would your kids do in this moment? Like how would they experience it? Cause I, at this point in my life, I feel like we have these sort of constraints or, expectations around experiencing joy and experiencing fun. And that really switched something in my brain in terms of can I see the world through their eyes. And can I show up with that means able to experience joy in all these different areas anyways, as you spoke, it really triggered that memory for me. So thanks for that.

Shilbee K.: Yeah, I think it's very important that we. Find ways to experience and continue to experience joy because, and this is what Adrian Murray talks about with pleasure. Activism is that pleasure is, will help sustain us and our movement, yeah, and I had, oh my gosh. I'm such a reminder of that this week with Christina Yuna Lee where her murder over the weekend meant that the work and the catalyst from 10 years ago, and the continued work around anti-Asian racism is still a stubborn issue today. Things have changed. This is becoming a bigger movement, which brings me hope and, we need pleasure to sustain ourselves. Otherwise, we will burn out.

Cindy W.: I think that's such an important reminder because yeah, as much as this almost ties everything together, because as much as we built movements and build activism, and I see that showing up for all of us in really unprecedented ways, we're also seeing the extreme or the counter-pressure or people holding onto old ways. And it is a long, it's a lifetime of work. And to sustain it, as you said, we need to find joy. We need to find balance. We need to infuse passion into our movements and by movements. Like activist movements and our work and everyone in the nonprofit sector is doing this work to some degree.

I really thank you for sharing this. I think it's what we all need right now. Shilbee where can our listeners connect with you?

Shilbee K.:My website, she'll be. S H I L B for Bob EE.COM and my Instagram, which is Shilbee Kim.

Cindy W.: Awesome.

Shilbee K.: I need to change my last name at some point. They'll dedicate that we'll have one day.

Cindy W. : Thank you again. I think this is it's that fuel that everyone needs right now to keep going and to rebuild intentionally, we've talked about that before on the podcast. And now is a time where we can be really intentional about our decisions and our actions. And I think finding or creating that passion and joy into our work and into our lives is going to get us through the long haul.

So thank you so much. And of course, to our listeners, thank you for tuning in. We'll see you next week.

Folks, that's it for today's episode of the small non-profit I'm your host, Cindy Wagman. And this show is brought to you by the good partnership. As a reminder, if you want more resources around raising more money for your small nonprofit. Visit the good and download our free fundraising strategy guide. I'll see you next week.