Avoiding the “Wizard of Oz” Syndrome

by: Lawrence M. Watkins

Last weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to go home to Louisville and attend the Kentucky Derby. Growing up, I was not allowed to participate in many of the Derby festivities. My father was a Major with the Louisville Metro Police Department and was often over security for the city’s Derby festivities. Because of this task, he was subjected to a lot of foolishness through the years during Derby in order to serve and protect the city’s patrons. Therefore, he insulated me from most of the damaging behavior that comes with having an extra 200,000 people in the Louisville metro area of only 700,000 residents. This year was only my second “true” Derby experience and it was completely different from the Derby with which my father was familiar. I was excited to get the weekend rolling!

As I boarded my plane from Ithaca, NY all I could think about was how much fun I was going to have at all of the VIP events and all of the interesting people I was going to meet. Thanks to an awesome friend, my girlfriend, Kandice, and I were given some box seats to the Derby and tickets to all of the VIP galas. I was afforded the opportunity to spend hours with some of the top entertainers, athletes, and business moguls in the nation. I quickly became disappointed, however, as I transitioned from dreaming about talking to ‘Deity XYZ’ to actually speaking to him in person.

After exchanging small talk for a few minutes, I asked each person one simple question, “What are you passionate about?” My goal was to attain deeper insight on what made them successful. After proposing the question, each individual looked at me for a moment with a perplexed expression. After a much anticipated silence, most of individuals said, “Wow . . . No one has ever asked me that before.” As people answered this question for me throughout the evening, I slowly became saddened and disappointed by their responses. I was shocked by the amount of times I heard “making money”, “ballin’”, and “I have no idea” as simple responses to the question asked of them. I then asked myself a vital question . . . Is there really anything more to life than fast cars, chartered jets, and high class sporting events?

On the other side of the spectrum were the people from Kentucky who came to the Derby events to stargaze and take pictures with celebrities. For example, there was a lady, the wife of a multi-millionaire, who was having a conversation with Kandice about how she was ecstatic to meet all of the great celebrities. The lady then pointed out the fact “Famous Man X” was right behind Kandice and if she turned around at that moment, she would be able to meet him. Kandice told the lady she would be fine without meeting him at that very moment and she was sure they would eventually meet sometime throughout the weekend. The lady was definitely confused by that comment.

The Wizard of Oz Syndrome

The entire Derby weekend was like being in the movie The Wizard of Oz. You had Dorothy and her crew searching for an additional attribute thought to make them a better person as they say to themselves “If only I had a brain, a heart, or courage, then I, too, would be a success.” They ventured on down the yellow brick road in hopes to find the great Wizard of Oz. By the end of the movie, they found out that the Great Wizard was a fake and each person had the characteristics of greatness in them all along!

The Derby was similar. Many of the locals felt by mingling with famous people, they too would become successful, even though they already possessed the formula of success already found within them. Incidentally, many of the celebrities appeared successful on the surface but were struggling with the same core insecurities as the rest of the world.

The Importance of Passion

It is vitally important that we do not become fooled by the illusions of success that are fueled by lazy thinking. In business, there is a term called local optima. This is when a company maximizes one small part of a large system at the detriment of total system productivity. What the company usually optimizes is the part of the system that investors observe to determine its total viability. This has long term negative effects and can cause a company to implode over time because they are tricking themselves into believing in a false sense of success.

The local optima companies face on a large scale is similar to the type that individuals face daily. We attempt to optimize money and notoriety at the expense of our friends, our community, and our values. Many people make money the end goal not realizing that it is just a tool to attain happiness and fulfillment. The end goal should be for individuals to find and act upon their passions to make sure that they have a fulfilled LIFE and not only a full bank account.

At some level we all hunger for meaning in our lives. Having passion and a great purpose can uplift you mentally and physically every day. You should not be here just to make a living, but you should also strive to make a difference in the world. When people have a greater purpose for their lives beyond money, they do not feel obligated to perform. They WANT to perform because that is what they love. Knowing my own passion and purpose was the key for me when I made the decision to forgo corporate America and start my own company. Being in tune with your passions makes it easier to make tough life decisions.

How to Find Your Passion

I wish I could say I was one of those people who knew what I was called to do since I was a young child, but that would be a lie. I did not know that I was passionate about entrepreneurship until my sophomore year in high school when my biology teacher allowed me to mass produce and sell the teacher-authorized cheat sheets for our examinations. It took me another 7 years to move from just knowing my passion to acting upon it.

Learning one’s true passion is a self-discovery process full of intense thinking. The best way I have found for a person to discover their passions is to answer the following questions.

What are you good at and what energizes you? Why? – A person’s passion is often in alignment with what they are naturally good at. Humans want to be successful and are attracted to activities that allow them to excel.

What are you discontent about in the world? Why? – This is part of your bigger purpose in life. Your passions should not be things in which you are the sole benefactor. It’s hard to think about the bigger picture sometimes because we can feel insignificant and feel that the larger problems are not within our social influence. We fail to realize the power we possess inside of us to change the status quo. Get out of that habit now!

What do you want for your life? Why? – Think about the things that truly make you happy. Here, the “why” question is just as important as what you want. People often talk about how they want to be millionaires, but what they really want is to be able to experience the lives that millionaires have. This realization can only become clear after you ask yourself why money is important. Do this for all aspects of your life.

What do you really care about? Why? List the things that are most important to you in a no-holds-barred fashion. Anything that you can think of should go here.

Once you have answered these questions, see what common themes appear in your thoughts. I cannot stress enough the importance of asking the question “why” to all of these questions. This is the deeper meaning and true insight into what you are truly passionate about.

Acting Upon Your Passion

Knowing your passions is not enough. You have to have the courage to act upon them. To move from knowing to doing, you need to do be determined. Going against the grain of the rest of the world can be a lonely position to be in. Many people lose their direction in life because they are easily distracted and influenced by other people instead of being true to themselves. Do not let this be you.


People should start aiming to have a wealthy life and not just a wealthy bank account. I am not saying that money is not important. I am saying that money should only be a tool to accomplish something greater in life. Inferiority can creep into our lives if we judge people on outward possessions and appearances. We can feel like we do not measure up because there is not a black BMW in our driveway. It is time for us to change the measurements of success to things that are more valuable in order to progress to true happiness.

It is important that we do not underestimate our own potential and overestimate the abilities of others. Doing so will cause feelings of self-worthlessness and unhappiness. Remember what the movie The Wizard of Oz taught us about life. If we search for a brain, a heart, and courage for ourselves within others, the end result will be disappointment. We all have amazing potential within us longing to be released. If you learn how to use your brain to determine your strengths, to use your heart to show compassion for the others, and to have the courage to follow your dreams, then you, too, will be and can be an unstoppable force for change!

Published in: on May 13, 2009 at 3:36 am  Comments (10)  

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  6. It is quite unfortunate that you had such a terrible time with us disillusioned, ignorant black folk in Louisville. Believe it or not, some of us here do have a passion. Mine is higher education. Perhaps you should have increased your survey size before you decided to put Louisville on blast. Yes, Derby is the one time of year when celebs come and kick in the Ville. Yes, we get excited about it. After the Derby affairs are over we go back to business. Some of us are disillusioned and other are still trying to figure out there passion but many of us in our careers we are highly passionate about. I think it is fair to say we aren’t very different from people across country in that respect. My question for you is do you go to other states and survey everyone at celebrity events or was this just an experiment for Louisvillians to determine if we are ignorant? Just remember where you came from no matter where you currently reside.

  7. I’m passionate about Black children getting a good educstion. I’m more empowered by Obama becoming President. Without his education he would not be where he is.

  8. I don’t sense guerilla attack on folk in L’ville, but more a sadness with the spirit-numbing bling addiction which has defined the nation for centuries. Now that black folk are finally able to step up to the table, too many (no, not all) of us are worshipping at the altar of Bling and Materialism and ignoring our spirituality, our connection with each other and with the Great Mystery.
    But, having said that, we must also consider the venue. Derby Day is not a spiritual convocation, nor is it a measure of who we are. It is a one day event, celebrating horse racing–something humans have done for centuries. And,while the ostenacious, conspicuous, and consumers on steroids are out in full force, let the thing be what it is.
    Not everything we do is going to be dedicated to a Higher Power (unfortunatelY), BUT that does not mean we should hold our nose and pretend that everybody else “ain’t right”. Whenever and where ever humans meet, there are going to be some folk parading around like demented peacocks (yes, even, and sometimes especially in church). Our task is to enjoy the God-given moment, to make the world–or, at least the space we are occuping at the time, a better place, and to appreciate the fellowship of good friends, family.

  9. Hello Mr. Watkins just like you I was just as excited to get to Louisville as a child. We would drive from Indianaplois, IND to join in the festivities. We have family in Louisville. It has always been my dream to help people. I started out in emergency medicine did that for a while. Then went into social worke I did that for 7 years. By doing social work I went in the field of HIV/AIDS because I had a family member to contract the virus and became homeless. Living on the streets with nowhere to go. I decide to open a home for homeless HIV/AIDS clients. I have been doing that for 6 years now. I love what I do helping people and I am passionate about it. It can get tring sometimes, but that is what God put us here for is to help people.
    ” The least of these you do unto me”. I can’t beleive when I reach out for help from the community that I am in I get so little help from them. It is so much work to be done and not enough willing people.It is like you said LIFE should not be about how full your bank account is but how do you fill about your LIFE. Giving back in some type of way. this is what keeps me going every day mentally and physically that I can make a difference in someone’s life. Thank you for letting me share a little of my everyday life.
    Barbara Hoosier
    X-Tending Hands, Inc.

  10. In the world of motivation and motivators, there is too much emphasis placed on passion and not enough on purpose.

    A marriage, or business relationship, that begins in passion must settle into purpose or it will eventually dissolve. Love will only take a marriage so far. Unless the couple actively engage in a mission or purpose the marriage will dissolve. This is why couples that were married 25 years divorce after the children leave. They were too busy majoring in the minors that they forgot to design a purpose for the marriage after the children were gone.

    People can really like you at work but if you have not settled into purpose and are not producing when it comes time to downsize, you will be fired because purpose always trumps passion. If you are not actively contributing to advance company’s purpose, you will be let go regardless of your passion for them, their passion for you, or your passion for what you were hired to do.

    The measure is productivity but the key will always be how productive one is relative to purpose.

    Blacks are always behind in being hired and first in line for being fired because we always lock in on false trends and often too late to benefit from them.

    Look at the back of the employment application of any fortune 500 corporation and you will find indicators in the questions that they are seeking purpose rather than passion.

    Blacks are taught to go into job interviews displaying passion (all body no brain) when the employer is looking for how they will contribute to purpose; how they will increase productivity. Then we wonder why we did not get hired. It is because we chose passion over purpose.

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