Passion Vs. Willingness, Or What Forrest Guth Never Said From The Foxhole

by Marcus Brotherton on August 2, 2013 · 44 comments

in A Man's Life


“Do what you love, and love what you do.”

How many times have you heard that — or a variation of it?

The principle abounds in leadership teaching. To be a truly successful leader, you need to discover your passion and operate only from that grid. Spend your days doing what you’re most interested in. Discover your passion and thrive doing what you do best.

The principle is true if passion is defined as an overall sense of purpose.

But the principle becomes problematic if passion is defined as only aiming for life’s sweet spot.

I don’t know about you, but there have been plenty of times I’ve been called to lead where I’m not doing what I love, and I’m not loving what I’m doing. I’ve been exhausted, frustrated, burned out, angry, or discouraged. I’ve needed to lead from duty, responsibility, willpower, or necessity.

Enter a simple principle, one that’s so powerful it trumps the narrower definition of passion. When you lead from this principle, you’re not worried about having bad days, getting your needs met, or always loving what you’re doing.

The principle is willingness.

Forrest Guth in 2008 (1921-2009)

Forrest Guth (1921-2009) and Marcus at the 2008 Easy Co reunion.

Forrest Guth, one of the original Band of Brothers, embodied this principle after jumping into Holland for Operation Market Garden. Seconds out of the plane, he discovered to his horror that his parachute hadn’t fully inflated. Guth streamed through the sky, flailing. The men had jumped too low to open reserve chutes. Desperately, Guth tried to smooth out his silk. No success.

Guth thudded into the dirt and was knocked out cold. When he came to, his back and leg were paralyzed. Medics hauled him to a cattle barn where he lay for two days until the line moved up. They put him in a jeep, carted him to the rear, and put him on a plane to a hospital in England.

Guth was bedridden for weeks. Gradually, some feeling returned to his leg and back. But his fighting days were over. Doctors gave him the wonderful news that his injuries were sufficient to be discharged from the military. His wounds were his golden ticket home.


That was Guth’s place of passion. Home meant apple pie and girlfriends, hot food, clean sheets, and Glen Miller on the radio.

Guth could hop the next plane for America.

But—get this—Guth said no.

Of his own volition, he limped out of the hospital to rejoin his unit, just as they were heading into Bastogne, one of the coldest, bloodiest, and most miserable battles of history.


“I couldn’t leave my friends,” Guth said. “There was more work to be done.”

Some might argue that the battle, not home, was Guth’s true place of passion. He was passionate about serving his buddies in their greatest time of need.

I’ll agree with that.

But—and here’s the core of the point I want to make—when Guth was huddled in a foxhole with his feet frostbitten, his stomach growling, the water in his canteen frozen, and artillery shells exploding all around him blowing his friends to bits, did Guth ever smile and say, “Y’know, I just love this place, and love what I’m doing here?”

No way.


If we define passion as always loving what we’re doing, then we need to broaden our definition of passion, because success in leadership is certainly not about feeling good all the time.

Another leader, St. Paul of Tarsus, put it this way: “Be leaders, not because you must, but because you’re willing.”

That’s what’s needed.


When the battle isn’t over, willingness gets things done.

Have you ever been in a place you needed to be, yet it was still difficult? What did you do to go on?


Marcus Brotherton is a regular contributor to the Art of Manliness. This post originally appeared on Men Who Lead Well, at:


{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dave August 2, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Great article. I totally agree. I am currently leading a project that is not going well. There have been a few problems, it is behind schedule, and my supervisor is questioning my abilities. I definitely want to be done with the project. It’s not over however, and I have chosen to push on and not give up.

2 terrence popp August 2, 2013 at 11:15 pm

Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back. an old greek philosopher said this.

3 Steve August 3, 2013 at 12:28 am

Excellent article, Mr. Brotherton. As always, we can all learn from and look up to guys like SGT Guth. I can’t say I’ve been tested so much in this regard, but when I was deployed I ran into guys that had been over there for a year or more already and had their tours extended, and the way they simply kept going without a falter was pretty inspiring. I hope to be as strong when I need to!

4 DJ August 3, 2013 at 12:58 am

On several occasions I’ve had to take politically unpopular positions. And on almost every occasion I was the lone dissenter. It’s a bad feeling to know going in that you won’t win, you can’t win, and you’re going to take crap for what you say. But you go up there and do it anyway. No, I didn’t love it when it happened. I was passionate, but the “love” wasn’t there. In the end I’m proud that I stuck to my principles.

5 André August 3, 2013 at 2:07 am

If you’re more interested in how the soldiers function in a group and why he did what he did. Read Jack Beldens – The American Soldier or if you can’t be arsed do to that and what to read the short version just buy the book War written by Sebastian Junger and read the last part of it called the third book, love.

6 Eddie August 3, 2013 at 4:22 am

I just wrote a blog post called “When You Love What You Do” and it’s underlying point was just what you’re saying here. Loving what you do is nice and all, but work is still work and whether you love it or not, it needs to get done and sometimes it sucks…a lot. Willingness is awesome, it’s an angle that I hadn’t thought of. Thanks.

7 Cristian August 3, 2013 at 4:43 am

I think you mean St Peter :)

Otherwise, great points, life and especially leadership is not about being comfy all the time, but about following your compass, that is where joy and satisfaction come from

8 Connor August 3, 2013 at 4:47 am

I just wanted to pop in and say I really enjoy reading these types of posts. They are things that deep down I know & I think most of us are hardwired to know, but just haven’t put them to words yet.
This one specifically. I can think of countless times in which I know my job is what I truly love to do, but it is not easy. That’s 100% where willpower kicks in. If only willpower didn’t run out. That’s when its good to have my friends who know me and will encourage me to keep fighting & pushing toward my goal.
Love getting the email saying a new post is available. Keep it up!

9 Theodor L August 3, 2013 at 4:57 am

I agree. I’m in a small film production group. We make short films and we switch roles from every production. For a couple of weeks ago we shot our second short film, and this time I was the director. I’m not used to being in charge and it was quite tiresome. Though, I wanted a good movie. The only way to get one was for me to direct my team mates, since I knew what I wanted from the film. It was a worthwhile experience, but I know that I will hand over the directing to someone else in the future.

10 Greg August 3, 2013 at 5:24 am

Best piece I have read on leadership (and followership) in some time. Actually, one of the best pieces on outright manliness.

Fatherhood relies on this principle.

11 Mr Bill August 3, 2013 at 7:42 am

Most times, great things get done from people who step up and do what needs to be done. No pictures, no lights, no 15 minutes of fame, just the final product… which is remembered by ones higher up than yourself, and you will be picked again to lead. Sometimes that way of willingness to get the job done actually brings out the leader in you and you find that you are good at it. Then you excel at it, then it becomes your passion to be the best. May be a bit backwards thinking to find your passion only after the willingness to do the dirty work, but sometimes it works that way.

12 alcoholichamster August 3, 2013 at 10:26 am

That was awesome!

KEEP PUSHING BROTHERS! there are tons of things that need to be done :)

13 Steve August 3, 2013 at 10:27 am

Good article.

Question: do you have a reference or source for St. Paul’s quote?

14 Mike Martel August 3, 2013 at 11:03 am

Well, I agree and disagree. I agree that willingness is tremendously important. The willingness to do the right thing, to pick the hard right over the easy wrong.
Where I disagree is that I bet if you really ask Sgt. Guth whether he loved being with his brothers he would say yes. I can say this because of my service in the military as a Green Beret. The time we spent with our SF brothers was extremely important to us. Isn’t that really passion – fighting for and with those you feel are the most important in the world? Apple pie and girlfriends, hot food, clean sheets, and Glen Miller on the radio were all great things, but not what you go out into battle for.

15 J Davis August 3, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Wow. That was incredible! Let’s have some more of these!

Thank you for sharing this.

16 Michael Lupia August 3, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Excellent post. My life’s passion has always been music, and that is an area where I’ve been missing the mark in terms of discipline. Your points tie in with one of Brett’s early articles on “hustle”. I need to be able to step away from that desire to “love” every minute of what I’m doing, and push through those feelings that hold me back. I think it also ties into Teddy Roosevelt’s “Citizen in a Republic” speech. If you are willing to keep at it, amidst failure, doubt, and some degree of suffering, you’ll eventually reach that measure of success you were looking for. At that point, you can wear your struggles like a badge of honor.

17 Berkeley Andrus August 3, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Thank you so much for this article! Passion is something I have frequently ran short on, and it has isolated me at times from my friends who cared more about our mutual interests than I did. Willingness, however, is something I can embrace and utilize. I’m glad to know that it will suffice!

18 Randall August 3, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Mike, I think the author makes the same point:

“Some might argue that the battle, not home, was Guth’s true place of passion. He was passionate about serving his buddies in their greatest time of need.

I’ll agree with that.”

But then he says:

“But—and here’s the core of the point I want to make—when Guth was huddled in a foxhole with his feet frostbitten, his stomach growling, the water in his canteen frozen, and artillery shells exploding all around him blowing his friends to bits, did Guth ever smile and say, “Y’know, I just love this place, and love what I’m doing here?””

I think that’s the big point. That even when you’re passionate about something that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be comfortable or fun. You can be passionate about something but have it be really hard and difficult.An important message to be sure.

19 Josh August 3, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Came across this article at a perfect time in my life. Took on my first tough job out of college, and I’m afraid it’s going to be much harder than I anticipated. I’ve been having second thoughts.

“If we define passion as always loving what we’re doing, then we need to broaden our definition of passion, because success in leadership is certainly not about feeling good all the time.”

That’s some advice i will not soon forget.

20 John Waldron August 3, 2013 at 1:53 pm

FWIW, check out The Fool Lieutenant, the story of Bob Edlin. He refused to have Steven Ambrose write his story due to no $ being paid, and ended up having a smaller publisher write his life story. After capturing a German Fort with a handful of other guys, Lt. Edlin REFUSED the MOH in the hospital and returned to his unit. This is AFTER surviving the Beachhead at Normandy and many other battles. He was a friend of my family in Corpus Christi. Check it out on Waldron

21 John Waldron August 3, 2013 at 1:59 pm

If any of your readers get a chance, check out Lt. Commander John Charles Waldron, , VT-8 and the Battle of Midway. Becoming separated from the fighters and dive bombers from the Yorktown, Enterprice and Hornet, my Great Uncle John disobeyed orders and found the Jap Fleet. Attacking with obsolete Devestator Torpedo Bombers and Mk 15 torpedos, all were killed by 80 or so Zeros with only Ensign George Gay from Houston, Texas surviving .Of course, Dauntless Dive Bombers came in afterwards and sunk 3 carriers outright. The USN awarded my great uncle the Navy Cross instead of the MOH, but he did the RIGHT THING and paid the price. Midway was truly a series of flukes that just happened to occur in our favor!-John Doey Waldron-IC2-USN-1989-1994-Desert Storm/Shield.

22 Edward August 3, 2013 at 2:03 pm

“Have you ever been in a place you needed to be, yet it was still difficult? What did you do to go on?”

I think this is the crux of the article. Great me rise against great adversity, but what becomes of great men without it, what do they rise to?

23 Carol August 3, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Enjoyed this, thank you for sharing. It certainly made me rethink the definition of passion which in turn makes me think differently about a lot of other things. Love your site. I visit often. First time commenter.

24 Richard White August 3, 2013 at 7:32 pm

I’m not so sure that “willingness” is the best way to describe Guth’s actions. I think the Army itself nails it with “duty”. A moral obligation brought Guth back to the battlefield. Willingness seems to connote an enthusiasm that is exactly what is missing when you do something out of obligation instead of passion.

25 Andrew August 3, 2013 at 8:21 pm

“Be Leaders, not because you must, but because you are willing” That friends, is a great quote

26 Jeremiah August 3, 2013 at 8:29 pm

I really love that you put paul in at the end.
Talk about an example of a leader and a guy who went threw it. Maybe not always loving his situation but still happy striving towards the goal. Awesome post guys, thanks, needed to hear

27 carl August 3, 2013 at 8:53 pm

As musician(drummer) I play a lot of great gigs and a lot of not so great gigs. When I’m not excited about the music, I turn every song into an exercise in concentration. I’ll try and make every snare drum hit sound exactly the same or every bass drum hit the same volume or really focus on what the singer is singing about. This way I always walk away with some gain in my chosen profession.

28 Doug August 3, 2013 at 9:11 pm

You know, I struggled a lot with passion recently regarding what I wanted to do for my major, and eventually, my career. I finally made a switch and am following a path I love, but I know that not every day will be easy, nor will I always enjoy what I’m doing. But your perspective of “passion” brings a very interesting perspective that I had never utilized before, and it is one that I will definitely use in the future. Thanks!

29 Rohit Ramachandran August 3, 2013 at 10:49 pm

I think i get what you’re saying. But I think he was feeling guilty, for getting lucky. And that he wasn’t going to take advantage of it, it has to do with feeling less masculine. To escape emasculation, he decided to stick it out.

30 Ted Vailas August 4, 2013 at 5:51 am

This is great. It’s so much more practical to apply this to real life. Impossible to always love what you’re doing when life throws challenges your day. Sometimes, you only have one clear option and it just needs to get done. Thanks!

31 Carlos August 4, 2013 at 6:11 am

(“Great me rise against great adversity, but what becomes of great men without it, what do they rise to?” The presidency, maybe?)

Great article, Marcus! (Despite the Biblical misquote. (C:)

32 kammes August 4, 2013 at 9:43 am

“Have you ever been in a place you needed to be, yet it was still difficult? What did you do to go on?”

The best words to describe what I feel in those situations are submission and commitment – not submission to the environment or social forces around me, but to the inner self, the thing that drives, strives to find purpose and fight for it. As soon as I feel I don’t have a choice but to do a thing that I know will be uncomfortable, I stop complaining or worrying about the events to come. Instead, I allow myself to not like it physically or emotionally but commit to the tasks at hand and focus all I am capable of towards getting through with it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Sometimes it’s just starting within the difficult situation that is the difficult part and somewhere in the middle, fun or passion is found within some aspect of the tasks performed. Whatever the process is like, at the end, there is always a “I am proud I stuck with it, faced a challenge to uphold my standards and purpose, and pushed ahead” feeling.

Anticipating that ‘at the end’ feeling -where I know I will be proud or content with myself after an ordeal if I put myself through the trials to get there- fuels a resolve to face meaningful challenges.

33 Marcus Brotherton August 4, 2013 at 4:13 pm

@ Cristian. You are correct about the attribution. My mistake. Thanks for catching. –MB

34 Josh August 5, 2013 at 2:14 am

This was perfect! My story that I want to share with regards to this idea is this: I’m a cook, and just recently I had a dinner service that I, frankly, just didn’t want to do. I was nervous, and intimidated by my chef and the fact that there were only two of us and it would be busy. In the heat of the moment, it was a hell hole; hot, full of burns, spitting oil, sweat, barking orders. In the moment, I didn’t love what I was doing, but I had a DUTY to fulfill. I HAD to be there, and had to trust that things would end; 10 o clock WOULD arrive, and the restaurant would close. Sure enough, of course, it did. The service was over, we cleaned everything up, and walked out the door. The message from this article is so relatable for me, because in so many areas of my life (and this one in particular) I’m called to do/complete things, and occassionally I don’t LOVE what I’m doing, but I do have a willingness to do whatever I’m called to. And, love it or not, that willingness has provided me opportunities that I wouldn’t have gotten without it. Thanks for writing this article, it really made me feel better about what I am doing; sometimes what you’re doing isn’t what you love, and you don’t have a passion for it, but you will feel much more accomplished and fulfilled (and get more done) if you always have a willingness to carry out your actions. Awesome article, thank you!

35 Wil Bryan August 5, 2013 at 10:00 am

What did you do to go on?
I remind myself the only thing more important than how we choose to begin something is how we finish it. Then I take another step.

36 Derek August 5, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I can totally understand where this is coming from. I spent several years in the Army, and no one in their right mind thought going to Iraq sounded like fun. But I don’t know a single guy in my company that wanted to get out of it. We had a job to do and I and may others are the better for having done it.

37 Jack August 5, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Great article, great comments.

Willingness can be a challenge, especially if we are accustomed to instant gratification.

When I’m in a difficult situation, I always focus my attention on my breath. Yogic breathing, tactical breathing. Aside from the calming effects of conscious oxygen intake, breath is always happening in the now, and the present moment is the only time we have any real power – the power to choose. And we often forget that from this place, we can choose our outlook, our attitude about any situation to be one that serves us.

So, when shit gets real… I breathe manually, and reassume my presence.

38 Brandon August 6, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Something I have always said is “If you can’t love what you do – love how you do it.”
Few of us grew up hoping to one day be sitting in a cubicle hacking away at keyboards but that is where many of us will end up. Good luck finding passion there. Loving you you do something you aren’t necessarily passionate about is sort of like finding the silver lining and making the best out of a less than ideal situation. That can be done by finding pride in your work or even something as simple as building a group of friends at work who take the edge off of coming in each day.

39 Marc L August 8, 2013 at 2:58 pm

I think most times, a real man’s leadership and strength are shown not by doing what makes them feel good or look good and is easy, but by doing what nobody else wants to do because it is difficult.

40 Mike Liu August 9, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Everything that we say or do is not perfect, because we can only see a situation from our one point of view, which is based on our own bias, our own experiences. From where I stand, I agree with you that we can’t just be giving it 110% when we’re passionate about something. However, I would say (once again this is only from my biased point of view) that what propelled Guth to go back to Bastogne was also a sense of being a part of something bigger then himself, of knowing that his band of brothers cared about him. This sense of willing to die for your foxhole buddy is the heart of camaraderie.

41 Arlin Pauler August 12, 2013 at 1:13 am

The theme I read between the lines, in both the post and comments, is the power of Love as cathexes drives our willingness to overcome and follow through.

42 Hugh August 13, 2013 at 1:15 am

Really incredible story and good insight into a good leader. Willingness is so essential.

43 Reid August 17, 2013 at 10:38 pm

I feel honored to have been part of that tradition; The Screaming Eagles. Knowing the history behind the 101st Airborne Divison and the profound effect that their actions had during World War II still gives me shivers. The Band of Brothers were the embodiment of what it meant to be a man, and what it meant to be truly fight alongside your Battle through thick and thin. I must admit that I earned my Wings before the Army went soft so it was nice to read about a man who was part of the original reason I joined the Army. Not to jump out of planes. Not to shoot weapons. Not to kill the bad guy – but to fight for something bigger than myself. Bigger than anything I have ever known. But when you get to the meat-and-potatoes of it all – the Army can really put you into some bad situations and it’s during those moments in which you realize that you may hate what you’re doing but you do it none-the-less because of the love you have for those back home and those to the right and left of you. To this new generation let’s hope the Art of Manliness doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. Until this year I had never seen a Private with his eyebrows threaded. Here’s to hoping. Now if you’ll excuse me I have a Rendez-Vous with Destiny. Sua Sponte boys.

44 BartS August 21, 2013 at 5:48 am

Too often we think of our passions as the things we enjoy. They are the things we’re willing to suffer for. The root of “passion” is the Latin “pati”, or to suffer (think the Passion of the Christ). Thank God for all of our service men and women willing to suffer for their comrades and our freedoms.

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