Do You Have Passion For Your Work?

Recently I was meeting with an executive who I thought was doing an excellent job.  His company was flourishing and he appeared to have very few personnel problems.  He said that his closest employee confidants, however, told him they saw something quite different.  While I listened to his recital of the concerns of the compassionate workers, I began to realize that the successes in the business have taken a toll on the leader.  The exhausted leader had been slowly losing his enthusiasm and passion for his work. 

he employees were not complaining, the profits were going up, and the company was ready to grow again.  It was not what seemed to obviously be going well that was the problem, it was the executive’s loss of interest, his apparent boredom, the guilt of compromising family time, personal time, values, and (on one occasion) slipping into the ever-so-avoided pitfall of sacrificing his own strong ethics, in order to get a small increase in (temporary) profits. What was happening?  Why was this happening?  What could be done?

Those individuals, who could see the changes in the executive, tried numerous subtle strategies to alter the course of the plummeting morale of their leader.  They all liked this man. They greatly appreciated his thoughtfulness when their concerns were affecting the work they were doing.  The attempts to encourage and support this beloved man were all seemingly ineffective.  Nothing was noticeably making a difference.  What was wrong?

The Problem
As in many of us, this executive was losing the passion for his work.  Something was missing in his life. 
We all experience ups and downs in our careers.  But when the excitement and passion, for the work we do, begins to slip away, it is time for a re-assessment of what is driving us. What gave us the fire, spirit and satisfaction that once spring-boarded us into our successful careers. 

The need to reawaken the passion for the important things in your life is critical.  What was once the up-lifting enjoyment in what we did before was now becoming the bourdon of routine and the energy drain in every day. 

When we arrive at a critical point in our life, or when something happens to shake up our personal world, we begin to get a new perspective on our life.  The creative imagination and thrill of implementing new innovations into our business world seems less important.  Of course, some of this happens as we reach a significant age crisis, or the realization that we are not where we expected to be at this point in our life.  But this also happens when we have reached a successful time in our career, and began to realize we need something more.  What is it?  Often it is difficult to not only allow ourselves to think about this, but very frightening when we actually start getting an idea of what we might really need or want.

Recently Richard Boyatzis, Annie McKee, and Daniel Goleman, published an article for the Harvard Business Review, addressing the issue of reawaking a passion for work (and life).  These authors point out the negative effects of “feeling trapped”, “being bored”, “not being the person you want to be”.  They suggest that “many people confuse achieving day-to-day business goals with performing truly satisfying work” (HBR, 2002). 

The need to know what you want, and where you are going with your life and career, must be addressed, or (as with the executive identified above) you will slowly deteriorate into something, or someone, you do not want to be.

The Solution
Though no guaranteed solution exists, and every solution is different for everyone, the core principles of how to start your search, involves taking the time to reflect on; 1) What you have done; 2) What is important to you; 3) Who is important to you; 4) What risks you are willing to take at this time; 5) Conceptualizing the possible future you could expect; 6) Doing something to get moving.
1) What you have done?  This step requires writing down your past accomplishments.  This must be completed in two steps.  The first step is identifying the progressive achievements that contributed to your upward movement toward the position you have at this time.  The second is assigning a value to each achievement.  (For example, on a 1 – 7 scale, where 7 is the most satisfying and 1 was not rewarding at all, you place a number next to each, that represents its value to you)  It is important to not only look at status, power, material gains, etc. that have been part of your successes, but more importantly the satisfaction, meaning, and growth each accomplishment provided you. 

2) What is important to you?  This involves reviewing the primary components of the accomplishments you have had, by reflecting on the accomplishments that had a value of 5, 6, or 7.  These gave you the most fulfillments.  Look at the common themes.  Did they give you security, new contacts (friends), adventure, new creative challenges? 

3) Who is important to you?  Possibly some of the employees you work with give you encouragement, stimulate new ideas, and push you to do or be more.  The people in our personal lives perhaps have praised and loved us so much we could be free to do the things we needed to do to get where we are now.  How do you treat them?  Is the passion for work affected by the distancing from them?  Do you include them in your important decisions?  Who gets the time?  Why?  Who can you not afford to lose in your life?

4) What are the risks you are willing to take at this time?  Assessing the demands on you and your family, financially, emotionally, with respect to time, etc., all must be considered in order to realistically evaluate what you can do at this stage of your career (and life).  What are the important things in my life that I have not done?  Look for ways to do them, not for excuses.  We can do more things in our lives that will increase our passionFor most of us, the excitement in one part of our life carries over to other parts of our life, like revitalizing energy for work.  Have you tried some of the innovative ideas you have always had for your job.  Why not?  What is holding you back?  Go to others and solicit support.  Do the little and big things that your risk tolerance can bear.  Confront the people and situations that hold you back.  Like all successful businesses, personal change and growth is continually needed for health and vitality.  If you don’t take the risks now, when will you?  Or will you ever take the risks?  There is never a time when you can’t take some risks, as small or as big as they may be.

5) Conceptualizing the possible future you could expect.  Vision is critical.  You must be able to foresee the possibilities.  The old adage “nothing ventured, nothing gained” reminds us that we must first “see the moon, believe we can get there, have a sense of the vitality and excitement it can give us, and have an idea of what will be like. Then we will take the steps to venture into the unknown, working on getting there. If you get started on something, you can prevent much of the worry about what could go wrong. If you DO SOMETHING NOW, and correct the mistakes, or make the adjustments to “real” problems as you move ahead, versus attempting to solve all the problems before you even know what they are going to be, you will give yourself the passion and the rewards.  Can you see what changes in your work (or life) will give you the spirit and passion you desire?

6) Doing something to get moving.  As indicated above.  The way to invigorate ourselves with the passion for work is knowing what we want, and not waiting for tomorrow to start working on getting it.  Stop just thinking and dreaming, stop wishing and wanting, stop letting others (or yourself) talk you out of it, JUST DO IT!  No matter what it is that you do, keep the focus on the positives, the progress, and the dream. Always face the direction you are going, (striving for what gave you the success and enjoyment in the past), but never turning around to look back.  It is WHERE YOU ARE GOING TODAY that matters. 

Getting the passion back in your work (and life) is very possible.  There are five choices.

  1. Do nothing (it is the safest but least rewarding)
  2. Change the nature of what you do, or how you do your work now, in your present position (this can be very rewarding). Think of new ways to do old things, better.
  3. Change the position, do something different, for the company you are with now (this can have great rewards, but includes greater risks).
  4. Go somewhere else and try something that you always wanted to do (this involves the greatest risks but could provide the greatest passion).
  5. Change other areas of your life to add missing elements to your life.  Go places, do new things, take time to enjoy things you have always promised yourself you would get to if you only had the time and money, meditate, enjoy family and friends more, or maybe just take more time for yourself to slow down and smell the roses.

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