“Everybody has a calling, and your real job in life is to figure out what that is and get about the business of doing it. […] Because that is what a calling is. It lights you up and it lets you know that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.” – Oprah Winfrey
As adults, we spend roughly one-third of our life at work, and we spend more waking hours at work than doing anything else. And yet, in The United States, it is reported that over 70% of people hate their jobs, 85% of people are emotionally disconnected from their jobs, and 90% of people find work as a source of frustration more often than fulfillment. These are scary statistics that point towards an epidemic of stress, unhappiness, and other potential psychological problems.
Is more money the answer?
No, over the last 70 years, the U.S. standard of living has more than tripled. However, life satisfaction has remained the same. This income-happiness paradox has been proven in both developed and non-developed countries. Although we have more money, more stuff, and lots of gadgets that make life easier, we aren’t any happier.
A study conducted in the U.K., people who received a 10% pay raise were initially happier but returned to the same happiness level within a couple of years. Other studies have shown that income increases create small amounts of happiness initially. However, these increases are small compared to happiness increases or decreases in other life events such as marriage, divorce, death, health issues, etc.
An industrial psychologist by the name of Herzberg studied the effects of financial compensation (money) on people’s happiness. He found that money was not a satisfier but a dissatisfier meaning that the lack of money made people unhappy, but more money did not make people happier. I’m not suggesting that it’s not important to pursue a career that pays well, or that you shouldn’t or ask for the raise you deserve. Just understand that money itself will not bring happiness or fulfillment.
Developing Passion At-a-Glance
- More money does not bring more happiness or passion. However, having a passion for your work can increase your income over time.
- It doesn’t matter whether you find a job that fits you now or a job that you can grow into enjoying. You can find meaning and passion either way.
- Going it alone can work for some types of people. For some, it is permanent and for others, it can be temporary. If you believe that you cannot find meaning and passion working in somebody else’s company, then perhaps you need to pursue self-employment or start your own company.
- Making sure your work matches your self-authenticity is the most important factor in developing passion. The work you are doing must feel like it is an appropriate expression of your true self. Ask yourself, “How can I bring my true self into this job I am performing?”
- Your work environment (people, culture, surroundings) has a major impact on your work happiness. You can change what you focus on (positive vs. negative), use photos, posters, and quotes to make your immediate work environment more positive, change your role within your current company, or change companies.
- Keep perspective on how your current job fits into your overall career. Is this a short-term or long-term position? What will you learn to avoid in the future? What do you like most that you want to do more of in the future? What valuable skills and experience can you gain from this?
- Working with the right company is more important than taking the right job. The right company will have a mission you agree with and leaders who embody that mission. You will be able to find meaning and passion in any role if you work for a company whose mission you believe in. However, if you are working in the perfect job at a company that’s not a good fit for you, sooner or later the situation will sour.
- It is natural that a portion of your identity is based on what you do. When you are good at what you do and proud of your work, it becomes part of your identity. However, make sure that your identity is balanced with other important areas of life. Greater life balance will actually give more meaning to your work, not less.
- Work passion should feel harmonious, and not obsessive. Harmonious work passion is when you want to work and feel meaning in the work. Obsessive work passion is when you feel an internal pressure to work usually driven by fear or false identity.
- You can either find passion in the work you are doing now or find other work that you can be passionate about. In either case, find passion in what you do because it brings meaning to life.
Job Fit or Growth
We spend the majority of our time between 20 and 65 working at a career. Is it more important to find a career that fits your personality, skills, and talent? Or is it just as good to find a career that you can grow into? Research shows that those who have a good fit start out feeling more passionate about their work. However, within a few years, those who held a growth or developmental attitude were just as passionate.
For example, you were recently offered a well-paying position at a reputable company where you are responsible for managing insurance contracts. This is not exactly a strong fit with your business finance degree, but you like the company and the pay is good, so you take the job. Within 18 months, you find that you are quite proficient at managing these contracts. In addition, you get to meet with company executives on a regular basis. While you are not passionate about insurance contracts per se, you do find meaning in the work of protecting the company and develop a passion for helping your company succeed.
Going it Alone
Should you create your own niche? Are you cut out to be an entrepreneur or someone who works alone? While it may sound attractive to work
from home in your pajamas, it takes strong self-discipline to maintain a focus on business. Even for introverts, it can be challenging to not be around other people most of the day. Most experts agree that if you want to work alone or start your own company, don’t quit your job right away. Start your business at home working nights and weekends to get it off the ground. Once you think you are ready to make the switch, make sure you have savings to live off of for a while. Plan on it taking twice as long to be profitable as what you might initially think. Don’t forget the cost of healthcare, self-employment taxes, and lack of 401k matching. These benefits are typically worth about 30% of your current salary.
If your plan is to freelance or consult from home, make sure to establish social and professional networks that will give you the social interaction you are used to. Working from home can be lonely which can affect the quality of your work. Being self-employed or starting your own business is also not free from stress. You are exchanging one set of stressors for another. Make sure you have properly considered all the pros and cons before jumping into your own business. The good news is, if it doesn’t work out, you can always look for a job. In fact, the connections you make while self-employed may land you a better job in the future.
Work and Self-Authenticity
In the Regrets of Dying, Bronnie Ware found that one of the top 5 life regrets was that people didn’t have the courage to live their lives authentically. Authenticity can be described in many ways such as being yourself, pursuing what matters most, and not living by other people’s standards. When authenticity is applied to work, it means doing something you are good at and finding meaning in what you do.
If you are unhappy at work, decide if you are unhappy with the actual work or with the people or company you work for. If you are a business owner and are unhappy, ask yourself if this is the company you envisioned. Boil it down to its very essence of what you like to do, what things energize you, and what things give you a sense of accomplishment. Being more authentic can be as simple as looking for ways to do more of what you love, and less of what you don’t enjoy. This can be delegating or outsourcing certain tasks or possibly taking on a new role.
Change Your Attitude or Change Your Environment
If you generally like the type of work you are doing but dislike your work environment, you have three options. The first is to shift your thoughts from focusing on what you don’t like to things you do like. What we focus our attention on increases, so focusing on the problems at work only makes them bigger.
Second, change your work environment. If you are located near negative people, ask to be relocated. Look for another department or location
where you can do similar work. Fill your workspace with photos and quotes that are positive reminders. Changing your environment can change the way you think, so make your environment as positive as possible.
The last way is to pursue another job. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side so make sure you really believe you cannot find meaning and passion at your current company. Changing jobs is a drastic measure and requires time and effort to make happen. You may feel trapped at the moment, but that is only because you have not started exploring options.
You don’t owe it to your company or boss to stay in a position you dislike. You only owe it to yourself to live life on your own terms which are with authenticity.
Growth or Transition Jobs
Your current job may not be the ideal job for you long-term. However, it is the job you have now, so make the best of it. If you view your current job as a growth experience, you will enjoy it more and get more out of it. With each job, no matter how menial, frustrating, or low-paying, something of value can be learned.
For example, when I worked in the construction trades, I discovered that I could do the physical labor but couldn’t imagine doing it for the rest of my life. Later when I worked in operations at a telecommunications company, I discovered that I enjoyed the people and the technology but didn’t enjoy the 24×7 responsibility for keeping things running. Later when I was a self-employed consultant, I found that I enjoyed the work and the customers but didn’t like the financial instability and working alone. With each job and
career role, I discovered more of what I liked, what I was good at, and what I could find meaning and passion in doing.
Finding Meaning in Your Work
If you are not currently passionate about your work, how can you make it more meaningful? Every job has meaning, and every job helps other
people in some way. The janitor, the coffee barista, the busboy, the construction worker, and the trash man all do meaningful work. There is always
meaning in the work we do otherwise the job would not exist. It’s just a matter of what meaning we assign to the job. The meaning we assign to our work
determines our feelings, and our feelings determine our passion. The search for passion begins with the search for meaning in your work.
Here’s a story that demonstrates how to find meaning in work. There once was three bricklayers that were working together on a construction site. The first bricklayer was asked what he was doing. He replied in a nonchalant manner, “I put down the mortar, and then I lay the brick.” The second bricklayer was asked what he was
doing. He responded with great pride, “I am building this beautifully straight and secure wall.” Finally, the third bricklayer was asked what he was doing. He shouted
with enthusiasm, “I am building a cathedral!” While all three bricklayers were doing the same work, the first was doing a task, the second was performing his craft, and the third was creating a legacy.
Meaningful Work Always Helps Others
Our work is how we earn a living to take care of ourselves and our families. But is that all there is to it? Every business adds value to its customers, or it would not be in business. Every job provides value to a company otherwise it wouldn’t exist. The trick to finding meaning in work is to look beyond the task.
What value does your work provide to your company? What value does your company provide others? What value do your customers provide to their customers? Meaning can be found where people provide value. Your job may be a small piece of a large value chain. To find greater meaning, look at the bigger value chain. Follow the chain until it reaches somebody whose life is made better. We can always find meaning in our work by looking at who we help.
For example, a coffee barista is typically not a high paying job with lots of career potential. However, the job does offer the opportunity to improve people’s lives. Instead of taking orders, making coffee, and running the register, the barista has the opportunity to make each customer’s day a little brighter. Most coffee is served in the morning when people are still a little groggy or grumpy. The barista can just serve coffee or find meaning in making people’s day a little better by greeting them by name, giving them coffee just the way they like it, and asking how they are doing. The task is serving coffee. The meaning is found in making people’s day a little brighter with a friendly interaction and the perfect cup of coffee.
The Right Company vs The Right Job
If you are self-employed, you can ignore this. If you work for a company, then consider this. It is more important to work for the right company than it is to have the right job. The right job will always sour over time if it is not in a good company. However, if you work for a good company, you will be able to hold several positions that will offer you growth and meaning. Liking and trusting the people you work with is far more important than the tasks you are doing.
Find a company that has a mission you believe in and leaders who embody that mission every day. When you find that company, find a way to get any job you are qualified for. Once you are employed, you can create opportunities to pursue other positions and learn new skills.
Work as a Form of Identity
Your career identity is defined as how you see yourself at work. Often times, we categorize our identity by our job title or by describing what we do. When we meet someone new, we often ask, “What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do for a living?” Understanding your career identity is important. However, what’s more important is that you understand the place of your career identity as part of your overall identity. Remember, work is what you do, not who you are. Keeping that distinction can help keep career identity and personal identity in perspective.
It is healthy to be ambitious and want to achieve more. However, it is unhealthy to define your identity entirely by your career. If you have worked in the workforce for any length of time, you have probably met someone whose career identity is out of balance. Their entire identity seems to revolve around work. They generally work long
hours, are interested or involved in company politics, and frequently talk about their career path. The key sign of an unbalanced identity is that they are very defensive if their position or competency is challenged. Finding a healthy balance of personal and career identity is the path to lasting success and happiness.
Harmonious vs. Obsessive Work Passion
Work passion is defined as a strong desire towards work-related activities that people enjoy and invest their time and energy in. Psychologists believe that work passion can be harmonious (healthy) or obsessive (unhealthy). The type of work passion that develops is based on how one’s career identity is formed. When we freely and willingly pursue work, we are more likely to develop harmonious work passion. When we feel pressured to pursue work, we are more likely to create an obsessive passion.
Studies suggest that, although people’s work passion makes a contribution to their work, the resulting consequences vary. Harmonious passion generally promotes happiness and well-being resulting in positive work outcomes. Obsessive passion, on the other hand, causes a negative outlook and rigid persistence. Harmonious work passion is generally associated with a balanced personal versus career identity. The bottom line is to pursue your work with passion but keep it harmonious and balanced with the rest of your life.
Again, referring to the work of Bronnie Ware in the Regrets of the Dying, no one lying on their deathbed regretted not having worked more or making more money. All of
these people had jobs and careers that they spent the majority of their adult waking hours doing. And yet, their biggest regrets were around relationships and living authentically.
You can find work that you are passionate about, or you can become passionate about the work you are doing. In either case, do passionate work. It is one of the keys to living authentically and having a meaningful life.
- Are you currently doing the work you want to be doing?
- What type of work energizes you or gives you a strong sense of accomplishment?
- How is that work related to helping other people? How does it add value to others?
- How can you do more of that work?
- Do you like your current work environment?
- If not, what would you change?
- What steps can you take immediately to improve your work environment? What long-term steps will you take?
- How much of your self-identity is absorbed by your work?
- What other elements form your identity (spouse, family, friends, community, spiritual, hobbies, other interests)?
Success Skill Summary:
Successful people are passionate about what they do and finding passion in your work is important. Careers that pay well can be rewarding, but more money does not create lasting happiness. Happiness comes from finding meaning in work and performing it with passion. And, the more passionate we are about our work, the more successful we will become.
There is meaning in any job; it is simply a matter of perspective. Tasks only take on meaning when we look at who is helped by what we do. Are you the barista who serves coffee or brightens their customers’ day? Are you the bricklayer or the cathedral builder? Passion is found in the perspective.
Working for the right company is usually better than having the perfect job. You can find passion by being part of the bigger purpose your company serves. If you enjoy being your own boss and are willing to take the risks, self-employment or starting a company may be your path.
We form a career identity based on what we do, how well we do it, and the pride we take in doing it. A strong career identity is healthy but should not overshadow our overall personal identity. Our passion for work should be harmonious with the rest of our life. It should not be an obsessive, internal pressure to constantly work.
Being authentic means doing work you love. If you don’t love your work, then ask, “How can I change my life so that I can do what I love and support myself?” You only have one chance at life. So, find what you love and do it.
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