Passion has become one of the most overused and misleading expressions in workspeak. It implies a degree of engagement which for most of us is unrealistic and is also often inappropriate.
But we can feel inadequate if we bring less than our whole hearts to our daily tasks, or dissatisfied because spreadsheets, databases and customer liaison don’t make our pulses race. Here’s how you can find the spark to light up your work.
What we really mean
The basic purpose of work is to earn a living. Making enough money to house, clothe, feed and nourish ourselves and our families is what gets us going, and we spend most of our time in pursuit of this.
Since work takes up most of our days and is essential to survival, it is great to do a job which you enjoy, or which is all right most of the time. You might get moments or short or extended periods when your experience at work is fantastic and stimulating and gives you a real buzz, and that’s terrific.
But there’s nothing wrong with settling for a reasonable level of contentment and relishing the moments of work-enhancing pleasure and satisfaction, should you get them.
Find what makes you buzz
Identify the work activities and situations that you enjoy. Think about a recent day, or a week, and jot down the moments when you felt pretty OK, or more, about what you were doing. You could try a scale of 1 to 10, and home in on times when you were feeling at least a six.
You might go for things such as:
Working by myself on a project
Finishing a task in time
Helping a client or customer
Chatting to colleagues
A lively meeting
Having people listen to me
Having a proposal or idea accepted
Getting good results
Meeting a target
Improving or developing something
Seeing an idea put into practice
Solving a logistical problem
Solving a problem to do with people
Don’t worry if these moments aren’t connected with the nuts and bolts of what you do.
You might like your journey to work, the bike ride or walk, or the drive, or the commute which enables you to catch up on some reading or do some serious Sudoku or celeb magazine research. You might like the view from your desk. Your day might be brightened by a little exchange of pleasantries with the guy who runs the coffee or sandwich counter.
Find what kills the buzz
Do the same exercise, noting those activities which are below a 6 on your scale — the things that you really don’t like about what you do. Use the previous suggestions to get you going.
You can consolidate your ideas with this simple exercise.
Choose any of your examples, and ask yourself:
How would I feel if I never did that (taught a class/worked out figures/fixed things/had a laugh/led a project etc) again?
If your heart sinks at the thought, you are recognising what really makes you tick.
Look behind job titles
Job titles, especially those that need to be translated, require a little deconstruction to see how much you would like a job. Even generic terms like ‘teacher’ don’t mean the same things for everyone.
Different age groups, subject matter, degrees of responsibility and autonomy, conditions of work can make a difference between overall enjoyment and overall dissatisfaction.
You might assume that a word such as ‘co-ordinator’ means you will be working with people, only to discover that most of your time is spent drawing up schedules and you hardly talk to anyone all day.
Involvement, commitment, engagement, fun, satisfaction, success – these are some of the enjoyable and fulfilling aspects of work.
Passion is something else again, to be experienced in other ways and in other contexts. Don’t give your whole heart to the nine-to-five. You need it elsewhere as well.