“Follow your passion” is a popular prescription for achieving career success and personal fulfillment; and early in a career, it’s easy to do. There is so much to learn and every encounter is so new that even routine duties can seem flush with opportunity. Nothing’s mundane. Passion’s flame is fresh.
Over time, however, that flame can begin to fade. What was once new and unique can seem routine and boring. Cutting-edge management ideas and philosophies, viewed through the prism of experience, begin to echo yesterday’s warmed-over initiatives. Management fads come and go as quickly as the buzzwords that spawn them. You reach the point where you’ve seen and heard it all before, and may have trouble getting excited about seeing and doing it all again.
Passion fades as cynicism creeps in. If this describes you or someone you know and you or they want to reverse the trend, take heart. Below are five tips to rekindle your passion at work, and your passion for work.
1. Take responsibility for stoking your own fire. Passion is an internal phenomenon. It comes from the heart. Therefore, don’t expect anyone else to light the flame for you. It would be nice if your boss or company’s leadership occasionally ignited a spark through inspiring words or actions, but the ultimate responsibility is yours. Everyone has to find his or her own source for the flame.
2. To rekindle passion, try redefining it. Don’t rely on what motivated you earlier in your career you to motivate you now. You are a different person relative to when you first started out. You have different perspectives, skill sets and maybe a different value emphasis. For many, the value shift over time is from accumulation – of money, titles, and promotions – to contribution of time, energy and effort to others. Shift your focus accordingly and your passion will follow.
For example, one senior executive found her work had grown stale in the latter stages of her career. She decided to shift her focus from organizational excellence (which she continued to achieve with ease) to developing people, an area she had previously given short shrift. She decided that if even one person’s career or life was better for having worked for her, then she would have accomplished her goal. This change in focus revitalized her and reenergized her people and everyone won.
3. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If the thought of a change in venue for applying your skills and experience makes you uncomfortable, that’s good. Often, with new and untested territory comes renewed passion. Take the leap.
For example, perhaps it’s time to take your line business acumen and apply it to human resources, helping that function better align itself to business goals and objectives. Maybe you can offer yourself as a mentor to more junior colleagues. Maybe the expanse of global operations has created an opportunity for you to learn and contribute in a cultural framework different from your own. Outside of work, it may be time to teach at the local community college or volunteer your services and skills with a community organization that aligns with your values. Consciously choosing a new venue for applying your skills and accumulated wisdom can be a wonderful tool for relighting passion’s flame.
4. Focus on a cause larger than yourself. Reaching beyond yourself to help others, or taking on a cause greater than yourself, can be a powerful source for rekindling the flame. For example, on a recent flight I met a remarkable man. Twenty years ago, he was a successful CEO but he realized alcohol had begun to consume his life. He sought treatment, and in so doing, realized he needed to take his life in a totally different direction. He quit his highly visible job and started his own business, which has thrived. Outside of work, he began to dedicate his life to helping others overcome their addictions, too. He now serves as the volunteer CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab facility he and others built from the ground up in his hometown. He reports this volunteer activity as being the most rewarding work of his life.
5. Publicly declare your intention to find a new source for passion’s flame. Often, the first step to re-igniting passion is to publicly acknowledge your desire and willingness to find a new source for your passion at work. Several years ago, I shared with my wife (who is also my business partner) that I was becoming bored at work and was ready for a new professional challenge. I did not know what it would be, but by stating my intention publicly, the seed for change was planted. A year or so later, I had a chance encounter with a best-selling author that eventually led to a whole new career for me as a speaker and writer. Without planting the seed of change by sharing my intention with someone else, I doubt I would have recognized the opportunity this chance encounter provided. Often, the first step in making a change is acknowledging your desire and willingness to make a change happen, even if you are not sure what that change will look like in the end.
A Final Word
“Follow your passion”is good advice for achieving personal and professional fulfillment and success. The source for passion’s flame may very well shift over time and you have to shift with it. If you do, you will find that work within your career and beyond remains fresh and vital for as long as you chose to stay in the arena.
Dr. Gary Bradt is a corporate speaker, leadership consultant and the author of “The Ring in the Rubble: Dig Through Change and Find Your Next Golden Opportunity”(McGraw-Hill, 2007). More info is available at www.GaryBradt.com.