Finding Passion, Purpose and Value in the Work You Do

Only 30 percent of American employees feel engaged or inspired at their jobs and the vast majority of U.S. workers — 70 percent — are not reaching their full potential, a Gallup study concluded.

Those who were “engaged” said they are passionate about their work and feel a connection to their company — they are responsible for the most innovation within their organization. Those who were “not engaged” act “checked out”; although they put time and effort into their work, they don’t have energy or passion.  While 30 percent said they were engaged, about half of Americans (52 percent) fall into the latter category.

Nelson Mandela Image Source
Nelson Mandela
Image Source

A local Dayton Ohio entrepreneur, Justin Bayer, founded Welcome to College, a company that helps students select and plan for college.  His business is based on the mantra of “finding Marv”: an acronym for Meaning, Accomplishment, Relationships, and Vitality.  He came to my attention as it was reported by Tristan Navera in the Dayton Business Journal that he was recently telling his story on the stage of TEDxDayton on November 15, 2013.  On that stage he said “Think of those times in your life where you enjoyed doing something so much, that time does not matter.  What was that? Your passion and the things that you love to do in life, don’t lose sight of that…because that is an essential piece of who you are.”

As evidenced by the quote above from the Gallup study on the American Workplace, Americans, more than those in any other developed country, have a hard time finding opportunities to do things that they love while at their jobs.  This is disturbing as we are spending more and more time at our jobs and away from family, home and our other interests.  But I also think young people have an unrealistic expectation that they will follow their passion to a dream “start-up” job that will turn into the next “Facebook.”  The feeling that if they hit a home run financially, they can then do what they love.

Cal Newport, who has written four books, the most recent, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, in a somewhat counter manner takes on Steve Jobs and what he calls the passion hypothesis: “The key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion.”  Newport suggests we have to work really hard and master skills in what we are pursuing, rather than pursue passion itself.  Both sides of the passion perspective seek to answer the same pressing question of: How do we find work that we’ll eventually love?

One of the great things about what we do as designers is that we get to explore and learn about many other businesses and occupations as we work with clients who are growing and expanding.  This affords us a view that many people do not get regarding all the varieties of experience available to people exploring career options.  When we are young, energized and idealistic, we want what we do to change the world.  We are moved by the home-run stories of the early successes of our exceptional contemporaries.  At the same time, we don’t always realize that we are honing our skills and finding tasks within our work that we are good at and that satisfy our curiosities.  Our own passions are being formed and realized, maybe for the first time.  These small successes take us to the next level in our career development.  And the burning desire to make a difference somewhere in the world drives us to pursue additional training or education, or take new positions of responsibility, based on our developing understanding of ourselves and our new found passions.  We soon find that the opportunities and dream jobs that we seek outside of our current circumstances have been carried within us the whole time.  This is when our purpose is discovered.  The key is to keep seeking, keep searching.

Passion, it turns out, is not the thing or things that we personally love doing; it is the cause or causes greater than ourselves that once known to us, will not leave us alone.  The thought that we want to do something, to make a contribution to improve upon the lives of others becomes the fuel and the motivation for us to better our skills and our circumstances.  The best advice I can give is that when you want to change the view from your current circumstance, change your own perspective first.  Joseph Campbell said “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”