The Secret to Loving What You Do

  • July 9, 2015

    In my 30 plus years in business, I’ve noticed that people who achieve great success are often passionately engaged in what they do every day for a living. I’ve figured out that you can choose to be happy or unhappy at work, and there are steps you can take that will improve your professional life and your personal life, too.

    Fall in love with your work

    The word “job” simply means an activity in exchange for payment and reminds me of the sad Biblical character, Job. In contrast, “work” means exertion of efforts to accomplish something of value — that is much more inspiring! So, I’ve always tried to reframe what I do from a job to “my work,” and as I look across my career, I can truly see my life’s work. It’s very personal and valuable to me.

    From early on, my “work” was about learning and growing.  As a waitress, I learned how to strike up a conversation and connect with anyone. Entering my profession, I had technical skills to learn. When I later became a manager of people, I shaped the definition of my life’s work, which I began to  apply to everything I do. This is my personal mission statement: To help people and organizations reach their fullest potential.

    Figure out your gift

    Starting my career in a training program for commercial bankers, I absolutely hated accounting, but a  college professor saved me with his insight. He said I had excelled in political science and history because I was a gifted storyteller — I could draw from complex sources of information and create context. If I could shift my perspective and see the accounting rules and the numbers as part of a larger story, I would do fine.

    Finding the big picture, I became the person who had an instinct for underwriting that helped me advise clients and communicate well to the loan committees. Becoming a storyteller at work, I found my groove, eventually landing as a Chief Marketing Officer, which suits me well.

    We all have a gift, and there is a way to apply it at work. Maybe you are a negotiator who can solve conflicts, or an entertainer who can delight customers. Find your gift and pour it into what you do every day.

    The value of taking breaks

    In my mid-career, I made the mistake of thinking that because I was finding professional success, doing more at work would make things even better! I got caught up in the competition, worrying that if I took breaks I wouldn’t be seen as a serious candidate for the next promotion. In that process, I burned myself out badly. I refer to this time as my mid-career meltdown and I wasn’t feeling any love!

    Today, there’s a lot of literature on mindfulness, and scientific research backing up the need for us to recharge ourselves. Great companies like Google have napping pods, and even Goldman Sachs has a meditation room. According to the press, few people use these features, but companies are paying attention to the costs of stress on employee health and decision quality. Only you can act on this.

    Just take your breaks. Go on vacation. Get away from your desk and go outside for a few minutes. Exhale and just be. You won’t miss anything, but you’ll gain a lot.

    Stay away from negative people

    It’s hard to admit, but during that mid-career meltdown, I was one of those people who drag others down due to my low energy and bad attitude. The boss was hard driving and unsupportive; there was too much work; my commute was horrific; and family demands exhausted me. I was a tired and cranky person who hung around with other cynics and skeptics at the office.

    My wake-up call came from a lifelong secretary at the company. She took me aside one day and said, “Since you are so clearly unhappy, why don’t you leave so you don’t make us all miserable?” That totally changed my life, leading to the development of my personal mission statement and a lot of other changes. I began to study the habits required to be a happier person, and sought out people with positive attitudes as role models.

    Move on when it is necessary

    If you are truly miserable, it is time to find a new place to work. After my dressing-down by the wise secretary, I found a position with a nicer boss and better commute. I was able to come home with a more positive outlook and my family was happier. While an attitude change can go a long way, it is not always the answer. If it’s a bad fit do everyone a favor and find a better one — get out of there!

    Just like you have to work to have a good relationship, happiness is a choice and requires some effort.  But our “fullest potential” is a life that is meaningful and right for us, making it worthy of our labor.  Figure out how you can fall in love with your work, and success just comes easier.

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