So fundamental but often undiscussed

Sparkling beams of light. Nina Matthews Phototography/Flickr CC 2.0

I’ve attended many workshops. One I went to when I worked in an organisation stands out. One of the activities was to talk in small groups about the key things we need to do our jobs and provide the most value to our organisations. Some of this was about what people need to be happy and to keep contributing their energy in their work. Each group was asked to write (on a post-it note) a few keywords to describe the results of their discussion. About eight out of ten groups said passion (contributing it, seeing it valued, being motivated by it) was their number one.

There are a lot of articles out there that emphasise the importance of being connected with our passion to get and stay engaged in our workplaces. And yet there are rarely (as far as I’ve seen in the many teams I’ve worked with over the years in different organisations) more structured activities to discuss our own passion and understand other people’s passion.

So what’s the definition of passion? According to the Oxford Dictionary it’s a “strong and barely controllable emotion”. Wow. Now I know I definitely don’t see that often at work! Stan Gordon provides a useful nuanced explanation: “we are talking about a leader’s drive, or an employee’s focus and their desire to pursue something with total commitment, giving their absolute ‘all’”, he said in his article Why passion in business is so important.

Irrespective of the definition, why don’t we see more evidence of passion in the workplace? I have a few theories and areas I’d like to talk about:

Professional absentees

Ok so I’ve heard a bit about ‘professional absenteeism’. It’s a term that I guess has been borne out of the entrepreneurial business communities who have thrown off the shackles of working for the big corporations or bureaucracies. This is not about being sick or deciding not to come into work one day. The concept is that there are a hellova lot of people who are going to work every day; seeming like they’re there in mind, body and spirit, but really they’re not. It’s a game of smoke and mirrors; they do some things so it looks like you’re contributing but really, you don’t give a hoot.

This is particularly scary when you consider the stats that say that ‘formal’ absenteeism (eg. sick leave and being away from the workplace) costs Australia “$2741 per employee a year, and 71 per cent of organisations considered absenteeism to be a significant cost to their business” (according to Australia Personnel Global). What about the people that are physically but not mentally at work?

So have these people simply lost sight of their passion and therefore are just plodding along. If so, do they realise they’ve lost sight of their passion?

Organisational conformism

New corporate success thinking says that we should identify our strengths and our weaknesses then focus on strengths (of character and thinking) and what we enjoy rather than wasting energy on trying to fix our non-talents. A great tool I’ve used is Strengthsfinder 2.0 ($10USD) and also VIA (free).

Unfortunately still in many organisations, it is general practice to encourage everyone to work on their weaknesses/challenges. And the weaknesses, the things that don’t come naturally, are often the main focus for performance reviews. This is no doubt life force-sapping. So no wonder people conforming to organisational ‘all-rounder’ perspectives are a bit tired. Talk about not being able to pursue your work in step with what strengths you bring.

Don’t have passion

Is this possible? Do some humans go through life never caring about anything? I’m sure they do. But those in work must have some drive, mustn’t they? They have to have some skills and turn up everyday. Maybe they are passionate about getting through each day and getting back to their families. Don’t blame them but, for me, I don’t think that’s a great way to live.

It’s hard work to identify your passion and keep it alive

I’ve known lots of people over the years who have told me that after a long time of working towards a goal or two (that may or may not have come from their own volition) and being worn down by the stresses of life, sometimes they have realised they don’t know what their passion is ‘these days’. These deep, niggling thoughts can start to surface when a big shock in life occurs like a death in the family, facing redundancy or simply having one of those ‘aha’ moments at any time (most likely inconsequential and when you’ve happened to give your brain space to wander).

If you haven’t identified your passion, sometimes it is more tempting to ignore that niggle. Like after Jim Carrey’s character in the Truman Show, asks his best friend in the world (something like) ‘don’t you ever wonder what’s out there’ and his best friend, Marlon, says ‘nope’.

Some people ask me occasionally about who I am and what I contribute to the world but many people don’t. They draw their own (often incorrect!) conclusions about why I do what I do every day.

My passion for a long time has been helping people understand science to enable them to make evidence-based changes. I felt very strongly, after a few years working in scientific research and then managing projects, that if no one understood (and supported) why we were doing the research then no one would be able to make a change based on it. What was the point? So I started on a path to science communication.

So what are my tips on passion?

  1. Focus on finding out about your passion, intimately. Actively seek out ways to find it; how to become self aware about what drives you on and excites you every day.
  2. Read lots of articles, watch lots of videos to get an understanding of who else is exploring their passion (I’ve provided some links that may be useful to get you started below).
  3. Talk to people. Could we be talking more about what really matters to us?
  4. Think about what you’d regret in 20 years time if you didn’t find and do what you’re passionate about.
  5. Let go! Get drunk / laugh / do something silly. Who knows what parts of yourself you’ll awaken.
  6. Get away from work and routine. Many people hide in the day to day, the minor achievements. While that’s not a bad thing at all — to honour each day — if you’re hiding the quest for finding the real you, then that’s maybe not what you want to do. Get some perspective!

What do you do to get in touch with your passion? If you know what it is, how do you remind yourself of it and keep it front and centre?

Some recommended reading:

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