Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Finding Your Passion at Work

Although it was more than a decade ago, I remember it as vividly as if it happened last week.

It was a beautiful day on the Jersey Shore, and I was driving home after a news conference about a bill being introduced in the House of Representatives designed to required insurers to cover the treatment of infertility if they also covered maternity care.

The road was empty of other vehicles, and in the silence of that quiet road I realized that my purpose in life was to work for, and with, organizations whose missions are focused on improving the lives of others. In that moment of clarity, I found my passion; a passion that would be the deciding factor for all my future professional choices.

Over the years, I have truly come to appreciate Wayne Dyer’s quote, “Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life.” If you aren’t doing what you love – or are passionate about – you most likely are not really giving it your best effort. After all, who gives their best effort for something they don’t like?

This is not to say that your work quality is sub-par if you are not passionate about the company or the job. recent study at the University of Warwick found that happiness at work significantly increases productivity. Just imagine what your quality of work would be like if you woke up every morning excited to get there!

Unfortunately, as Cal Newport points out, finding your passion, or passions, is not always easy or quick. That doesn’t mean that you should give up looking, or refuse an offer of employment simply because it is outside your passion. It just means that you may have to spend more effort to find it. By effort, I mean trying new things, or donating your time to nonprofits whose missions interest you. Go back to school – you might find a passion for teaching or a different field altogether.

A few years ago I found myself asking what I wanted to be when I finally grew up, even though I was in my mid-40’s at the time. I was on the precipice of a mid-life crisis, and had no idea what I wanted to do other than help others. I know it sounds corny, but there it is in all its unvarnished truth. So, the question was really, what did I want to do for the second half of my life?

My passions are serving the military, higher education, and infertility communities. Given that knowledge, what did I need to do in order to feel passionate about what I do for the next 40 years, and enable myself to do it?

First of all, I took a look at my life goals and realized I had neglected one: obtaining an MBA. Although I worked in the field of higher education for almost 20 years, I never took advantage of the opportunities to reach that goal. So, I entered the MBA Program at American Public University, and graduated with honors, while working and travelling full-time. It wasn’t easy, but I did it.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with identifying my passion at work. The answer: it helped clarify where my specific talents and interests lie, and identified areas where I was focusing significant time and energy for which I am ambivalent. It opened doors to new possibilities and opportunities to work with those three communities, which I would have never considered.

The bottom line is this: take a look at where you are, where you appear to be going, and ask yourself if you are really passionate about the possibilities. If not, take a step back, grab your best friend (or friends), and ask yourself what you are passionate about, and then decide what you can do to fulfill those passions.

Editor’s Note: This post also appears on LinkedIn.

Before founding her own consulting firm, Dawn Gannon served as a respected project management and administrative operations professional in the military, higher education, and healthcare fields for 25 years. As a Lean/Six Sigma Green Belt, Dawn’s commitment and personal mission to improve the lives of others through service to the community focuses on providing administrative and volunteer management, consumer education, public outreach, event planning, relationship-building efforts, and strategic planning. She is a contributor on LinkedIn, the author of the Management in Motion blog, and has written a number of articles for RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association on the topic of childfree living.