Finally the long-awaited follow-up to Part I! I've been pondering the topic of "passion at work" for as long as I have been in HR. This is because for some reason when you work in HR, people like to talk to you about how they feel about their work. And when they come talk to you, they are usually not saying, "Oh how I LOVE my job! I cannot believe I am so lucky to do this!" Instead, they come to HR when they are feeling drained and frustrated and full of complaints. They are longing for inspiration. They are longing to feel...passionate!
Early on in my career, I took it upon myself to try to fix every complaint that came my way. Along the way, I also began questioning my own work - Was I passionate enough about what I was doing? Could I be more passionate if I did something else? And lo and behold if there are rafts of self-help books out there touting the path to passion and promising that "you deserve to be happy and fulfilled" in your work. I've read dozens of these missives, and after years of ups, downs, derailments, and even a few successes I have come to some conclusions about this notion of finding work we are passionate about.
Conclusion #1 - Passion is Personal. The things that we are passionate are as diverse as the shapes and sizes and colors of the bodies we are in.
Conclusion #2 - The Workplace is Communal. In order for an organization to move forward, we have to work together on things. This - by default - often means a setting aside of what we feel makes us unique and a willingness to embrace the good of the community over the good of the individual. But wait, you say, if I become an independent consultant, THEN I can do work I am truly passionate about. Not so fast. I've got nearly a decade of experience as an independent consultant running my own show to back me up, so believe me when I say that even as an independent consultant you are dependant on the entire economic community to be able to do your work. You need to care - even more than you would if you were an employee - about your clients' needs, goals and wants, and you need to get them there. You may decide to become an independent consultant because of how you want to do your work and live your life, but you will not be successful unless you quickly learn that when you are at your client site, it is not about you!
Conclusion #3 - The majority of people in the this world do not care what you are passionate about. I do not mean to sound cynical and harsh. It's simply a numbers game. There are some 6.5 billion people in the world. They are focused on their own passions and their own needs to be unique while also fitting into their communities. It stands to reason then, that you are going to connect with only a small percentage of this teeming mass of humanity on your particular passion. This is not a bad thing - it's just how it is. That's why we have friends and families. These are the small fraction of a percentage of people in the world who will care about what we care about.
Conclusion #4 - If it's really your passion, you'll be willing to do it for free. This conclusion flows logically from #'s 1 - 3. The historical use of the word passion in the English language has been in reference to the narrative of Christ's sufferings - especially on the cross - as recorded in the New Testament. His commitment to the salvation of mankind was so strong that he was willing to die a terrible death in order to heal the breach caused by the sins of mankind. It is derived from the Latin word passus, to suffer or to submit. Therefore, our passions - if we are going to be precise with our language - are the things we are compelled to do regardless of whether we will be rewarded for doing them, and even if (at least in the immediate) we suffer for doing them.
A simple example that every parent understands is the passion we feel for caring for our children. When our child awakens in the night because of a bad dream, most parents will rouse from slumber and leave a warm bed to go comfort their child and assure him that all is safe and well in the world. The cost to us in an uninterrupted night of sleep that can cause diminished energy (and sometimes appearance!) the next day. It's not in our own best interest short-term to get out of bed. Yet when we think about a) wanting our children to feel safe and secure; b) the relationship bonds we are building with our children; and c) the type of parents we want to be and how we ant to feel when we look back on these days, it is SO obvious that the thing to do is to get out of bed and comfort the child. Our passion compels us to do so! But we don't expect anyone to pay us for doing this. In fact, if we are realistic we realize that most people in the world really don't even know or care that we do it - they are too busy being consumed by their own personal passions.
So what about being passionate about our work? Is that a myth? Do we just give up on that goal? Perhaps so. Perhaps instead we focus on having work that we like well enough - work that uses our natural gifts, that lets us develop and grow as people within our communities, and - ideally - pays us enough to fund the things we are so passionate about that we will do them for free!
What do you think?