Recently, I started writing a column called Ask Maynard on LinkedIn, where people write in and ask me questions about their career and I try to help. I love the program and I’m interested in hearing about what career issues are pressing on people’s minds the most.
An overwhelming number of people don’t write in with specific questions about how to improve their career trajectory, instead they wrote in sharing how they are unhappy—unable to find fulfillment in work and at a loss for what to do to resolve this.
They are not alone in this concern of course. Statistics show that way over half the people in the U.S. feel disengaged in their jobs. That’s terrible—and something that worries me. Everyone does their best work when they are engaged and find passion in what they are doing—when it is “soul food.” When it’s drudgery, it becomes “work.” And that’s happening too often.
But how do people find work that sustains and nourishes, rather than depletes them? And what if you know what makes you feel challenged or passionate, but you can’t make a living doing it? While some artists and athletes can make a living doing what they love, this is not always the case.
I’ve learned that as well. I’m very passionate about football. I’d love to be a lineman in the NFL. The problem is, this didn’t happen for me at 20, and now it’s pretty clear it’s not going to happen for me at 60, so pining for this dream is not a good use of my energy.
In the beginning of my career, I wasn’t sure of what kind of job I’d find passion in, but I enjoyed the opportunity to work full time and what that enabled, so I always went in with enormous enthusiasm for doing the best job I could do. My first management job involved replacing cashiers with ATMs. It was my job to manage the cashiers and design the screen flows for the ATMs. I became obsessed—stopping at every ATM I encountered and studying its user interface. Was ATM screen design high on my list of passions? No, not really, but I was thrilled to be in my first management job and it was fun to be able to create something.
Throughout my career I’ve learned that every job has good and bad parts. Not everything is perfect every day, but if there is some “purpose” that comes with it, you can find meaning and fulfillment. In my early days of working my purpose (and therefore my passion) was about providing for my family. Thus, the economics that a job provided were important and even if the job wasn’t perfect I was motivated to do a good job and find it fulfilling.
Passion is found in all sorts of forms. Whatever you do, if you go in with a good attitude and see it as path for learning you will find much more opportunity and happiness than if you go in not inspired every day. But how do you find it?
Only you can answer those things. Find a quiet spot to reflect and write down things you think you’d be passionate about. Getting this clarity is important. Don’t let the rush of day and the huge list of daily to-dos, get ahead of finding your purpose.
A few ideas:
- Add new opportunities into your work life. Experiment by adding things and then decide what you like and what you don’t. I know this might sound overwhelming, but don’t be intimidated. It doesn’t have to be a career jump, and can happen over time. But you need to get to a place where you are challenged and passionate about what you are doing.
- Read a great book written by one of my best mentors, Gay Hendricks. It’s called The Big Leap and it speaks to this whole issue far better than I can. I think it can help you find your passion and deliver more energy to you as you gain clarity on what you are intended to do, on your purpose in life.
- Realize that it is your hands to make this better. If you have a negative attitude about what you’re doing today, it will likely limit your upward potential. Even if you don’t like what job you’re in, you should do it well and with a good attitude, while setting yourself up for better opportunities in the future.