Nina Spencer

Fuel for the journey ahead

Finding passion, courage, and chutzpah in times of more uncertainty and change.

Are you getting passion out of your profession? If you won the "big lottery", what profession would you choose? Your current position? Or would you say, "So long, it's been grand", and head for an extended vacation? When I ask my audiences this question, most perk up with some profession that is totally different from the one they're in! Some say they wouldn't ever "work" again, but I suggest that after a while you'd probably get bored of being so rich and idle, and want to make a professional contribution. Even Bill Gates goes to work!

Despite the fantasy, there are plenty of reasons why so many of us stay in our safe and respectable jobs and don't quest after our real professional "bliss". If you find yourself (or your staff) feeling listless, and know that you used to have so much more passion for your profession than you do now...think of that song from the 1970's, by Steven Stills...,"If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with." My variation on these words is, "If you can't be in the job you'd love, honey, love the one you're in!".

Some people think that the only way to rekindle passion for their profession is to quit. You don't have to quit to regain passion but you do have to consciously decide to be passionate. It often takes a bolt of lightening, or a whack on the side of the head, to make us change our ways about anything in life. It's human nature to respond more quickly to pain, than pleasure. That's the reason we give the horse a little "kick", along with the verbal "giddy up!" Most of us need the "spurs" to move along. It helps if we experience an Epiphany, a.k.a. a Significant Emotional Event. Interesting that this expression's acronym is S.E.E. It takes a "seeing" to decide, "From now on I'm going to put more passion and energy into my work, and my life!" That "seeing" may come to you as an organizational layoff or downsizing, serious illness, loss of a loved one or...something as big, life changing and threatening as the September 11th attack on The World Trade Center and The Pentagon.

When work and world politics make it hard to sustain your focus, use these eight strategies to muster your passion, courage, and chutzpah.

1. Practice Positive Self-Talk: How are you thinking about your work? How do you feel about Mondays? Fridays? Late Sunday afternoons? Noticing how we feel about the rhythm of our week tells us a lot about the negative or positive feelings we have for our work. Positive self-talk is a big part of fortifying courage and feeling passionate about your profession.

2. Acknowledge Professional Self-Worth: I suspect the majority of us just don't realize what a terrific contribution we're making.

Answer these questions (and facilitate them with your staff, as well!):

  • What professional abilities and gifts come easily to me?
  • What professional skills do I demonstrate better than most people?
  • How have I grown in the past year?
  • What is the most important professional lesson I learned last year and how am I applying that learning, at work, and elsewhere, this year?
  • What are the most difficult things I've accomplished in this position?
  • When it comes to doing my job well, of what am I proudest?
  • What, about my professional contribution, would I most like to receive compliments?

3. Demonstrate Your Sense of Humour: Humour is good for your health as well as your spirit. Dr. William Fry's says three to five minutes of laughter doubles your heart rate--equal to three minutes on a rowing machine. What would you rather do? Do you complain about laughing too much at work? Defend against Psychosclerosis (hardening of the thinking) and HDS (Humour Deficiency Syndrome). Now, I made these conditions up, but some people swear they exist in their workplaces! Find something to laugh about daily.

4. Reframe Perspective: How do you look at control? Who do you control? Who don't you control? Think of control like the weather...when you go outside you get what ever is there! It's up to you to modify your perspective, your sense of destiny control, so that you can cope, come what may. You may not be able to "control" everything that goes on in your organization, or in the world, for that matter, but you can develop superb personal mastery at influencing, persuading and inspiring, in your own "backyard" and that's a fine start!

5. Pick Your Purpose: Some people have recently questioned the value and purpose of their work contribution. It may be true that we're not all literal life savers, eg. doctors, firefighters and other rescue workers, but it's important to remember that all of our professions are worthy and make a contribution...otherwise, in this budget conscious business world, your job wouldn't exist! It's easier to keep going, at work and elsewhere, when you deeply know why you're doing what you're doing. Try the five "why"s test. Ask yourself, five times, "Why do I do this job?" and for each answer, ask, "And why is that important to me?" By the time you get to the fifth "Why", you'll probably be getting close to something that sounds a lot like your real purpose for doing your work.

6. Exercise Energy and Enthusiasm: Energy is the groundwork for enthusiasm and the only thing more contagious than enthusiasm is...the lack of it! Take care of your physical and emotional energy. Eat right. Sleep right. Exercise. Get some fresh air. Grab some sun. Have some fun. Laugh. All the stuff your mother always told you to do!

7. Push for Perseverance: You may be in the right job, in the right organization but still get into an inexplicable funk from time to time. In those cases, cut yourself some slack and persevere! Blue periods disappear sooner or later...on a personal level and on the global level, too. Learn to keep the faith. Embrace "Just for today..." thinking. Make a list of the things that you really love about your work and about the world around you (and then keep that list close by, to look at every now and then). Out of order comes chaos, and out of chaos, order comes again.

8. Feed Relationships: Stay in touch with your circle of influence. Expand that circle regularly. Keep in touch with enthusiastic, energized people to help sustain your passion for your profession. Answering these questions will help (and, again, have your staff answer these questions, too):

  • With whom do I enthusiastically talk shop at work?
  • With whom do I enthusiastically talk shop, or exchange professional ideas, outside of work?
  • How many different ways can I expand my network of people who share the same professional interests as I?
  • With whom do I share my professional victories?
  • How big and diverse is my network?
  • Who are my best friends?

Considering all the mind boggling changes we've experienced in our workplaces, and in our world, both over the past decade, and over the past few days, keeping passion for our professions is challenging, to say the least. But this much we know is true...Life is Change, and Work is Change, but Passion, for our professions, and for our lives, is optional...and each one of us gets to choose! So, to quote author C. S. Lewis, from his "Chronicles of Narnia" books, and flying in the face that everything that has recently happened or will happen in the future, "Make your choice, adventurous stranger. Strike the bell and bide the danger. Or wonder 'til it drives you mad, what would have followed, if you had." Soldier on for the journey ahead!