Article by WALLACE IMMEN, Photos by LOUIE PALU
THE GLOBE AND MAIL, Wednesday, February 23, 2005
If you want to rekindle enthusiasm, take your career off autopilot, consultant urges.
If you jumped for joy when you got your job but more lately it makes you think of jumping out the window, you may have unconsciously put control of your career on autopilot, a motivational specialist says.
So, if you want to rekindle that enthusiasm, take back the controls, urges Nina Spencer, president of Nina Spencer and Associates, a Toronto-based motivational workshop facilitator and author of an upcoming book, Getting Passion out of Your Profession.
Ms. Spencer believes a good starting point is to think back to the euphoria you felt when you landed your first job. Then realize that the reason people stop loving their work is not because they can’t do it well or the volume is overwhelming, but that they forget their enthusiasm, strengths and value to an organization.
Without sources of encouragement and stress busters to make the job more fun, it’s easy to fall into patterns of behaviour that unconsciously build up strains in your dealings with managers, colleagues and clients, Ms. Spencer says.
You can break that cycle by regularly having the conscious equivalent of an “out-of-body experience” to look at yourself and consider the way others see and hear you, she told managers at this month’s annual meeting of the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario in Toronto.
“Life is change and work is change, but passion for your profession and your life is optional. If you don’t consciously choose to have a passion for what you do, then you are really living on autopilot,” she says.
Ms. Spencer suggests looking at four areas where simple day-to-day changes can make a difference:
Be true to yourself
However humble or grand their contributions, people should regularly review the unique skills they contribute to the success of their organizations.
That’s a good thing to do as a goal-setting exercise early each year or even more regularly, she says, “because no one will recognize what you can bring to the table if you aren’t clear on it yourself.”
The questions to ask include:
- What strengths and competency do I bring to the table?
- What skills do I demonstrate better than most other people?
- How have I grown in the past year?
- What am I proudest about in the past year, and what would I like to receive compliments about this year?
What is the hardest thing I faced and how did I rise above it?
In a sense, you are interviewing yourself for a new job — one that will get you fired up and involved. “You’ll be surprised with how much you have actually accomplished but may have overlooked,” she says.
Many people hesitate to carry out such an exercise because they are reluctant to compare themselves to others. It’s satisfying, however, to realize the skills you contribute to the effectiveness of your organization, Ms. Spencer says.
One of her favourite cartoons is an ancient mother yelling at her ancient son: “I’m sick and tired of everyone calling you Alexander the Not So Great.”
A lot of job dissatisfaction comes from feelings of not being appreciated and not being in control, Ms. Spencer says.
You might feel like you are not getting credit and, when you feel under-appreciated, you can become under-productive. But you can’t wait for someone else to offer you appreciation, so you must learn to appreciate yourself, she says.
“When you are not getting thanks from outside, you can look inside yourself and find a reason to give yourself a pat on the back on a rough day.”
It’s also important not to get stuck in a narrow niche. Widen your perspective to take in the big picture and you can enhance your career by finding ways to contribute beyond your job role.
Ms. Spencer suggests thinking of an organization as a boat in which different people have different responsibilities for rowing, steering and maintenance. You can’t really focus on your job of steering if there’s a hole in the boat that no one else seems to have noticed. It’s the same with continual bottlenecks or communication problems in an organization that can go on for years unless someone points them out.
“Just because the hole is in the other end of the boat doesn’t mean we aren’t all in it together,” she says.
Other members in the organization will thank you if you point out a flaw and offer a solution.
Create a humor cycle
Too many organizations have what Ms. Spencer calls “chronic humor-deficit disorder” that can make it nearly impossible to keep a positive attitude in the workplace. People take everything so seriously, they can end up developing permanent scowl lines in their faces.
“Have a look at your corporate culture and decide whether it really is accepted to laugh. And if it isn’t, you’re missing out on a strong bonding tool with co-workers.”
You can help lift spirts by taking a leadership role in finding ways to add tasteful and appropriate humor. “Those who regularly laugh together will find they subtly develop increasing commitment to one another,” she says.
And rather than work around chronically cynical people, see if there are lighthearted ways you can approach them. “I suggest there are porcupines in the office disguised as people but, in reality, they just want to be touched by others.”
Mind your words
Your intonation and the words you choose can hinder even the most positive of workplace relationships, Ms. Spencer says.
For instance, stopping at someone’s office and saying “Have I got you at a bad time?” or “Sorry to interrupt you” can make the person you want to see think about what he or she might be doing that is more important than seeing you. So turn that around and ask “Is this a good time?” Ms. Spencer suggests.
Another blood pressure raiser is the phone message that says “Thank you for holding.” Who likes to hold? If, instead, you say “Thank you for your patience,” you are acknowledging people for making the effort and that it is appreciated, Ms. Spencer explains.
Be aware of every statement you make and try to make each one as positive as possible. Turn buts into ands and talk about the times you are free, not when you are tied up in meetings.
“The strategy is that every statement on your part should be geared to keep the communications going,” Ms. Spencer says.
It helps to think of work like the weather, she concludes.
“Remind yourself that while you can’t control the work any more than you can control the weather, you are in control of the emotional and attitudinal gear you choose to brave the elements” and help others survive the storm.
Here are strategies consultant Nina Spencer suggests to help you look forward to coming to work each day:
- Acknowledge your self-worth. Make a list of skills you have, lessons you’ve learned, difficulties you’ve overcome and things you’ve done well. Pat yourself on the back if no one else will.
- Reframe your perspective. Rather than dwell on the things you can’t control, look for ways you can influence, persuade and inspire change at work.
- Practise positive self talk. Consciously choose positive language and thinking — over negative — to influence your own passion for your work, and to inspire the passion of others.
- Keep your sense of humor, which is as good for your physical health as it is for your spirit. Starting a humor cycle in the office can boost the spirits of others as well.
- Cut yourself some slack. Make a written list of the things that you really love about your work and review it when you fall into a funk.
- Rev up your energy. Take care of your physical and emotional energy by eating right, getting enough sleep and exercising.
- Nurture relationships. Find creative ways to stay in touch with your circle of influence, and expand that circle regularly by networking with enthusiastic colleagues, both in your organization and beyond.
- Keep improving. Organize or encourage employer-supported conferences and training.