Feeling frustrated at work?

The Pitfall of Confusing Passion with Purpose

A couple of years back a Gallup release about employee engagement left me dumbstruck: in the firm’s survey of worker sentiment, for the first six months of 2015, engagement figures hovered steadily between 31.5% and 31.9%.

What was almost more sobering was that only 40.4% of managers reported feeling engaged in their jobs. In other words, six out of 10 front-line leaders in our companies were not feeling engaged at work.

“The analysis revealed that three engagement elements are vital to reducing or repairing workplace burnout among workers: receiving regular praise and recognition for good work, having the materials and equipment to deliver quality work, and feeling that their opinions count at work,” Gallup said. “Workers who gave low ratings to these three items — 8% of all workers in Germany, or an estimated 2.7 million employees — were more likely than workers who gave high ratings to all three to say they felt burned out because of stress in the last 30 days.”

The German Workforce has a Burnout Problem, Gallup, July 14, 2015

At the time, I posed the notion that perhaps this crisis of engagement had something to do with our ongoing hope of “doing what we love” in our careers.  Gallup’s findings seemed to support that idea by suggesting that companies should provide a climate where employees’ contributions are part of something bigger than themselves, and where those contributions are recognized – not necessarily rewarded, but at least recognized. 

Fellow agribusiness speaker Damian Mason got me thinking about this topic again earlier this week, offering this observation via LinkedIn:

“It’s trendy, especially here on LI, for folks to tout their “passion.” They’re passionate about their industry and passionate about their career and some are just pleasantly passionate. Guess what, most of the people you work for and the customers you serve don’t care about your passion, they just want you to show up and perform.”

Damian Mason, LinkedIn, Oct. 17, 2018

Now Damian can be what I like to fondly think of as a comedic contrarian, but in this case I think he’s really on to something. He fleshed the thought out further in a blog post, calling on us to “purge the passion” from our career-related dialogue, because ultimately our customers don’t pay for our feelings – they pay for the value we deliver.

As I admitted yesterday, I am what author Chris Lytle calls “an accidental salesperson.” I grew up with grand visions of a career in law and letters. Later, I became a journalist and thought I would be broadcasting and writing the news until doomsday. But here I am, five years into my second or third hitch as a professional advertising and marketing consultant, a great career that has almost diddly-squat to do with my “passion” in life.

So if ad sales isn’t my passion, why don’t I do something else? For one thing, I have a wonderful job working for an outstanding company, and most importantly working for a great mentor and alongside fun, brilliant teammates. I am fairly compensated for the value I bring to the company, and I enjoy a good deal of freedom, flexibility and autonomy.

What does make a difference for me, and for many professionals like me, is finding purpose in our work.

Top of the mountain!

Executive coach Henna Inam suggests that workers struggling with this issue of engagement work to find purpose in important moments of our day – client interactions come to mind for me, because I know I can add value to my clients’ marketing strategies and advertising plans.

“When we are present to be useful to others who might need our help, we can find purpose in the moment,” Inam writes. “Many of us are in search of a grand purpose to which we can dedicate our lives like Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. I hope many of us find it. But, when we myopically search for this grand purpose, there is a risk. Let’s not lose the opportunity to recognize the daily moments where we can be purposeful.

Inam also talks about finding purpose in our values and how we can live those at work, and also suggests that we find purpose in peak moments. Each of these tips has helped me regain some perspective about my own career, and helped me stay more engaged in my day-to-day responsibilities.

If you’re struggling with finding “passion” in your job, perhaps you’ve made the mistake of confusing passion with purpose. Consider a paradigm shift, and how it might help reenergize and reinvigorate you as a professional.

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