Finding passion in your work

7 March 2016
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There is nothing more sobering than seeing young people in their 20s or 30s burned out and lacking passion, chasing elusive happiness and the ‘perfect job.’

MANILA, Philippines – Having passion is important. It’s infectious and can inspire an organization. It drives people to achieve more than believed possible. It’s an integral part of the profile of every single great performer I have ever worked with.

I have always been passionate about my work. Passion has been a competitive advantage.  And when people ask me, quite frequently, “How do I find the passion like you have, Jim?” I used to give them the stock, feel-good, flowers-and-rainbows answers:

“Do what you love.”

“Follow your heart.”

“Find your passion and then pursue it, and you will be successful, no matter what you do.”

However, as I analyzed my passion over the years, and seeing that I still have the same high level of passion in tobacco as I had with Coca-Cola and selling laundry detergents for P&G, I realize I was wrong. It was bad advice, because neither tobacco, nor selling sugar water, nor selling laundry products are my personal passions. No, my passions are sports, and working with kids, teaching, and charity. But somehow, I am still as passionate as I was as a 22-year-old fresh graduate raring to go. I still wake up ready to attack the business every single day!

The reality is, 99 percent of people in the world don’t work in a passion of theirs. I would venture to say very few people working in a factory on an assembly line would report their passion in life as putting the same screw into the same place, hour after hour. I don’t think many people working in the food business would say their passion in life is selling unhealthy snacks to people. I never met a person in P&G who said their personal passion was selling detergents, or tampons, or toothpaste.  Most of us don’t get to work in a personal passion. If I were truly working in my personal passion, I would be on the Olympic Committee, working in sports where my personal passions lie. But I’m not.

So “Why am I passionate, then?” or “How am I still passionate?” is perhaps a better question.  Why are so many people passionate despite not working in their life passion?

I have come to the conclusion that it is bad advice to tell a young person to “follow your heart” or “find your passion” or any of these Normal Vincent Peale phrases. It sets people up to be continually dissatisfied and unhappy. Because, let’s face it, 99 percent of people will not work in their personal passion during their working years.

The best advice one can give is this: Find your passions in what you do. Whatever that may be.

A fountain of passion exists in every job and every role. It is just up to the individual to employ proven approaches to mine the passion in the role they are currently in. And, upon reflection, I realize this is what I have done all these years. I have found the passion in working in tobacco, or in selling Sprite or Fanta, or in selling Tide or Pantene or Pampers.  Basically, I have had 30-plus straight years of being a passionate leader.

And it’s not from working in a personal passion. It’s from finding my passions in the work I currently do.

So how does one find their passion in their current role?

I have personally employed, and seen others employ, several different strategies to find their passion in their work and hence become exceptional at what they do. And the good news is, anybody can do it, starting today!

1. Have an overarching passion for excellence. When one embraces a passion for excellence, it becomes relatively easy to then find passion in any job. It’s a joy to see the sweat and blood behind discipline and hard work lead to the fruits of success, be it higher market shares, a successful new product launch, or a high-quality product. Every role has KPIs and metrics to measure success, and when a person seizes the sense of accomplishment of achieving their goals, as a sign of excellence, they transform any job into a passion. I may not claim my life passion is selling consumer goods, but I take pride in successfully building brands and people. So when market shares go up, it only fuels more passion. It’s a virtuous cycle.

2. Skew your time towards areas of passion in your work. Almost every job has “flex,” where you can make some discretionary choice on where you spend your time and efforts. The passionate often consciously focus this discretionary time on the areas that are personal passions. A great example of this is Senator Pia Cayetano. One of the senator’s life passions is promoting the empowerment of women. And she does an outstanding job in skewing towards her passion in her role as senator. Beyond all of the hectic work that entails, she finds the time and fuels her passion by sponsoring various bills that support her advocacy for women, be it the RH bill, the Maternity Leave bill, or the Magna Carta for Women, just to name a few.

Similarly, let’s take my case. I love coaching and teaching, so in the course of my work as a CEO, I will skew more towards training, coaching, and teaching formal training sessions for my teams. Coaching is coaching! And while I may skew more towards developing talent than my CEO peer group, this fuels my passions and keeps me energized. If you love charity work, then get more involved in your company’s CSR programs. Take the lead! Don’t expect passions to come to you, go and seek them out in your current role.

3. View your current job as an enabler to the private pursuit of your personal passions. All I ever wanted to be was a teacher and athletics coach. It’s what I loved to do, and still love to do. However, I have a large family and responsibilities and it wasn’t really possible to embark on this path and provide for my family as I would want to. So today I work in consumer goods. And beyond finding passion in my work every day, I also derive passion from knowing this role allows me to dedicate my free time to teaching and coaching, on my terms! Because of the great job I have with BAT, I can teach freely on weekends at UP, I can coach national athletes on my schedule and my timing, unencumbered by the commitments and necessity of earning my coach’s pay. I teach, and coach, free of charge. I love it and the great job I have enables me to enjoy the luxury of pursuing my passions when it fits into my plans.

The ancient Greeks had it right. When someone died in ancient Greece, they asked only one question at the funeral: Did this person have passion? Passion is what separates the good from the great. All great performers in any walk of life have passion for what they do.

As someone who is 30-plus years into the game of business, there is nothing more sobering than seeing younger people in their 20s or 30s burned out and lacking passion. Complaining about their jobs. Constantly switching jobs and speaking about “finding my passion to work in.” Chasing elusive happiness and the “perfect job.”  My general observation, having watched over the years, is people who say this are on a circular path of always searching, never finding happiness, and lacking any significant life accomplishments. It ends up being a life of false starts, half-finished tasks, and little to show for the years passed by.

They missed the boat completely. Successful people don’t find a passion to work in, they find their passions in the work they do. They transform their jobs to feeding their passions. They embrace a passion for mere excellence.

Find the passion in what you do. That’s the ticket. And the more we as a society get this, the more happiness we are going to see, and with this, less sales of anti-depressant medications.

Your passions are already in front of you, today, in your current job. But you have to find them and mine them. Go do it!

 

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