They get up each day looking forward to their work. What’s their secret?
And by “love” I don’t mean that they never have a day when they’d rather be doing anything besides their job, but rather that they experience a consistent contentment with what they do. For the most part, these are the people who get up thinking about what’s going to happen at work that day, minus the impending sense of dread many of us have as we’re brushing our teeth. To the contrary, they wake up to a challenge; and we can all learn from them.
David DiSalvo(Atlanta, GA) is a science, technology, and culture writer whose work appears inScientific American Mind, Psychology Today, Forbes, theWall Street Journal, Mental Floss, and other publications. He is also the writer behind the well-regarded science blogs Neuronarrative and Neuropsyched.
Editor: Muhammad Talha
1 They feel connected to their initial challenge
Though their career paths may have swerved, people who love what they do remain connected to the initial challenge—the all-important motivating juice—that compelled them toward their field. Sure, at times it’s harder to focus; we all wade into murky waters now and again, sometimes deep enough that we seem to be “losing the plot.” But people who love what they do never fully lose sight of the challenge and the sense of purpose that drives them; they fight their way back toward it no matter how murky things get because it’s the thing that gets them up in the morning.
2 They’re remarkably well-attuned to the early years
Cognitive science tells us that all of us confabulate memory to varying degrees (our brains reconstruct memories combining shards of what actually happened with bits and pieces of imagined realities). While we can’t change how our brains work—and we cannot change the fact that recollection is a reconstruction—we can dig for even faint memories of what once fueled our passions. People who genuinely love their jobs have done this—in fact, they do it all the time—and are in touch with that kid who loved to write, or tell stories, or envision amazing buildings. The important part: What these people are doing in their jobs now may not be (and usually is not) a carbon copy of those passions, but they’ve successfully integrated elements of those passions into what they do. In effect, they’re energized kids with the seasoned perspective of adults.
3 They are portfolio thinkers
Psychology research has made an important contribution to understanding how to effectively manage failure—and it has everything to do with what’s in your personal portfolio. When we speak of stock portfolios, we’re talking about something that is neither consistently good nor bad; it’s a mixture of ups and downs. A down cycle doesn’t kill the portfolio—though it may weaken it for a time. And an up cycle doesn’t make the portfolio a permanent success. Portfolio thinkers know that their careers will always combine positives and negatives. They don’t choke on the negatives and they don’t get high on the positives. They ride the waves of both, navigating their way closer to what they want. If you want to love what you do, that sort of balanced perspective isn’t optional.
4 They don’t care what you think
People who love what they do don’t allow others to talk them out of what they love. Imagine someone who wanted to work with animals. Maybe as a trainer or veterinarian—because that’s the juice that compels them. And then one day in school along comes an allegedly knowledgeable career counselor who tells this person that, while it’s “nice” to dream about working with furry creatures, the reality is that pursuing a career along those lines is fanciful. Consider the hard and fast realities of life—consider everything else except the juice. Too bad most of us didn’t have the gumption to tell that person, “No, I’ll take the juice.” Those of us who make it through those impasses guarded by naysayers are more likely to love what they do than those talked into a contrived conventionality. But even if we took bad advice back then, there are still opportunities to get back to what fuels our passions.
5 They are born succession planners
I dislike corporate-speak, but “succession planning” is useful. It means for every person deeply synced into her position, there’s another person in training to do that job when the time comes. And the time always comes, because things always change. People who love their jobs not only know this, they embrace it and actively look for others to share their passions with, in hopes that they’ll want to do that job one day as well. These folks aren’t doing this because the company handbook tells them to—they do it because they love what they do, and that passion compels them to share their knowledge and acumen with others. And if the would-be successor isn’t passionate about that position, people who love what they do take pains to help them figure out what position will fuel their motivation—success is addicted to creating success.
6 They will stay, but they'll also leave
Why will they leave? For people who love what they do, organizations are important—since they provide the infrastructure to do what fuels their fire—but no single organization has a monopoly on providing that fuel, and if a company or nonprofit ceases to provide an adequate venue for doing what they love to do, then it’s time to move on. I’d like to say, “It’s not personal,” but the truth is that it’s extremely personal. A full commitment to doing that which one loves is among the most personal parts of one’s life. Passion always supersedes the functionality of infrastructure and organization, and that’s part of what makes it such an essential part of who we are.
7 They won’t be stopped
I’ve watched many managers try to talk passionate people out of pursuing a path toward the thing that fulfills them. The manager has a plan, and this person needs to fill a prescribed role in that plan, period. But for a passion-driven person who loves what he does—or is trying to connect with what he loves to do—that plan will receive their deference for only as long as it takes to navigate around it. To put it another way: The manager says, “This is your role in my plan, and failure to fill it will have negative consequences.” The smart person obliges, temporarily. The passion-driven person bent on doing what he loves is already figuring out how to blow the walls off that plan and move on. You can’t hold him back. Passion-fueled tenacity will win in the end, even if it means taking some hard knocks in the short run.
8 They draw people to them without even trying
Excuse the cliché, but passion sells. People want to be around others who are passionate about what they do—it’s infectious. So, let’s take the person who loves what she does and place her among a group of people far less directed, far less passionate, and a little confused about why they do what they do. Does it mean anything at all? Some people are probably so jaded that nothing will change their perspective, but others will take notice. When they get a taste, they’ll want a bigger taste—even if they aren’t exactly sure why. They’ll start feeling a strange, uplifting sensation about coming to work. That’s the infection of passion, and if you’ve ever worked somewhere without at least a little bit of it, you already know how miserable the days seem. People who love what they do pass along “contagions,” and just a few drops can change an office. As this happens, those doing the infecting are affirmed by the infected, and a positive cycle begins.
9 They live in the now
People who love what they do are not shortsighted thinkers, but they’re also not going to wait around to see if “the pieces come together” or whatever you want to insert for quasi-hopeful thinking. Sure, they’ll give it some time—they know it takes time to pursue one’s vision of fulfillment. Nothing just happens without work and time. But if you think you’re going to convince a passionate person that an array of external forces must align before she can act, you’re wasting your time. The “now” for someone who loves what she does is precious because it can disappear in a heartbeat. And that is one of the most important lessons such people pass along to the rest of us.
10 They never limit their vision to serve petty competitiveness
Highly effective people don’t see the “pie” as having a limited number of pieces, according to author Stephen Covey. Instead, they see a pie big enough for everyone, and it doesn’t bother them when others get a slice. We live in a competitive culture; we are a competitive species. But there’s a difference between healthy competition and petty pursuit of selfish ends. People who love what they do are competitive; they wouldn’t be able to reach their goals if they weren’t. But they don’t invest their time and energy in scheming and undermining; they don’t try to deny the other guy his pie. Loving what you do—no matter how competitive you have to be—does not require stepping on others. People who love what they do know that intuitively.