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Are you sacrificing passion to fit in at work?

If fitting it at work is preventing you from pursuing your passion, Alaina Love offers four essential questions to get back to what you love.

6 min read



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For years, I have studied and written about passions. Not things you love pursuing like tennis, golf or dance, but the deeper passions that emanate from a driving purpose you feel you’re destined to achieve. We all have passions and at least three “passion archetypes” that determine our behaviors and interests and influence the strengths and vulnerabilities we demonstrate. The archetypes are Creator, Conceiver, Discoverer, Processor, Teacher, Connector, Altruist, Healer, Transformer and Builder.  These passion archetypes manifest at work, with team interactions and in our relationships and interests as well. Life feels good when we operate from our top three passions and when we show up as our most authentic selves. But when we don’t, it can become very taxing and drain us of the energy we need to be at our best. 

Do you need a “passion operating style”?

My experience with many of the emerging leaders I’ve worked with is that earlier in their career trajectory, they feel the need to adopt a “passion operating style” that doesn’t align with their native passions. When I prompt them to examine why, they often realize it’s an attempt to fit in, to be accepted by others on their team or to match the corporate model of success in their organization. Jaime was such a leader. By all accounts, he was a strong contender for becoming the VP of Finance for a biotech startup where he’d grown his career immersed in a high-pressure culture where the company’s survival seemed hinged on quarterly results, and investors left no margin for error. He worked long hours, including weekends and holidays, often forfeiting time with his family and eliminating his one hobby, a painting class that provided a creative outlet that fueled him. Technically, Jaime demonstrated a strong capacity for Processor-type skills like detail orientation, numbers and structure. Yet, Jaime had learned these skills because he was rewarded for them. They weren’t his passion. At heart, Jaime was an artist and strategist who cared deeply about sharing knowledge. His passion archetypes are Creator, Conceiver and Teacher.

What Jaime failed to realize almost too late was how his creative pursuits in painting class could allow him to survive at work. This became evident when he developed a series of health symptoms that culminated with an episode where he nearly fainted while walking with a colleague from his car to the office one morning. He’d struggled that week with dizziness and shortness of breath but chalked it up to a cold he hadn’t quite recovered from. “If my co-worker hadn’t driven me right to the hospital that morning, I’d still be in denial,” Jamie told me. “I was diagnosed with anxiety and exhaustion. The doctor told me I needed to find something that gave me pleasure and engage in that activity at least weekly. I realized then that I hadn’t been to my favorite painting class in over a year.”

Ask 4 essential questions

When we reviewed events of the last 24 months, Jaime knew something needed to change at work. To navigate this pivotal moment, I asked him to consider four essential questions:

  1. What is the most essential work you can accomplish to ensure success now and in the future?
  2. From which activities do you derive the greatest fulfillment and how can you be more directly engaged in those activities?
  3. What behaviors are you demonstrating at work that are misaligned with who you are?
  4. What do you want to be remembered for by those you’re closest to?

Considering these questions, Jaime realized that to keep departmental costs down and look like a team player, he had been operating with half the staff he needed. The cost of being a corporate hero meant Jaime took personal responsibility for many analytical, number-crunching Processor archetype tasks that he was good at but hated. Sure, his work was keeping the department afloat. But it was also drowning Jaime in minutia, stripping him of the time he needed and the pleasure he derived from thinking strategically about the business.

Taking the right steps

He knew his first step had to be an honest conversation with his boss. To prepare for it, we outlined a plan for restructuring that would eliminate some of the low-value work and analysis his department was expected to generate each month. Jaime examined his workflow and identified the tasks he found most draining. He knew his health depended on reallocating that work or obtaining additional staff to complete it. Jaime was clear that working overtime to fit in wasn’t the permanent solution, nor could he continue focusing on unfulfilling activities. If he was going to grow into the leader he wanted to be, he’d have to be candid with his boss about his goals for the future and honest about what he was and wasn’t willing to do to achieve them. Ultimately, he wanted a role with more of a strategic focus and intended to share that desire with his boss. 

Next, Jaime established a personal timeline for making needed lifestyle changes. He was making lots of money but had little time to spend on things that gave him pleasure. So, he re-engaged with an art program and committed to attending weekly lessons, enlisting his wife as an accountability partner to keep him on track. Jaime doesn’t want his children to remember him as the father who consistently missed milestone events in their lives. Now, all their important school and extracurricular events are on his calendar with priority, so his staff knows to schedule around them. As an added benefit, Jaime’s actions have prompted his staff to become more respectful of each other’s time, so they rarely schedule early morning or after-hours meetings.

“I’m a little embarrassed that it took a health scare to get my attention,” Jaime confessed. “But it did make me own who I want to be as a leader, spouse and parent. And I now know the importance of setting limits on how much of myself I’m willing to forfeit to be a part of any organization. Those limits make me a better leader.”

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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