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How to fall in love (with your work)

5 min read


You can learn a lot about thriving in your job from a poet.

I know that, as a savvy businessperson, that might seem incongruous. After all, what can someone who dabbles in words and the elegant turn of phrase tell you about revenue growth and bottom lines, about market penetration and innovation, or about slogging through the tortuous political landscape of a company that’s reducing headcount? You’re right. Absolutely nothing!

Yet a recent re-reading of David Whyte’s book “The Three Marriages” reminded me of just how much art informs life. In the book, Whyte posits that we all have responsibility for three marriages in our lives: with our inner selves, with our loved ones and with our work. Separating those marriages, he says, destroys the foundation of the happiness we deserve. But, when we embrace those marriages in an integrative way, we can bring our best selves to each of them.

Reflecting on the book got me thinking about the ways in which we could better honor our work marriage. Over years of consulting to large and small companies, I’ve met a few leaders at every level who seem to have figured it out. For them, work isn’t a job; it’s a lifestyle. The characteristics they demonstrate might just be the aphrodisiac you need for falling in love with your work:

1. Know yourself. Each of the leaders I met deeply understood their skills, passions and values. They actively pursue aligning their passions with their work roles and applying their skills in ways that help them become effective contributors. Beyond articulating a set of values that guide them, these leaders exhibit behaviors that align with those values and hold the organization and their teams to high standards.

Because they do, the people on their teams feel secure, making the leader’s job easier. Teams that can rely on consistent, balanced behavior from their leaders spend more time focusing on delivering results to the organization and less time on managing an unpredictable boss.

2. No whining. While climbing the corporate ladder or scaling the jungle gym of their careers, these leaders, like many of us, landed in roles that they didn’t expect or covet. When that happened, rather than complaining about their assignment, they looked for what there was to learn and set out to use their passions to transform the job into a great experience. As a result, they became an even more valuable asset to their companies because they’d gained new knowledge that they could apply to a future role.

3. Rethink the ordinary. While consulting to a hospital on a major change project, I met an inspirational leader whose work role put him at the bottom of the organizational hierarchy. He worked in “Environmental,” which is code for the department that mops floors and cleans patients’ rooms. This individual pushed a bucket through the wards for a living, yet loved his job.

Every day, he’d clean one patient room after another, but he’d take time to chat with patients and inquire about their well-being. He cared deeply about the people inhabiting those rooms, and it showed. When the hospital measured patient satisfaction, a metric crucial to their financial success, the floors he was assigned to reported the highest scores in the entire hospital.

4. Stay curious. One common characteristic among the leaders I’ve mentioned is that they are all intensely curious and interested in learning about a wide range of topics. Curiosity significantly contributes to engagement at work. Each of them is an active experimenter who commits to their own personal growth, both inside and outside of their organizations. For them, every day is an opportunity to learn and develop, intellectually and emotionally, and work provides an outlet for that experience.

5. Mindset matters. A universal characteristic these leaders possess is that they’ve each adopted a mindset of “abundance” rather than “scarcity.” They truly believe that we operate in a world of plenty — plenty of resources, opportunities and possibilities for success. As a consequence, they are generous with their time and insights and find that generosity reciprocated by others.

6. Find your tribe. Without exception each of these individuals has managed to surround themselves with like-minded people who exude positive energy. They have a best friend at work, which research proves makes a difference. Rather than engage with naysayers, or waste time trying to convert negative thinkers, these leaders harness the power of their tribe to get things done and celebrate successes.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, it might be a good time to pause and assess the three marriages of your own life. Perhaps this will be the year that you finally begin a love affair with your work.

Alaina Love is chief operating officer and president of Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (McGraw-Hill). She is a recovering HR executive, a global speaker and leadership expert, and passionate about everything having to do with, well … passion. Her passion archetypes are Builder, Transformer and Healer. You can learn more about your own passion archetypes at

When she’s not working with her Fortune 500 client base, Love is busy writing her next book, “Passionality, The Art and Science of Finding Your Passion and Living Your Bliss,” which explores the alignment of personality, purpose and passion, and the science of how it contributes to our well being. Follow Love on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or her blog.

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