Finding passion in your work

Time for a gut check: Are you passionate about what you do?

By Jane Sidebottom, AMK LLC, Louisville, Ky. March 25, 2016

We have all heard the saying credited to Confucius: "Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life." No doubt many have written on this critically acclaimed statement, some arguing that work is just that—work—and you won’t love all aspects of it.

Personally, I love what I do. I thrive on helping my clients leverage their businesses successes, find new markets, develop new products and services, and better understand their customers’ unmet needs. And, there are parts that I love less than others. But the passion I have for the design, engineering, and construction industry is what drives me to constantly look for new ways to help my clients be successful. As a business leader, I look for opportunities to interact with others who are passionate about their professions. Individuals who love what they do energize me, and interacting with them helps me drive through the not-so-fun aspects of my work.

I recently had the opportunity to tour the newly renovated Daytona International Speedway with a senior construction executive for the International Speedway Corp. (ISC). ISC is in the final stages of completing a $400 million renovation to the racetrack in preparation for its first NASCAR event. The track has been designed to maximize the fan experience in ways this car racing fan has never experienced. From the movement of fans in and out of the viewing areas, the interaction with race car drivers and race teams, the seamless inclusion of key venue sponsors, and the services to support all aspects of racing, this is a project to be proud of.

As this racing fan was indulged with story after story of emergency repairs to barriers mid-race, MacGyver-type solutions to fix track potholes that could have prevented a race start, and the detailed understanding of how the expansion design was focused on delivering a superior customer experience, I was struck with how much the construction leader loved his work. Our afternoon together reminded me of what separates good from great leaders: finding that intersection of what you love and what you do well.

Whether it is the struggle to pay off college loans, the pressures of supporting a family, or the twist and turns our careers can take that are beyond our control, sometimes we find ourselves in a position where we question whether we really like what we are doing. If you find yourself in this position, consider using one of the exercises from Robert Steven Kaplan’s March 2015 article in Harvard Business Review: "Two Ways to Clarify Your Professional Passions."

Kaplan offers several exercises to help you define your professional passions. The method that most resonates with me is his exercise that recommends thinking back to a time when you felt you were doing your best work. He then advises you to write down detailed answers to the following questions:

  • When was a time when you were at your best?
  • What were you doing?
  • What were the key elements of the environment?
  • What was the nature of the impact you were making?
  • Did you have a boss or were you self-directed?
  • What did you love about it?
  • What were the factors that made it enjoyable and helped you shine?

The answers to these questions may be all you need to find that spot where what you love and what you do well intersect. This will help you understand what you should be doing, but not necessarily how you can get to that spot. Consider sitting down with your mentor or coach to map out a plan to get to the role that allows you to do your best work.

My afternoon tour of the Daytona Speedway led to a weekend of watching 31 high-performance racing teams compete in the 24-hour endurance race. It left me with an even stronger appreciation for how passionate leaders can drive outstanding outcomes.

Jane Sidebottom is the owner of AMK LLC, a management and marketing consulting firm that provides market development and growth expertise to small and medium-size firms. She has more than 20 years of management and leadership experience in both consulting-engineering and Fortune 100 organizations. Sidebottom is a graduate of the University of Maryland.