At what costs do we falter in our quest for passion and joy in our work?

Sappy as this may seem, this is a question I believe we should all ask ourselves regularly–and I know that I don’t do this often enough.

My latest visit is prompted by watching the movie “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” this past Labor Day weekend. This really is a sappy movie–core to its point, which is that belief (in oneself, in one’s passion) creates magical abilities to realize (and create) joy from our passion. I have seen this movie a few times, but this viewing hit me like a ton of bricks–perhaps because I was watching it with our youngest, who has a special gift for deriving joy from just about any situation.

I would wager that few of us consciously decide one day to avoid the pursuit of passion and joy in our jobs, but most of us seem to get to a place of feeling trapped in jobs bereft of both. On my occasional Derwood Downer days, I have caught myself wondering:

Must we be condemned to this condition of joyless drudgery?

For all but the most financially desperate, the answer is “obviously not,” and I would argue that the answer for everyone can be to actively seek passion and joy–regardless of financial circumstances.

Think of examples of people you have seen who seem to exude pure joy from living their passion; my favorites are symphony conductors and world-class educators–plus one specific example from a few years ago: A DC Metro train driver who makes it a point to glide his train into each stop with fluid precision. I was so inspired by this guy’s driving that I ran to the front of the train at my stop to thank him for his attention to making our ride so much more enjoyable than the typical Metro experience.

Here’s what I wonder about these folks: Are they in the zone of passionate mastery and joy because they have stuck with their craft for so long, or have they stuck with it for so long because it puts them in the zone? I suspect that both are true, creating a virtuous cycle which makes the hard work it takes to achieve mastery seem much less onerous. There is certainly not just one answer, but these examples illustrate that happiness and work can be (and should be) compatible.

Advice for finding passion

Setting aside for the moment whether I am qualified to offer advice about this, here are some of my thoughts:

Early Career

Resist getting into something which does not ignite your passions and give you joy. Take the advice of the late Steve Jobs, who in his 2005 Stanford commencement address said:

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

You have a secret weapon: Time (which, ironically, you probably don’t think you have, since you probably feel intense pressure to earn enough for that car and/or house you have always dreamed about)–but roll with me here for a moment and just pretend you believe that because you are young, you have some time at your disposal.

  • Since you are already broke, you can try out a few things–and live in a few places–until you figure out what resonates best with your true passions.
  • Remember Steve’s advice: Don’t settle. Get out if the passion and joy isn’t there.

On one hand, I did not fully take this advice; on the other, we moved around a fair amount–and I did try several things (including launching a start-up)–earlier in my career, and it definitely had a positive impact on our overall happiness in the long term.

All Growed Up?

Find joy in what you are doing–even if you do feel stuck–so you can recognize opportunities which bring passion and joy when you see them. I freely admit that it took me decades to crack the code on this one (hence its absence from my “early career” advice), but this really does work. In fact, here’s the real secret sauce:

  • This attracts opportunities which bring passion and joy.
  • Lest you think this is some kind of feel-good crap, just think about it: Would you rather be around disgruntled malcontents, or would you rather work with people super-charged with passionate enthusiasm?
    • Finding joy and passion in what we do helps us find more of this in the next job.

This work stuff is hard–with or without passion

I heartily attest to the fact that finding the path to passion and joy in our work is easier said than done, but I’m also pretty sure that all paths we take in our career involve hard work.

Given this, why shouldn’t our top priority be to create a working world for ourselves from which–and to which–we can pour our passion and joy?

It seems to me that Steve’s advice rings true for any career stage:

Don’t settle.


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