Let me paint you a picture.
You arrive at work tired from a restless night worrying about a high-stakes proposal or how to ask for a well-deserved raise. A single glance at your stuffed inbox and your message button blinking a menacing shade of red makes your pulse quicken with anxiety. It’s been months since you’ve had time to let off steam at the gym.
You pause to wonder what it would be like to use the 30-plus vacation days you’ve accrued over the past two years. Or to have a job that offered flexibility, respect and empowerment.
With the morning’s first meeting starting in minutes, there’s no time to linger on that daydream. Instead, you hammer out emails that begin, “Sorry for the delayed response, but I’ve been crazy busy.” It’s barely 8 a.m. and you’re already overwhelmed. Your body aches with fatigue.
You might be suffering from what I call, “work sickness.”
It arises when, infected by fears about job security and money, we work without full engagement or real passion. Driven by angst about not having enough, we make it our life’s mission to pursue wealth, even when we’re not passionate about the process. When the deadline for that high-stakes proposal looms, it seems getting there will leave you utterly drained. A difficult conversation with a colleague leaves you seething and wishing you could flee. All the while, your inbox keeps getting bigger. You feel as if you’re treading water at a furious pace yet barely staying afloat.
We work more, play less and neglect the very reason we strive for success in the first place: to experience joy in life.
When day-to-day actions and reactions stem from fear and from focusing on all the things we don’t want to have happen in life, it not only has a negative impact on the body, but also creates a division between mind and soul. It disrupts balance, saps creativity and energy, and impedes the pursuit of personal passions. It affects productivity, morale and even how we interact with each other—all the while robbing us of time and happiness. It eclipses the joy of working with a sense of obligation, self-sacrifice and a lack of control.
As the VP of product management at a digital media delivery provider, the long hours I clocked felt pointless. Convincing more people to watch TV on their smartphones contradicted my fundamental beliefs about the importance of face-to-face human connections. The environment was toxic, yet I was fighting for the job security to support my lifestyle, which I loved.
But I ached to devote my time to something I felt more viscerally passionate about.
Over time, my frustration grew. I lost my filter and stopped refraining from throwing up my hands in disgust or telling people I wasn’t happy. My attitude caught up with me and I was laid off.
The layoff forced me to develop a new perspective. I was a blank slate. A career coach helped me focus on what my innate gifts are, what I do well and what I love doing.
In the trenches of the corporate world, it’s hard to see past where you are. You have to confront your fears to find your purpose—because without purpose, we leave ourselves susceptible to the anxiety-driven, going-nowhere-fast career.
Find your passion with these four steps:
1. Dig deep.
Ask questions instead of creating conclusions. Questions lead to growth and expansion; conclusions lead to dead ends. Ask yourself: What am I thinking? What else is possible? Would I love this? And simply: Why?
2. Map your future.
Create a “passion plan” comprised of three lists: Companies that pique your interest, job descriptions that sound like fun and specific functions you would enjoy from job descriptions. Then, determine where to look, what additional training you might need, which companies to contact and what people to add to your network.
3. Do the 40/20.
Structure your time so that you work 40 hours, but budget 20 additional hours outside of your job to:
- Assemble your passion plan.
- Develop and refine your brand (LinkedIn profile, résumé, etc.).
- Network and talk to everyone. Take bold actions like making the calls you’ve always feared and developing ways to stand out from the crowd.
4. Look at the big picture.
Identify patterns and themes in your life. What have they prepared you to do? What do others come to you for advice about? What comes as easily to you as breathing but is a struggle for others?
Most important, make life about always being true to who you are and not who or what family, friends, teachers and society tell you that you should be. Only then will you find your passion. The more aligned your thoughts and beliefs are to your purpose and passions, the easier it becomes to make decisions, set and achieve goals, and keep “work sickness” from infecting your life.