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Reawakening your passion for work

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Abstract

All of us struggle from time to time with the question of personal meaning: "Am I living the way I want to live?" For millions of people, the attacks of September 11 put the issue front and center, but most of us periodically take stock of our lives under far less dramatic circumstances. This type of questioning is healthy; business leaders need to go through it every few years to replenish their energy, creativity, and commitment--and their passion for work. In this article, the authors describe the signals that it's time to reevaluate your choices and illuminate strategies for responding to those signals. Such wake-up calls come in various forms. Some people feel trapped or bored and may realize that they have adjusted to the frustrations of their work to such an extent that they barely recognize themselves. For others, the signal comes when they are faced with an ethical challenge or suddenly discover their true calling. Once you have realized that it's time to take stock of your life, there are strategies to help you consider where you are, where you're headed, and where you want to be. Many people find that calling a time-out--either in the form of an intense, soul-searching exercise or a break from corporate life--is the best way to reconnect with their dreams. Other strategies include working with a coach, participating in an executive development program, scheduling regular time for self-reflection, and making small changes so that your work better reflects your values. People no longer expect their leaders to have all the answers, but they do expect them to try to keep their own passion alive and to support employees through that process.
Reawakening Your
Passion for Work
by Richard Boyatzis, Annie McKee, and Daniel Goleman
Reprint r0204g
HBR Case Study r0204a
The Cost Center That Paid Its Way
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First Person r0204b
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Big Picture r0204c
Wealth Happens
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Maneuver Warfare: Can Modern r0204d
Military Strategy Lead You to Victory?
Eric K. Clemons and Jason A. Santamaria
Executive Women and r0204e
the Myth of Having It All
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Customers as Innovators: r0204f
A New Way to Create Value
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Richard Boyatzis, Annie McKee, and Daniel Goleman
Best Practice r0204h
Saving Your Rookie Managers
from Themselves
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Out of the Blue and into the Black
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April 2002
by Richard Boyatzis,Annie McKee,and Daniel Goleman
ast September, as millions of people around the
globe stared in disbelief at television screens,
watching the World Trade Center towers crumble
to the ground, many of us realized that accompanying the
shock and sorrow was another sensation– the impulse to
take stock. The fragile nature of human life,exposed with
such unbearable clarity,compelled people to ask a haunt-
ing question: “Am I really living the way I want to live?”
We all struggle with the question of personal meaning
throughout our lives. September 11, 2001, brought the
issue into focus for many people all at once, but the im-
pulse to take stock comes up periodically for most of us
in far less dramatic circumstances. The senior executives
who read this magazine, for instance, seem to struggle
with this question at the high point of their careers. Why?
Many executives hit their professional stride in their for-
ties and fifties, just as their parents are reaching the end
of their lives–a reminder that all of us are mortal. What’s
more, many of the personality traits associated with ca-
reer success, such as a knack for problem solving and
sheer tenacity, lead people to stick with a difficult situa-
tion in the hope of making it better. Then one day, a
creeping sensation sets in: Something is wrong. That
realization launches a process we have witnessed liter-
ally thousands of times in our work coaching managers
and executives over the past 14 years.
The process is rarely easy, but we’ve found this type of
awakening to be healthy and necessary; leaders need to
go through it every few years to replenish their energy,
creativity, and commitment and to rediscover their pas-
sion for work and life.Indeed,leaders cannot keep achiev-
ing new goals and inspiring the people around them with-
out understanding their own dreams. In this article, we’ll
look at the different signals that it’s time to take stock
whether you have a nagging sense of doubt that builds
over time until it’s impossible to ignore or you experience
a life-changing event that irrevocably alters your per-
spective. Then we’ll describe some strategies for listening
to those signals and taking restorative action.Such action
can range from a relatively minor adjustment in outlook,
to a larger refocusing on what really matters, to practical
life changes that take you in an entirely new direction.
Copyright © 2002 by Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. 5
In every person’s life, the time comes to take stock. The process is
almost always painful and messybut five practical strategies can
help guide you and give your life new direction and meaning.
L
Reawakening Your
Passion for Work
When to Say When
When asked, most businesspeople say that passion – to
lead, to serve the customer, to support a cause or a prod-
uct –is what drives them. When that passion fades, they
begin to question the meaning of their work. How can
you reawaken the passion and reconnect with what’s
meaningful for you? The first step is acknowledging the
signal that it’s time to take stock. Let’s look at the various
feelings that let you know the time has come.
“I feel trapped.Sometimes, a job that was fulfilling
gradually becomes less meaningful, slowly eroding your
enthusiasm and spirit until you no longer find much pur-
pose in your work. People often describe this state as
feeling trapped. They’re restless, yet they can’t seem to
change or even articulate what’s wrong.
Take the case of Bob McDowell, the corporate director
of human resources at a large professional-services firm.
After pouring his heart and soul into his work for 25
years, Bob had become terribly demoralized because his
innovative programs were cut time and again. As a result,
his efforts could do little to improve the workplace over
the long term. For years he had quieted his nagging
doubts, in part because an occasional success or a rare em-
ployee who flourished under his guidance provided deep,
if temporary, satisfaction. Moreover, the job carried all
the usual trappings of success – title, money, and perks.
And, like most people in middle age, McDowell had fi-
nancial responsibilities that made it risky to trade security
for personal fulfillment. Factors such as these conspire to
keep people trudging along, hoping things will get better.
But clinging to security or trying to be a good corporate
citizen can turn out to be a prison of your own making.
“I’m bored. Many people confuse achieving day-to-
day business goals with performing truly satisfying work,
so they continue setting and achieving new goals–until it
dawns on them that they are bored.People are often truly
shaken by this revelation; they feel as if they have just
emerged from a spiritual blackout. We saw this in Nick
Mimken, the owner of a successful insurance agency, who
increasingly felt that something was missing from his life.
He joined a book group,hoping that intellectual stimula-
tion would help him regain some enthusiasm, but it
wasn’t enough. The fact was, he had lost touch with his
dreams and was going through the motions at work with-
out experiencing any real satisfaction from the success of
his business.
High achievers like Mimken may have trouble accept-
ing that they’re bored because it’s often the generally pos-
itive traits of ambition and determination to succeed that
obscure the need for fun. Some people may feel guilty
about being restless when it looks like they have it all.
Others may admit they aren’t having fun but believe
that’s the price of success. As one manager said,“I work
to live. I don’t expect to find deep meaning at the office;
I get that elsewhere.” The problem? Like many, this man
works more than 60 hours a week, leaving him little time
to enjoy anything else.
“I’m not the person I want to be.Some people grad-
ually adjust to the letdowns, frustrations, and even bore-
dom of their work until they surrender to a routine that’s
incompatible with who they are and what they truly
want. Consider, for instance, John Lauer, an inspirational
leader who took over as president of BFGoodrich and
quickly captured the support of top executives with his
insight into the company’s challenges and opportunities,
and his contagious passion for the business.
But after he’d been with the company about six years,
we watched Lauer give a speech to a class of executive
MBA students and saw that he had lost his spark. Over
time, Lauer had fallen in step with a corporate culture
that was focused on shareholder value in a way that was
inconsistent with what he cared about. Not surprisingly,
he left the company six months later, breaking from cor-
porate life by joining his wife in her work with Hungarian
relief organizations. He later admitted that he knew he
wasn’t himself by the end of his time at BFGoodrich, al-
though he didn’t quite know why.
How did Lauer stray from his core? First, the change
was so gradual that he didn’t notice that he was being
absorbed into a culture that didn’t fit him. Second, like
many, he did what he felt he “should,” going along with
the bureaucracy and making minor concession after
minor concession rather than following his heart. Finally,
he exhibited a trait that is a hallmark of effective leaders:
adaptability. At first, adapting to the corporate culture
probably made Lauer feel more comfortable.But without
strong self-awareness, people risk adapting to such an ex-
tent that they no longer recognize themselves.
“I won’t compromise my ethics.The signal to take
stock may come to people in the form of a challenge to
what they feel is right. Such was the case for Niall Fitz-
Gerald, now the cochairman of Unilever, when he was
asked to take a leadership role in South Africa, which
6harvard business review
Reawakening Your Passion for Work
Richard Boyatzis is the chair of the department of organizational behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management at
Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He can be reached at richard.boyatzis@weatherhead.cwru.edu.Annie McKee
is on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and is the cochair of the Teleos Leadership
Institute in Philadelphia. She can be reached at anniemckee1@aol.com. Daniel Goleman is the cochair of the Consortium
for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, based at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Professional and
Applied Psychology in Piscataway, New Jersey. He can be reached at goleman@javanet.com.They are the authors of Primal
Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence (Harvard Business School Press, 2002).
was still operating under apartheid. The offer was widely
considered a feather in his cap and a positive sign about
his future with Unilever. Until that time, FitzGerald had
accepted nearly every assignment, but the South Africa
opportunity stopped him in his tracks, posing a direct
challenge to his principles. How could he, in good con-
science,accept a job in a country whose political and prac-
tical environment he found reprehensible?
Or consider the case of a manager we’ll call Rob. After
working for several supportive and loyal bosses, he found
himself reporting to an executive – we’ll call him Mar-
tin whose management style was in direct conflict with
Rob’s values. The man’s abusive treatment of subordi-
nates had derailed a number of promising careers, yet he
was something of a legend in the company. To Rob’s cha-
grin, the senior executive team admired Martin’s perfor-
mance and, frankly, felt that young managers benefited
from a stint under his marine lieutenant–style leadership.
When you recognize that an experience is in conflict
with your values, as FitzGerald and Rob did, you can
at least make a conscious choice
about how to respond. The prob-
lem is, people often miss this par-
ticular signal because they lose
sight of their core values. Some-
times they separate their work
from their personal lives to such an
extent that they don’t bring their
values to the office. As a result, they
may accept or even engage in be-
haviors they’d deem unacceptable
at home. Other people find that
their work becomes their life, and
business goals take precedence
over everything else. Many execu-
tives who genuinely value family
above all still end up working 12-hour days,missing more
and more family dinners as they pursue success at work.
In these cases, people may not hear the wake-up call.Even
if they do, they may sense that something isn’t quite right
but be unable to identify itor do anything to change it.
“I can’t ignore the call.A wake-up call can come in
the form of a mission: an irresistible force that compels
people to step out, step up, and take on a challenge. It is
as if they suddenly recognize what they are meant to do
and cannot ignore it any longer.
Such a call is often spiritual, as in the case of the exec-
utive who, after examining his values and personal vision,
decided to quit his job, become ordained, buy a building,
and start a church– all at age 55. But a call can take other
forms as well – to become a teacher, to work with disad-
vantaged children, or to make a difference to the people
you encounter every day. Rebecca Yoon, who runs a dry-
cleaning business, has come to consider it her mission to
connect with her customers on a personal level. Her con-
stant and sincere attention has created remarkable loyalty
to her shop, even though the actual service she provides
is identical to that delivered by hundreds of other dry
cleaners in the city.
“Life is too short!” Sometimes it takes a trauma, large
or small, to jolt people into taking a hard look at their
lives. Such an awakening may be the result of a heart at-
tack, the loss of a loved one, or a world tragedy.It can also
be the result of something less dramatic, like adjusting
to an empty nest or celebrating a significant birthday. Pri-
orities can become crystal clear at times like these, and
things that seemed important weeks, days, or even min-
utes ago no longer matter.
For example, following a grueling and heroic escape
from his office at One World Trade Center last September,
John Paul DeVito of the May Davis Group stumbled into
a church in tears,desperate to call his family.When a po-
lice officer tried to calm him down, DeVito responded,
“I’m not in shock. I’ve never been more cognizant in
my life.” Even as he mourned the deaths of friends and
colleagues, he continued to be ec-
static about life, and he’s now re-
framing his priorities, amazed that
before this horrific experience he
put duty to his job above almost
everything else.
DeVito is not alone. Anecdotal
evidence suggests that many peo-
ple felt the need to seek new mean-
ing in their lives after the tragedies
of last September, which high-
lighted the fact that life can be
cut short at any time. An article in
the December 26, 2001, Wall Street
Journal described two women who
made dramatic changes after the at-
tacks. Following a visit to New York shortly after the tow-
ers were hit, engineer Betty Roberts quit her job at age 52
to enroll in divinity school. And Chicki Wentworth de-
cided to give up the office and restaurant building she had
owned and managed for nearly 30 years in order to work
with troubled teens.
But as we’ve said, people also confront awakening
events throughout their lives in much more mundane cir-
cumstances. Turning 40, getting married, sending a child
to college, undergoing surgery, facing retirement – these
are just a handful of the moments in life when we natu-
rally pause, consider where our choices have taken us, and
check our accomplishments against our dreams.
Interestingly, it’s somehow more socially acceptable to
respond to shocking or traumatic events than to any of
the others.As a result, people who feel trapped and bored
often stick with a job that’s making them miserable for far
too long,and thus they may be more susceptible to stress-
related illnesses. What’s more, the quieter signals –a sense
april 2002 7
Reawakening Your Passion for Work
Many people confuse
achieving day-to-day
business goals with
performing truly
satisfying work.
of unease that builds over time, for example– can be easy
to miss or dismiss because their day-to-day impact is in-
cremental. But such signals are no less important as indi-
cators of the need to reassess than the more visible events.
How do you learn to listen to vital signals and respond
before it’s too late? It takes a conscious, disciplined ef-
fort at periodic self-examination.
Strategies for Renewal
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for restoring meaning
and passion to your life. However, there are strategies for
assessing your life and making corrections if you’ve gotten
off course. Most people pursue not a single strategy but
a combination, and some seek outside help while others
prefer a more solitary journey. Regardless of which path
you choose, you need time for reflection – a chance to
consider where you are, where you’re going, and where
you really want to be. Let’s look at five approaches.
Call a time-out. For some people,taking time off is the
best way to figure out what they really want to do and to
reconnect with their dreams. Academic institutions have
long provided time for rejuvenation through sabbati-
cals – six to 12 months off, often with pay. Some busi-
nesses to be clear, very few – offer sabbaticals as well,
letting people take a paid leave to pursue their interests
with the guarantee of a job when they return. More often,
businesspeople who take time off do so on their own
timea risk, to be sure, but few who have stepped off the
track regret the decision.
This is the path Bob McDowell took. McDowell, the HR
director we described earlier who felt trapped in his job,
stepped down from his position, did not look for another
job, and spent about eight months taking stock of his life.
He considered his successes and failures, and faced up to
the sacrifices he had made by dedicating himself so com-
pletely to a job that was, in the end, less than fulfilling.
Other executives take time off with far less ambitious
goals – simply to get their heads out of their work for a
while and focus on their personal lives. After a time,they
may very happily go back to the work they’d been doing
for years, eager to embrace the same challenges with re-
newed passion.
Still others might want to step off the fast track and
give their minds a rest by doing something different.
When Nick Mimken, the bored head of an insurance
agency, took stock of his life and finally realized he wasn’t
inspired by his work, he decided to sell his business, keep
only a few clients, and take sculpture classes. He then
went to work as a day laborer for a landscaper in order to
pursue his interest in outdoor sculpture – in particular,
stone fountains.Today he and his wife live in Nantucket,
Massachusetts, where he no longer works for a living but
at living. He is exploring what speaks to him be it rock
sculpture, bronze casting,protecting wildlife, or teaching
people how to handle their money. Nick is deeply pas-
sionate about his work and how he is living his life. He
calls himself a life explorer.
In any event,whether it’s an intense,soul-searching ex-
ercise or simply a break from corporate life, people almost
invariably find time-outs energizing. But stepping out
isn’t easy. No to-do list, no meetings or phone calls, no
structure– it can be difficult for high achievers to abandon
their routines. The loss of financial security makes this
move inconceivable for some. And for the many people
whose identities are tied up in their professional lives,
walking away feels like too great a sacrifice. Indeed,we’ve
seen people jump back onto the train within a week or
two without reaping any benefit from the time off, just
because they could not stand to be away from work.
Find a program. While a time-out can be little more
than a refreshing pause, a leadership or executive devel-
opment program is a more structured strategy, guiding
people as they explore their dreams and open new doors.
Remember John Lauer? Two years after Lauer left
BFGoodrich, he was still working with Hungarian refu-
gees (his time-out) and maintained that he wanted noth-
ing to do with running a company. Yet as part of his search
for the next phase of his career, he decided to pursue an
executive doctorate degree. While in the program, he
took a leadership development seminar in which a series
of exercises forced him to clarify his values, philosophy,
aspirations, and strengths. (See the sidebar “Tools for
Reflection to learn more about some of these exercises.)
In considering the next decade of his life and reflecting
on his capabilities, Lauer realized that his resistance to
running a company actually represented a fear of repli-
cating his experience at BFGoodrich. In fact, he loved
being at the helm of an organization where he could con-
vey his vision and lead the company forward, and he rel-
ished working with a team of like-minded executives.Sud-
denly, he realized that he missed those aspects of the CEO
job and that in the right kind of situationone in which
he could apply the ideas he’d developed in his studies –
being a CEO could be fun.
With this renewed passion to lead, Lauer returned a
few headhunters’ calls and within a month was offered
the job of chairman and CEO at Oglebay Norton, a
$250 million company in the raw-materials business.
There he became an exemplar of the democratic leader-
ship style, welcoming employees’ input and encouraging
his leadership team to do the same. As one of his execu-
tives told us, “John raises our spirits, our confidence, and
our passion for excellence. Although the company deals
in such unglamorous commodities as gravel and sand,
Lauer made so many improvements in his first year that
Oglebay Norton was featured in Fortune, BusinessWeek,
and the Wall Street Journal.
Another executive we know, Tim Schramko,had a long
career managing health care companies. As a diversion,
8harvard business review
Reawakening Your Passion for Work
and colleagues, or it can come from a professional coach
skilled at helping people see their strengths and iden-
tify new ways to use them. We won’t discuss more tradi-
tional therapy in this article, but it is, of course, another
alternative.
When Bob McDowell, the HR director, stepped out of
his career, he sought out a variety of personal and profes-
sional connections to help him decide how to approach
the future. Working with an executive coach, McDowell
was able to identify what was important to him in life and
translate that to what he found essential in a job.He could
then draw clear lines around the aspects of his personal
life he would no longer compromise, including health and
exercise,time with his family, personal hobbies,and other
interests. In the end, he found his way to a new career as
a partner in an executive search business a job he’d never
considered but one that matched his passion for helping
people and the companies they work for. What’s more,
his soul-searching had so sparked his creativity that in his
new position he combined traditional organizational con-
sulting with the search process to discover unusual possi-
bilities. Instead of a typical executive search, he helps
companies find employees who will bring magic to the
business and to the relationships essential to success.
What did the coach bring to McDowell’s self-reflection?
Perhaps the chief benefit was a trusting, confidential re-
lationship that gave him the space to dream something
executives shy away from, largely because the expecta-
tions of society and their families weigh on them so heav-
ily. Like many, McDowell began this process assuming
that he would simply narrow his priorities, clarify his
work goals, and chart a new professional path. But to his
surprise, his coach’s perspective helped him see new op-
portunities in every part of his life, not just in his work.
Sometimes, however, the coach does little more than
help you recognize what you already know at some level.
Richard Whiteley, the cofounder of a successful interna-
tional consulting firm and author of several business best-
sellers, felt that he wasn’t having as much fun as he used
to; he was restless and wanted a change. To that end, he
began to do some work on the side, helping business-
people improve their effectiveness through spiritual de-
velopment. He was considering leaving his consulting
practice behind altogether and concentrating on the spir-
itual work – but he was torn. He turned to a spiritual
leader, who told him,“Forget the spiritual work and con-
centrate on the work you’ve been doing.” Only when
forced to choose the wrong path could Richard recognize
what he truly wanted to do. Within a few months,Richard
had devoted himself to writing and speaking almost ex-
clusively on spirituality and passion in work – and he’s
thriving.
Find new meaning in familiar territory. It’s not al-
ways feasible to change your job or move somewhere
new, even if your situation is undesirable. And frankly,
april 2002 9
Reawakening Your Passion for Work
he began teaching part-time. He took on a growing course
load while fulfilling his business responsibilities, but he
was running himself ragged. It wasn’t until he went
through a structured process to help him design his ideal
future that he realized he had a calling to teach.Once that
was clear, he developed a plan for extricating himself
from his business obligations over a two-year period and
is now a full-time faculty member.
Many educational institutions offer programs that sup-
port this type of move. What’s more, some companies
have developed their own programs in the realization
that leaders who have a chance to reconnect with their
dreams tend to return with redoubled energy and com-
mitment. The risk, of course, is that after serious reflec-
tion, participants will jump ship. But in our experience,
most find new meaning and passion in their current po-
sitions. In any event, people who do leave weren’t in the
right job– and they would have realized it sooner or later.
Create “reflective structures.When leadership guru
Warren Bennis interviewed leaders from all walks of life
in the early 1990s, he found that they had a common way
of staying in touch with what was important to them.
They built into their lives what Bennis calls “reflective
structures, time and space for self-examination, whether
a few hours a week, a day or two a month, or a longer
period every year.
For many people, religious practices provide an outlet
for reflection,and some people build time into the day or
week for prayer or meditation. But reflection does not
have to involve organized religion. Exercise is an outlet
for many people, and some executives set aside time
in their calendars for regular workouts. One CEO of a
$2 billion utility company reserves eight hours a week for
solitary reflection – an hour a day, perhaps two or three
hours on a weekend. During that time, he might go for a
long walk, work in his home shop, or take a ride on his
Harley. However you spend the time, the idea is to get
away from the demands of your job and be with your
own thoughts.
Increasingly, we’ve seen people seek opportunities for
collective reflection as well, so that they can share their
dreams and frustrations with their peers. On his third
time heading a major division of the Hay Group, Murray
Dalziel decided to build some reflection into his life by
joining a CEO group that meets once a month. In a sense,
the group legitimizes time spent thinking, talking, and
learning from one another.Members have created a trust-
ing community where they can share honest feedback–a
scarce resource for most executives.And all gain tangible
benefits; people exchange tips on how to fix broken pro-
cesses or navigate sticky situations.
Work with a coach. Our own biases and experiences
sometimes make it impossible for us to find a way out of
a difficult or confusing situation; we need an outside per-
spective. Help can come informally from family, friends,
many people don’t want to make such major changes.
But it is often easier than you might think to make small
adjustments so that your work more directly reflects your
beliefs and values – as long as you know what you need
and have the courage to take some risks.
Back to Niall FitzGerald,who was confronted with the
decision over whether to live and work in South Africa. A
strong and principled person as well as a good corporate
citizen, FitzGerald eventually decided to break with com-
pany culture by accepting the job on one unprecedented
condition: If over the first six months or so he found his
involvement with the country intolerable,he would be al-
lowed to take another job at Unilever,no questions asked.
He then set forth to find ways to exert a positive influence
on his new work environment wherever possible.
As the leader of a prominent business, FitzGerald had
some clout, of course, but he knew that he could not take
on the government directly. His response: Figure out what
he could change, do it, and then deal with the system.
For example, when he was building a new plant, the ar-
chitect showed FitzGerald plans with eight bathrooms –
four each for men and women, segregated by the four
primary racial groups, as mandated by law. Together,
the eight bathrooms would consume one-quarter of an
entire floor.
FitzGerald rejected the plans, announcing that he
would build two bathrooms, one for men and one for
women, to the highest possible standards. Once the plant
was built, government officials inspected the building,
noticed the discrepancy, and asked him what he planned
to do about it. He responded,“They’re not segregated be-
cause we chose not to do so. We don’t agree with segre-
gation. These are very fine toilets…you could have your
lunch on the floor.…I don’t have a problem at all. You
have a problem, and you have to decide what you are
going to do. I’m doing nothing.” The government did not
respond immediately, but later the law was quietly
changed. FitzGerald’s act of rebellion was small, but it
was consistent with his values and was the only stand
he could have taken in good conscience. Living one’s
values in this way, in the face of opposition, is energiz-
ing. Bringing about change that can make a difference
to the people around us gives meaning to our work, and
for many people, it leads to a renewed commitment to
their jobs.
For Rob, the manager who found himself reporting
to an abusive boss, the first step was to look inward and
admit that every day would be a challenge. By becom-
ing very clear about his own core values, he could decide
moment to moment how to deal with Martin’s demands.
He could determine whether a particular emotional re-
action was a visceral response to a man he didn’t respect
or a reaction to a bad idea that he would need to confront.
He could choose whether to do what he thought was
right or to collude with what felt wrong. His clarity al-
10 harvard business review
Reawakening Your Passion for Work
Once you’ve lost touch with your passion and
dreams, the very routine of work and the habits of
your mind can make it difficult to reconnect. Here
are some tools that can help people break from those
routines and allow their dreams to come to the
surface again.
Reflecting on the Past. Alone and with trusted
friends and advisers, periodically do a reality check.
Take an hour or two and draw your “lifeline.” Begin-
ning with childhood, plot the high points and the
low points the events that caused you great joy and
great sorrow. Note the times you were most proud,
most excited, and most strong and clear. Note also
the times you felt lost and alone. Point out for your-
self the transitions–times when things fundamen-
tally changed for you. Now,look at the whole. What
are some of the underlying themes? What seems
to be ever present, no matter the situation? What
values seem to weigh in most often and most heavily
when you make changes in your life? Are you gener-
ally on a positive track, or have there been lots of
ups and downs? Where does luck or fate fit in?
Now, switch to the more recent past and consider
these questions: What has or has not changed at
work, in life? How am I feeling? How do I see myself
these days? Am I living my values? Am I having fun?
lowed him to stay calm and focused, do his job well, and
take care of the business and the people around him. In
the end, Rob came out of a difficult situation knowing he
had kept his integrity without compromising his career,
and in that time,he even learned and grew professionally.
He still uses the barometer he developed during his years
with Martin to check actions and decisions against his
values, even though his circumstances have changed.
Another executive we’ve worked with, Bart Morrison,
ran a nonprofit organization for ten years and was widely
considered a success by donors, program recipients, and
policy makers alike. Yet he felt restless and wondered if
a turn as a company executive–which would mean higher
compensation– would satisfy his urge for a new challenge.
Morrison didn’t really need more money, although it
would have been a plus, and he had a deep sense of social
Tools for Reflection
april 2002 11
Reawakening Your Passion for Work
Do my values still fit with what I need to do at work
and with what my company is doing? Have my
dreams changed? Do I still believe in my vision of
my future?
As a way to pull it all together, do a bit of free-
form writing, finishing the sentence,“In my life I…
and now I….
Defining Your Principles for Life. Think about
the different aspects of your life that are important,
such as family, relationships, work, spirituality, and
physical health. What are your core values in each of
those areas? List five or six principles that guide you
in life and think about whether they are values that
you truly live by or simply talk about.
Extending the Horizon. Try writing a page or two
about what you would like to do with the rest of your
life. Or you might want to number a sheet of paper
1 through 27 and then list all the things you want to
do or experience before you die. Don’t feel the need
to stop at 27, and don’t worry about priorities or
practicality– just write down whatever comes to you.
This exercise is harder than it seems because it’s
human nature to think more in terms of what we
have to do– by tomorrow, next week, or next month.
But with such a short horizon, we can focus only on
what’s urgent, not on what’s important. When we
think in terms of the extended horizon, such as
what we might do before we die, we open up a new
range of possibilities. In our work with leaders who
perform this exercise, we’ve seen a surprising trend:
Most people jot down a few career goals, but 80%
or more of their lists have nothing to do with work.
When they finish the exercise and study their writ-
ing, they see patterns that help them begin to
crystallize their dreams and aspirations.
Envisioning the Future. Think about where you
would be sitting and reading this article if it were
15 years from now and you were living your ideal
life. What kinds of people would be around you?
How would your environment look and feel? What
might you be doing during a typical day or week?
Don’t worry about the feasibility of creating this life;
rather, let the image develop and place yourself in
the picture.
Try doing some free-form writing about this vision
of yourself,speak your vision into a tape recorder, or
talk about it with a trusted friend.Many people re-
port that, when doing this exercise, they experience
a release of energy and feel more optimistic than
they had even moments earlier. Envisioning an ideal
future can be a powerful way to connect with the
possibilities for change in our lives.
mission and commitment to his work. He also acknowl-
edged that working in the private sector would not realis-
tically offer him any meaningful new challenges. In our
work together, he brainstormed about different avenues
he could take while continuing in the nonprofit field,and
it occurred to him that he could write books and give
speeches. These new activities gave him the excitement
he had been looking for and allowed him to stay true to
his calling.
It’s worth noting that executives often feel threatened
when employees start asking,“Am I doing what I want to
do with my life?”The risk is very real that the answer will
be no,and companies can lose great contributors. The im-
pulse, then, may be to try to suppress such exploration.
Many executives also avoid listening to their own signals,
fearing that a close look at their dreams and aspirations
will reveal severe disappointments, that to be true to
themselves they will have to leave their jobs and sacrifice
everything they have worked so hard to achieve.
But although people no longer expect leaders to have
all the answers, they do expect their leaders to be open to
the questionsto try to keep their own passion alive and
to support employees through the same process.After all,
sooner or later most people will feel an urgent need to
take stock – and if they are given the chance to heed the
call, they will most likely emerge stronger, wiser, and
more determined than ever.
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