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How To Love Your Work: Unleash Your Interests and Passions

By Bob D. McDonald, Ph.D. and Don Hutcheson, Founders,
The Highlands Program

Several years ago, there was a story on television about the ‘Living Treasures of Japan.’ One of the people honored was a weaver in one of the far Northern provinces. This is how she talked about her work: “Sometimes I lie awake in the early morning hours waiting for the sun to come up, so that I can start my weaving again.”

This woman was engaged in a simple, repetitive task, but was utterly fascinated by every part of it – the yarn, the colors, the dying, the weaving itself. The end product, the woven cloth, was almost an afterthought for her. And yet her cloth is considered so unusually beautiful, rich, and finely made that much of it is displayed in museums as examples of the art.

We are often asked if people can really love what they are doing in this day and age. Executives, managers, professionals, people who would seem to have it all together – are asking if they can actually be passionate about what they do. Frankly, there is a lot of cynicism about the work world out there. “Why get involved? Sooner or later I’ll probably get laid off anyway.” “It’s just a job. It’s not me!”

“Nonsense,” we answer. You can get up in the morning looking forward to work. You can find out what fascinates you about what you do. In fact, finding out that key part of yourself can absolutely mean the difference between feeling like a cipher or a cog in the machine of work and feeling like an authentic living person – with some exuberance!

Bringing more of yourself into your work makes sense: the more involved, interested, and fascinated you are by what you are doing, the more you will enjoy it, and the more productive and creative you will be.

How do you do it? You have to work at it. You can’t just assume that your interests and enthusiasms are obvious. And you can’t make that most deadly of assumptions: What I’m really interested in doesn’t have anything to do with what I do at work.

 

How Not To Find Your Real Enthusiasm

 

Simply Take An Interest Test: 
Interest Tests can’t tell you anything new about yourself. They just tell you what you tell them. Matching up your interests with what people in various fields report they are interested in can lead to some bizarre matches. What they can’t do is lead you to what’s going to turn you on every morning.

 

Focus On The Result: 
“I want to impress my boss.” “I want to make next quarter’s numbers.” “I want to get this project wrapped up.” All of these are goals, which might be useful. But they can’t help you get involved in what you are doing. They focus on the outcome. Interest and fascination with work comes from focusing on the present – what you are doing and thinking right now.

 

Don’t Treat What Fascinates You As Important:
“It’s just work – it’s not life.” This is a killing attitude. It is life – your life. You should find it fascinating every day. If you find yourself going through the motions at work, if you find yourself angry all the time, if it’s not very much fun – these are all rock solid indicators that you need to be paying more attention to what really interests and fascinates you.

Here’s What To Do.

Make It A Priority:
Nothing will happen if you don’t do anything differently. Finding your real fascinations takes surprisingly little time and energy – but you have to do something. You can’t just assume you know.

Start To Be Aware Of What Grabs Your Attention:
If a news story gets your interest, why? Make a note to yourself about it. If a picture in a magazine is interesting, cut it out. Even if you hear a snatch of conversation that grabs your interest in some way, make a note about it. Don’t be concerned right now if it doesn’t have anything to do with work. Actually, at the beginning, it can be helpful if it doesn’t have anything to do with work.

 

Start An Interest File:
This is key. Get a file folder or just a box and put it someplace where you’ll see it. Collect your notes, things that get your attention, articles you cut out, pictures you cut out, or even random thoughts about what really interests you in life. Anything. You don’t have to be choosy here. You’re not wedded to anything you put in this file. The more you can play with it the better. What looks like fun? What looks like it would really be interesting – even if you don’t know anything about it? What looks like something you would like to find out more about? What has always fascinated you? Make a note; put it in the file.

 

Keep Your File At Least Two Weeks: 
Longer is better. Don’t look in it. Just keep putting stuff in. If you are surprised by anything, particularly delighted by something, or if something doesn’t turn out the way you were expecting – these are all clues to what you might find interesting. Make a note, put it in your file.

 

Don’t Try To Make Sense Of It Right Away:
Give yourself time. This is one of the most important secrets of creativity. Just put whatever you want in your interest file, you don’t have to explain it, justify it, or make sense of it for now. What you are looking for is to get as wide a sampling as possible of all of the things that get your attention all day long. Things that really get your attention, not just things that you have to do. 

 

After A Few Weeks, Open Up Your Interest File: 
This is where it starts to be fun. Pull everything out that you have been collecting and spread it out on the floor. Arrange it in piles. Start to sort out all the items into groups. What interested you about that story? What was fascinating about this picture? How are they related? If you don’t get any real groupings, put it all back and keep collecting for a few more weeks. Try again.

 

Name Your Groupings: 
Start to get some categories for your interests. You need a name for them, because you have to start focusing on what you are interested in. Make a list. Put it in order of things that interest you most, if you want to.

 

Take It To Work: 
Now that you have a clear sense and picture of what fascinates you and turns you on in life, it’s time to start looking for that at work. What does your company do that relates? What could you become involved in that would light you up every day? What could you start at your company that would make you want to get going with it every morning? You have the answer to those questions, and you can make sure it happens for you. Take the time; make it a priority; and do it.

 

Some people tell us that there is nothing really interesting about what they do all day. We think they are probably just not looking hard enough. We are reminded of the story (true) of a cashier at a large, all night drug store. He got interested in the kinds of customers that came in, and what they bought. He found that the buying habits of some customers were so regular that he could predict fairly accurately what ended up in their shopping bags. He had an idea about how to arrange the merchandise to take advantage of this observation and wrote a report to management. You can guess the result: management wanted him on the fast promotion track immediately.

The weaver who was one of the Living Treasures had found what fascinated her most in life. She had focused on it, thought about it, and found every aspect of it totally involving. She had literally made her work an art form by paying attention to what interested her. You can do this too.

REACH counselors are available to provide further assistance and referrals for career related concerns. To speak to a counselor contact REACH at 1-800-273-5273.