Work harder.

With so much going on, you might feel adrift and unsure about your next professional move. Should I keep this job or look for another? Get the voluntary resignation package and start my side hustle with the money? Apply for a grant with an idea and make the world a better place because everything is going haywire? Or maybe, just maybe, finally time has come to turn passion into business!

When the definition of “normal” changes, the chances we might fall victim to the “follow your passion!” increase. I keep bumping into it lately. Drop out of school, follow your passion! Resign your job and follow your passion! Fuck marriage, leave your kids, follow your passion! The bad news is that it doesn’t work this way. The good news is that there are other ingredients that CAN make you “professionally happy” when “normal” is not as we knew it.

Of course, you can follow your passion and do what you dream of. However, this pursuit has positive results only in about 5% of the cases. This means the people manage to do this in real life are rare and, in many cases, the key is not just passion. Hard work and values as fuel are, too.

A couple of years ago, in an international conference, I was invited to describe myself in 5 words and I said “I am passionate about hard work”. The room laughed. I had no clue I’ve made a joke.

I will share with you how I got to the conclusion that hard work is the most important thing that will make anyone happy with the professional side of their life.

When I was about 10, I found out what a “motto” is. It sounded cool because it had a double “t”. I decided to collect mottos and chose “Just do it!” as my favorite. Around 15, I found the first shirt with “Just do it!” sewn on it. It was size 40 and looked like I borrowed it from an imaginary older brother, but I convinced my mom to let me buy it from my monthly allowance and treasured it dearly. I guess it stuck in my head: “Just do it!”. Fueling your passion requires some energy that is rooted in a core value otherwise it gets depleted easily. In my case, this “doing” is achievement. Which has been my number one personal value for more than 2 decades.

Around that same age I thought I am passionate about theatre. I knew how it felt to rehearse a 5 minutes fragment from a play for 4 hours in a row. I was so passionate about it that I didn’t get hungry, it didn’t seem weird to wear a bold wig or the 42 size shoes my character wore all day long. Or even the fact that I only said 2 lines. That was 150% pure passion that kept me there! Or so I thought. Looking back, I am aware now that it was about improvement, getting better at something, high performance. Later on, as a trainer, I have delivered around 100 “Train the Trainer” courses. I usually get bored easily, but not of repeating a project, apparently. Because, the repetition for improvement was fueled by achievement, yet again. Don’t confuse passion with a personal value that might define you to the core.

When I was about 20, I was embarking on a new adventure and doing multiple things in the same time, thinking (again) that my passion is the one driving me forward…

  • I was studying computer science, which I didn’t enjoy, but saw it as something I pursued because I was pushed by passion for newness and the rationalization that systematically putting myself out of my comfort zone, will help me grow. This again was a core value and not passion. It was about what I label as wisdom and learning, continuous improvement, growth. I learn to stay ahead of time, out curiosity and of fear of Alzheimer.
  • During the same time, I also co-founded a startup. I did that against my family’s wish to “stay in school” and “not risk my pocket money”. I made an investment which at that time, was the equivalent of 1 chair for our living room transformed-to-office space. I got into this because I hoped that DOING some IT will give me more joy for STUDYING it. It worked very little. But what I did learn, was pitching. I got to apply some of the skills I developed in theatre practice, I was selling a “learning app” and I was waaay out of my comfort zone. Therefore, improving, striving for excellence, doing. All core to who I was, not the “passion I had” for entrepreneurship. I didn’t even know what entrepreneurship really was back then.
  • I was a trainer in an NGO and enjoyed helping people and “belonging” to a group of peers. The whole context fooled me. I thought I am passionate about training while all along was about using my theatre skills, feeding my need for “belonging” and my hunger for learning and achievement.

Towards the end of university studies, I got a job in HR. I enjoyed it because it matched my values and then I chose to pursue a masters in HR. I found out that very few people had such a “bipolar” background as IT and HR in the same resume. Apparently, it was something appealing for some companies. The rest is history. Whatever I did, I applied what I learned and practiced in the previous years and ended up loving it. What I am trying to say here is, that there was a lot of hard working and adding passion into it. I tried out different projects, constantly put myself out of my comfort zone, and cultivated passion for what I already did.

Reflecting back, into the present and how I changed over the last 2 decades of working, I got to some conclusions. These might be flawed, or maybe not, it’s what keeps me “professionally happy”.

  1. There is a big chance you don’t know what you are passionate about. If you know your passions NOW, good. They will change, good luck finding out which are the newcomers. These are rather hobbies anyway. Even at 80 you might develop a new passion, like that lady who decided she needs something new in her life, started archeology university and until 90 years old she became a world renown expert in the field. She says “archeology changed my life!” –  her most recent 10 years of the 90, anyways. I am only 30ish, long way to 90, if I get there. At the moment I can say that I am passionate about “human nature” and people, rooted in one of my strongest personal values: “belonging”, so I am pretty sure, this lady’s passion was driven by a value she holds dear.
  2. If you know your passion, there is huge chance you won’t end up practicing it. It seems only 5% (others say 2%) of people have a job that is a match with their passion. So, it’s ok if you don’t transform your passion into your work, like ~98% of us. Just find some meaning in your work and this will fuel you to work passionately. I was passionate about graphics, not computer science in general. I worked hard to finish school because while studying I realized I see technology as a tool for helping people improve. In my head, I translated this as “getting better at belonging” to the 21st century village of fellow-humans. In the end, faculty helped far less than I hoped, but I do, have 1 thing to thank it for: the rational thinking, systematic approach to problems, solution-oriented attitude etc. Your professional choices reflect a bit of a personal value. If you analyze them you might find interesting things about yourself. In my case, above it all…computer science meant learning and achievement since very few girls studied it and finished it that time.
  3. Passion is something you need to cultivate on a field of some other crop. Our grandparents used to plant climbing beans in the corn fields. Without the corn there would be no beans. You can be a passionate writer and have no writing skills, a passionate trainer and no niche subject to teach others, etc. Breakthroughs come from different areas you grow in, not from passion. Passion is a short-term fuel, like coffee. It can give you a NOS for a bit. For long-term endurance you need self-discipline, agility and constantly pushing yourself out of your comfort zone for muscle mass building. Then on top of these, passion will sprout.
  4. To keep passion building up, you need dopamine. For dopamine to flood your brain, you need a trigger. If you keep pushing without a solid foundation, you might get “passion burnout”. If you build a sustainable system and create a habit, there is no need any more for dopamine and for passion either. Going to work with enthusiasm, smiling to your colleagues, that’s not passion. Something else keeps you going. In my case “doing” keeps me going, it refuels my passion. If I am down, I’d better stop thinking and just get up, just do it. This is my “poison” – yours?

Stop searching for your passion. Start doing the hard work. Start doing. Start putting self-discipline in what you do. Connect the doing and how you do it with your core personal values. Once you nail this, you will get a great chemical reaction and maybe find your path to feeling “professionally happy” whether it’s in a job, house-caring, family building, farming, your own company or whatever warms your heart. So here is the threesome! Hard work connected to your core values and passion will sprout on them.

What’s your 3-ingredient recipe? Would you add anything to this one based on your experience?

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