Prioritize Your Professional Passions
Welcome to year 3 of the pandemic. If that thought made you feel a little crumpled and battle-weary, you’re not alone. Far from it.
The 2021 Women in the Workplace Study found that 42 percent of professional women are feeling burned out. Among women managers the rate of burnout was even higher, topping 50 percent.
This is “resilience fatigue”, the feeling of depletion that comes from two years of doing whatever it takes to stay afloat and alert, day in, day out. Two years of showing up and doing your best to maintain your productivity and performance…while dumpster fires pop and crackle all around you.
I mention this because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from working with hundreds of thousands of professional women, it’s this: One reliable way to inoculate yourself against resilience fatigue and show pandemic burnout who’s boss is to do more of the work that fuels you, fulfills you, and feeds your soul.
I’m here to tell you that you can have a career where you get to make a meaningful impact doing work that is rewarding, suited to your talents—and makes your heart sing. It’s not too much to ask for.
Passion propels performance
Professional passions propel performance, and this matters—a lot. When a team at Deloitte examined what makes work not feel like work, they discovered that 87 percent of America’s workforce are contributing less than their full potential because they lack passion for their work.[i] The rare individuals who have connected their passion to their profession outearn, outlearn, and outperform their peers. They also have the resilience it takes to conquer inevitable challenges and setbacks.
Here’s the catch, though: career advice like “discover your passion” and “do what you love” isn’t all that helpful and can even set you up to fail. We’ve been programmed to go about it all wrong. The notion that you can just go discover your life’s calling and unleash your passion is a bit misguided. The reality is more nuanced and worth taking time to understand.
The idea that we all have a single, enduring, preprogrammed passion for a fixed area of interest has been debunked by researchers at Stanford[ii] —which might come as a relief if you haven’t found yours yet. You haven’t failed at this.
The researchers found that rather than going all-in to discover one, deep, intrinsic passion, it’s possible to develop passion for something you enjoy doing.
You don’t have to wait to discover passion.
You can dive right in and develop it.
And developing a passion is something you work at, persist with, and grow into.
Find your professional passions
If you’ve identified your professional passions and can apply them in your work, congratulations. You’re one of the lucky 13 percent who have.
If you’re not a 13-percenter, here’s another plot twist: we’re not all that effective at predicting where our passions lie. So, don’t try to overthink this.
Remember, “Find your passion” is vague advice that’s mildly helpful at best. Here’s a gentler, more practical approach: Find something you enjoy and develop a passion for it. Or choose some areas to dabble in and make it easier for passion to find you. Explore an interest. Try stuff out. Let your passions come at you out of left field while you’re otherwise engaged in being curious. And when passion finds you, pounce on it, commit to it, and prioritize the heck out of it.
You deserve nothing less than a lifetime of work that energizes you, plays to your strengths, and allows you to operate at your best every day. So give yourself the gift of a few moments today to pause, reflect, and reimagine what you want for yourself. I think you’ve more than earned it.
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Jo Miller is a globally renowned expert on women’s leadership. She has dedicated two decades to helping women advance into positions of influence by leveraging their leadership strengths. Connect with Jo and learn more her work at www.jomiller.com.
A version of this article appeared in the Spring 2022 edition of HER Magazine. Adapted from Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive (McGraw-Hill, 2019) by Jo Miller.
i John Hagel et al., “If You Love Them, Set Them Free: Why Building the Workforce You Need for Tomorrow Means Giving Them Wings to Fly Today,” Deloitte Insights, June 6, 2017.
ii Paul A. O’Keefe, Carol S. Dweck, and Gregory M. Walton, “Implicit Theories of Interest: Finding Your Passion or Developing It?” Psychological Science (forthcoming).