A recent study sponsored by the Society of Human Resource management showed that up to 80% of employed adults are somewhat to totally dissatisfied with their job and career. This study, and many like it, make it clear that almost all employees feel some level of angst, constantly looking to find career satisfaction in another company, or they fell trapped, knowing that if they leave their company they are walking away from financial security (401k, pensions and the like) and friendships, and into the uncertainty of a new career and or company. So, they put in their time, often treating their job as a nine-to-five necessity.
This wide spread work and career dissatisfaction is one of the tragedies of our time. Nobody wins as people are robbed of the career happiness and fulfillment that they seek, and employers are left with a less engaged, less productive, and less resilient company.
Over the decades we have counseled with hundreds of professionals who dream of escaping their company to do what they love, whether it is photography, running a cattle ranch, travel, or flying hot air balloons, they long to follow their “real passion”. However, it is just a dream as these people see no way to bring what they love into their company and career – they feel trapped, often going through the motions until retirement.
Fact is, the career cage people put themselves in is of their own design. In our book, “Make It Work: Navigate Your Career Without Leaving Your Organization”, we outline a powerful and emerging concept called “passionate core” that is helping thousands of people find their career engagement in their current organization.
Your Passionate Core
Specific passions can come and go at any time in your life. Like you, we as authors have had periods in which we were passionate about activities such as golf, poetry, traveling, and playing the guitar. At the time these were real passions, dominating our thoughts and discretionary time. But don’t confuse these passions with your passionate core. Had we made career choices based upon these short-term passions or interests, we would have built our careers on weak foundations.
You need to examine how your passion is expressed to understand the personal needs it helps to fulfill. This source code is your “passionate core”. It is made up of the two to five needs that must find expression in your life and career for you to realize sustained energy, passion and success. These are the needs that are being fulfilled by the activities you are passionate about. The passionate core needs are part of your very being, even your DNA. They don’t change over time; however, the activities you are passionate about that fulfill these needs may vary tremendously.
For example, I, Joe Frodsham, have at times been passionate about carpentry, writing and painting. Each of these activities was fulfilling a common need to create something that lasts. Understanding this passionate core need provided much more flexibility when exploring career options. If I simply looked at how my passionate core was expressed at that period in my life, I might have felt I needed to build homes, write mystery novels or paint murals to find passion in my work. However, understanding the underlying need allowed me to choose from a wider variety of career options and work options that would allow me to create something that lasts. I was also able to avoid work opportunities that seemed appealing from the outside–money and title, for instance–that would frustrate my efforts to create something that lasts.
More Career Options from your Passionate Core
Getting beyond your passionate activities to your core is absolutely critical. People we have worked with often point to passions outside the realm of their career choice. Whether it be the accountant who loves travel, the manager who has a passion for gardening, or the school teacher who spends all his spare time working on vehicles, there often appears to be no way to make a living doing what they really love.
Looking deeper at their passionate core reveals that the accountant’s love of travel fulfills a core need for freedom and learning. The manager with a passion for gardening needs to create and grow things. And the schoolteacher who is constantly fixing old cars needs to make things more efficient and better. In each case, discovering their passionate core will provide powerful self-awareness, and greater flexibility when finding passion and wealth within an organization. For the accountant it is easier to find a role that contains freedom and learning in her current organization, than a role solely focused on travel and sight seeing. Similarly, the manager and accountant will have a much easier time finding roles in an organization that align with their passionate core.
The multitude of career choices available by uncovering one’s passionate core is illustrated by a colleague of ours we will call Barry. For years he had a passion for photography and he held the false belief that the only thing that would bring him ultimate career fulfillment would be to quit his job and open his own photography studio. Given his highly paid position and the financial needs of his family, he felt making such a move would be too risky and resigned himself to being satisfied with the fulfillment of basic needs – predictable schedule and regular paycheck – that his position provided. This all changed when he identified his passionate core and realized his love of photography was based on his core need to express himself creatively – something that had been missing from his role for years. He was able to then fulfill this need in his current role by getting involved in more ground floor innovation projects and delegating some of the maintenance activities to others on his staff. The result has been a more fulfilled career.
Uncovering your passionate core can also help you look at your current work in different ways. For many, it re-frames their current job, enabling them to bring their heart into work they have been doing for years. Such was the case with someone we will call Annette.
Annette was 55 years old and as a tax accountant had been preparing personal income taxes for two decades. One day, as Annette was preparing income tax forms for one of us, she shared her dissatisfaction with her heavy work load and the drudgery and monotony of completing endless income tax returns and simply “shuffling paper”. In uncovering her passionate core needs, it became clear that she needed to build something tangible, connect with people and their life stories, and complete tasks. For years Annette had been expressing these needs by weaving small baskets, usually with her family and other friends present where they would socialize.
One day when discussing Annette’s core needs, she had a break through. She realized that each of her passionate core needs could find expression in her current role. She was indeed taking raw ingredients such as receipts and pay stubs and creating a tax return, and each completed tax return gave her the needed sense of completion. In the process she could learn about each person, their desires and their story since she saw them the year before. In thinking about her work in this way she realized that each completed tax return was like completing a basket. This realization changed Annette immediately. It made her role much more meaningful and allowed her to bring her passionate core into her current work by focusing on helping people and creating excellent tax returns instead of simply shuffling paper. Annette went from completing her work as a sense of duty and obligation to choosing her work as a natural extension of what she needs and loves. This is called the passionate core “re-frame”.
Sometimes aligning with a person’s passionate core motivates a significant change in role, industry, or location. Such was the case with another person we worked with we will call James.
Based on a felt passion for adventure, James joined the United States army with the hope of seeing new places and being all he could be. However, he became disillusioned with the perceived rules and constraints of military life. Once in touch with his passionate core, he realized he really needed independence and a sense of control over his destiny. Based on this, he finished his military commitment and started an Internet services business. Although starting his business has been challenging, he is realizing fulfillment and at the time of the writing of this book his company is experiencing excellent growth.
In reality, James did not have to move out of a formal military career to find fulfillment of his core needs. Even in an environment and culture as strong as the military, there are roles for people within the whole spectrum of core needs. By using the practices outlined in Part 2 of this book, James could have carved a career of health and wealth in the military. However, the most important thing is that James is aligned with his core needs and loving it.
These and numerous other examples we could cite point to the fact that Career wealth comes from alignment with our passionate core. As people become clear and focused on expressing their critical few core needs in their work, it generates real energy.
With your passionate core as your source, you can’t successfully look to other remedies to help a mediocre career. Standard solutions like greater work/life balance, a clearer career path or better pay may re-energize you in the short term; however, the effect will wear off quickly and your level of real Career wealth will still be determined by your level of alignment with your passionate core.
How to Discover Your Passionate Core
Discover your passionate core by identifying the things you are passionate about and then for each one, ask yourself – what does this passion do for me personally? The simple exercise of asking yourself this question for each of your passions will uncover the needs that you have to have in your life and in your career.
For more on building a great career, see the book “Make It Work: Navigate Your Career Without Leaving Your Organization”, by Joe Frodsham and Bill Gargiulo.
About the Author: Joe Frodsham is co-author of the book, “Make it Work: Navigate Your Career Without Leaving Your Organization”. Joe has been in a leader in a number of Fortune 500 companies, and is now the Founder and Principal of the consulting firm – JBKF Group LLC.