When you tie together what you do with what you're passionate about, there's no limit to where you can take your career. You need only look at some of the most successful people in the world: Think Richard Branson (adventure), Madonna (reinvention), or Martha Stewart (entertaining).
Know what gets you jazzed
The first step, of course, is to know the things you're passionate about. You'd be surprised how many people are disconnected from what energizes them. I've asked many an executive what her passion is and been met with only blank stares.
To get a handle on your passions, answer this question:
If you had all the money you needed and could do anything all day, every day, what would it be?
Once you know what you're passionate about, you need to ask the other important question: Can I inject some of this passion into my work? The answer for most of us is yes, but it often takes time and creativity to make the connection. Sometimes it seems that our passions and our vocations are as different as Oprah and Dr. Phil.
Passion peps performance
Let me tell you the story of a client named Dave. Dave leads a team of sales directors who sell infrastructure software to IT executives. Dave's passion is team sports. He loves sports — all team sports. Dave knows every statistic, every player, every ballpark. He visits every sporting goods store, plays football or baseball every weekend and watches ESPN as if it were the only channel on TV.
Dave could not see how to connect sports to IT software sales. He thought he had two options:
Having grown accustomed to the finer things in life, he decided to keep his day job and focus on sports in his free time.
I asked Dave to think about making a connection between what he does and what he's passionate about. Finally, he came to me and said "I've got it. I figured it out. It was right there in front of me all the time." Since most of his staff's clients are at least mildly interested in sports, he decided he would use sports metaphors in his sales presentations. To involve his whole team, he initiated a contest. The sales person who designed the best new sales presentation with a sports theme would receive a special bonus. This contest reinvigorated his team. The results were spectacular. As a result of his connecting his passion with his work, sales increased, his team was more engaged and he was more fulfilled.
In addition, Dave enjoyed the competitive environment he created for his team and was thrilled with the new level of energy and commitment he saw in his sales people.
Your passions make you memorable
Sometimes, no matter how much we search, we can't find a link between our passions and our work. And in that case, we need to make a decision about whether or not to make a change. Many executives in the job-search process have confirmed that talking about their passions during their interviews makes them more energized and interesting to hiring managers — even if their passions are not directly related to the work at hand.
Even if your colleagues don't share the same passion, they will respect and admire you. One of my clients expresses his passion for the environment with the way he decorates his office. Another expresses her passion for all things humorous with the joke of the week she posts on her door, the true-life funny stories she uses to start all of her meetings and her top 10 list of the world's funniest people. Yet another who is passionate about health has started an after-work yoga class, designed a health food menu for the company cafeteria and provides daily health tips at the bottom of internal e-mail messages.
We are much more fulfilled when we integrate our passions into our work in some way. If you're looking for your next big gig, think about the positions that incorporate your passions. It will be the key to making it to the top.