The Passion Paralysis



We seem to be obsessed with passion. The advice is out there: you should find and follow your passion. And if you are a leader, you need to have it - after all, you are to explain your "why"...

But, what if you cannot find your passion?

 • Maybe you have been leading for a few years and you are now aiming at crystallising your message and style. Or you became unsure about your trajectory.

 • Maybe you are mid-career, a senior leader, going through a difficult period and want to discover it again.

 • Maybe you want to become a leader and feel that not knowing your passion means that you cannot be one.

Sometimes the passion pressure might feel so overpowering that you become paralysed. Making you obsess over finding your passion first. ...and acting much-much later. While I am a big advocate of the pause-contemplate-intentional action trio, I also have a low tolerance for being stuck - be it my own life and career or yours. If you have ever worked with me as your coach, you know what I mean. ;) So, let's get you out of the passion paralysis, shall we?

What is passion?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines passion as a "very powerful feeling, for example of sexual attraction, love, hate, anger, or other emotion." When you have a passion for something, you experience "an extreme interest in or wish for doing something, such as a hobby, activity."
Where does this strong feeling and extreme interest come from? You feel this way about ideas, people and things that are valuable to you. You find them important and care about them. That is, they speak about your strengths (or superpowers after Whitney Johnson), values and principles.
What if passion is the the way you express your values and strengths?
Swapping the words might lessen the pressure. You might not feel the passion (yet) but you definitely have strengths and values!

Why does passion matter at work?

When you feel passionate, you are greatly excited and heavily interested in something. You are fully engaged and driven to high performance without external motivating factors, like rewards or evaluations. Psychologists call it intrinsic motivation.

Various papers detail the positive impact of intrinsic motivation at work.
Moreover, the energy you show for your passion is attractive to others. It makes you more influential. You look charismatic - an excellent trait of leaders.
Think back to a professional situation where you were at your best (energised and excited). Describe the task, the people, the environment. What did you enjoy about it most?

Let's start moving forward! What has a leader got to do find passion?

As we saw, the breadcrumbs to your passion lie in your values and circumstances where you felt energised in the past.

Finding those breadcrumbs will take
  • scheduling some quiet time with a cup of hot cocoa. A glass of wine might even work better!
  • paper, pen or your favourite note-taking app...
  • a bit of googling for a values' list (or sending me a LinkedIn message to get mine),
  • asking yourself questions. Many of them. Why, when, how, who, where, what if, open and closed. Remember that not having all the answers is "ok". Jot down the question in that case, you can come back to it later.
  • not stressing and obsessing over the "right" answers. Every piece of information you collect in this process is correct as long as you are honest with yourself. Really.
So, what if you came up with: My passion is binge-watching Netflix? (True story.) That's a behaviour, not a value or strength. You will want to ask more questions to uncover what this activity expresses. Curiosity? Safety? Regularity?

Once you have some clues, you will want to test them. Come up with a task at work or a side project where you can express that strength or value. Something that would make you excited and energised. If you follow through on this experiment, what is your takeaway?
"A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step." -- Lao Tzu
Knowing your passion(s) is powerful, and a topic worth exploring. When you have passion for something, you are naturally energised by expressing your values and using your strengths. You are thriving instead of struggling. The downside of passion is becoming obsessed about finding it and getting stuck in the process. When you feel the pressure from the messages that a leader needs to show passion, you might break your mind free with the ideas from this article.

What questions would you ask to help a leader find and express their passion?

I would love to hear from you and help you explore what drives your career!

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