I love my job. I love what I do. I have been fortunate to have the ability to say this for most of my career. I’ve had a variety of jobs, of roles, of employers, but one constant rings true: I enjoy what I do. I was recently asked to keynote at the annual Indiana Tech Engineering and Computer Science conference in Fort Wayne. The audience was college seniors getting ready to embark on their respective life journeys. As I was preparing for the presentation and looking back over my career, a few notable things stood out that I believe led to my ability to proudly say “I love what I do”.
When I say I love my job it’s not just a platitude. I really do love what I do. I help other people, I help organizations. But, Love is such a strong word. When preparing the presentation, I almost changed it. Perhaps, “How to enjoy your job” or “how to be happy at your job.” None of those really hit on the emotional side of what I wanted to say. Love is more controversial. Love is more profound. It is a bolder statement. Loving your job is about having a passion for what you do. Knowing why you do what you do. Daniel Pink talks about the 3 motivators, autonomy, mastery and purpose. I do believe all three are required. But, Mark Twain may have said it best: “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”
This is one thing I have always stressed to my children. Be passionate about what you do. Life can be miserable if you don’t. Recently my son, who graduates from college this year, reminded me of this. His major is microbiology. After 3 years of college, he has decided that is not what he wants to do. He likes microbiology and finds it fascinating but not as a career. Sitting in a lab all day no longer appeals to him. Parenting conversations ensue. What do you want to do? After many conversations, he has decided he wants to be an agile coach like me and I could not be more proud. Not because he wants to do what I do but because he owned his decision. He had the courage to say “this is not what I want to do” and to pivot. Now, when we talk about his future, he is excited. He is energetic.
I started my first office job with the Indiana Department of Revenue in December 1995. I had only planned on being there for 1 year. I worked there for 20 years. While at DOR there was a shake up and an internal restructure for our organization. I had to make a choice. I could stay with my current department, with an area I knew, and people I enjoyed working with or step into a completely unfamiliar world of programming, to something I had never done before with people I had not met. I took a leap and started a new passion. When I took the job, I had never written a line of code. Like many people, I thought “How hard can it be?” Famous last words. I soon found out. I fell in love with programming. Nerdy, I know. Besides the challenge of writing clean simple code, I loved being able to help make people’s day to day work easier. Though I am no longer programming, I still miss it today. I look back and realize what a pivotal decision that was. It started me on a path of valuable lessons several of which are outlined below.
- It starts with your Mindset
I am a strong believer that having the right mindset is crucial. In her book “Growth Mindset”, Carol Dweck divided people into 2 categories, those with a growth mindset or those with a fixed mindset. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it.
A mindset is…
an attitude with which something is approached
Challenges will happen. You will have setbacks. Having a growth mindset determines how you will handle those challenges. You see them as an obstacle you can overcome or you see them as a boulder placed before you that you can not navigate around. A person with a growth mindset figures out how to climb over the boulder and move on, one with a fixed mindset lays down and stares at it, blaming the boulder for their lack of forward progress.
- Find your purpose
Know what you do and why you do it. Simon Sinek says start with why. Why do you do what you do? What is it that brings you joy, passion, excitement? Purpose isn’t the job you enjoy doing, it’s why you enjoy doing your job. What is it that intrinsically motivates you?
Three bricklayers were asked “What are you doing?”
The first says, “I am laying bricks.”
The second says, “I am building a church.”
And the third says, “I am building a house of God. A place where people can come to worship and praise their God.” The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. That third bricklayer, he has a calling. A purpose.
What is my purpose? I want to help people. I have realized over the years that I am good at figuring out what people need or want and helping them achieve it. This is my passion. This is my purpose. Sometimes it is developing a new career. Sometimes it is helping them reach their potential. Sometimes it’s just being there for them. That is what makes me happy.
- Let go of your limiting beliefs
Determine what is holding you back. We all have limiting beliefs. We often don’t realize they are there.
A few examples…
- I can’t find another job better than the one I have now
- I can never get up in front of a group of strangers and present
- My lack of a degree will keep me from getting a good job
- I can’t achieve the same status as my male colleagues
- Imposter syndrome – self doubt, fear of being exposed as a failure
Identify your self-doubts, your limiting beliefs, once identified, it becomes easier to overcome them.
- Don’t let others limit you
Unfortunately, some people will try to hold you back. Especially those with a fixed mindset. Don’t let them. Know your worth. The reality is that sometimes what comes across as being helpful is actually holding you back. ‘I am telling you this for your own good.’ ‘ I don’t want to see you get hurt.’ Both sound helpful, but are they?
- Accept advice
Be willing to take advice from those wanting to help, but don’t take it blindly. People ask me for advice, and I sometimes give it. When I do give advice, I make sure the person knows I don’t know all the context behind the situation. Anyone can give advice, but you, as the receiver, have to be able to take that advice and ensure it actually fits your situation.
- Continue to Learn
If you stop learning you stop growing. You become stagnant. You lose your passion. I can now look back and see periods of my career that were stagnant, and I see that I wasn’t actively learning. Figure out what works best for you. Join or create a book club. Determine a topic to learn about each month. Don’t become complacent. You become disengaged. Others notice.
- Establish a peer group
We cannot do this alone. We need people to bounce ideas off of. We need people to debate or challenge our assumptions. We need people with a different point of view. John Maxwell said “Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, otherwise you won’t grow.”
Two minds are better than one. Get peer feedback. As I was putting together my presentation, I ran my ideas for my topic past Andy, a coworker. We had some great discussions, and I made changes based on some of his feedback and ideas. Feedback made my presentation better.
- Find a mentor
Find a mentor. And if I were to ask the four people whom I feel have contributed the most to my journey, they would say my success is a result of my hard work, not them. To me, that is what makes a great mentor. They just wanted to help others succeed. I have had 4 great mentors. Each mentor has seen potential in me and encouraged me to try. They have guided me to accept new opportunities. They have allowed me the freedom to learn and excel. They shared their passion for helping others, and it was contagious. My mentors always called me on my bull shit. If I was doing well they praised me. If I was struggling, they encouraged me. But never did I feel like they were just giving platitudes. Their feedback was always sincere and that was how I received it.
- Own your success or failure
As I look back over my career, I have some great accomplishments. When I talk about my background, I say I am an accidental IT. I happened to luck into my position. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. A dear friend and mentor called me out on this one day. She told me to own my success. Own it, you worked hard to achieve it. And she was correct. I did work hard to get where I am.
With that being said, own your success, not other people’s. Don’t take credit for other people’s successes. At a conference, I overheard a man (with a Women in Agile sticker on his laptop) say about the presenter, “She is doing a great job. My coaching has really helped her.” Don’t take credit for success others achieve. They had to work hard to achieve it. Not you.
- Step outside your comfort zone
This is where the magic happens. Every time I have stepped outside where I am comfortable and tried something new, wonderful things have happened. New challenges. New opportunities. New friends. New learnings. New beginnings. For me, right now, I am taking an improv class. This is so far away from anything I am comfortable with and guess what, I love it. I still have moments in class where my limiting beliefs get the better of me but, man, once I let them go, what an adventure.
Another thing that sometimes happens when you step outside your comfort zone, you fail.
And when you fail, own it, learn from it. I promise you, you will have failures. If you don’t, you aren’t trying hard enough, you aren’t really stepping outside your comfort zone. Failure is an opportunity to learn, to grow. You can overcome any failure with the right mindset.
For some people, failure is the end of the world –
but for others, it’s this exciting new opportunity.
Network, network, network. I learned the importance of networking late in my career. I had been with the same company for 20 years. Why did I need to network? I thought I would retire there. I didn’t. My job now is all about networking. And wow. The people I have met. The things I have learned. The friends I have made. Social connections lead to greater engagement. We are a part of all the people we have met. All that have contributed to our lives. We take a little from everyone we meet. And we give a little.
- Own your engagement
All that I have talked about so far can be summed up by ‘Own your engagement’. A major concern in business today is employee engagement. It is at an all-time low. On average only 25% percent of employees are engaged. The single biggest obstacle for employee engagement is the employee. We are our own worst enemy. We are each responsible for making things happen for ourselves. Engaged employees take primary responsibility for their careers, their success and their fulfillment. To rely on the organization is unrealistic.
“It’s up to you”
What a great quote by Alexis Carrel. “It’s up to you.” Organizations cannot make employees be engaged. They can lather employees with perks and rewards. But these are extrinsic motivators. Not intrinsic. They do not create real lasting motivation. At best, it is temporary, not lasting fulfillment. Sadly most employees are either bored or burned out.
Ultimately you have 3 Options:
- Accept what you have been given
- Change what you have been given
- Leave what you have been given
In my career, I’ve had success and I’ve had failure. I’ve excelled and I’ve been stagnant. During all these times one constant held true. I followed my passions. I owned my level of engagement. I owned how proactive I wanted to be in learning. I owned how much effort I wanted to put into my tasks. I owned my social relationships with my co-workers. It is up to you as an employee to determine how engaged you want to be. Do you want to be like the first brick layer, going to work to earn a paycheck? Or, do you want to be the third bricklayer, the one who understands and has found the purpose behind what he does? Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide.