Columnist Alina Tugend is tired of hearing about “finding our passion” in the workplace. She wonders if we are falling into a “trap of believing that our work, and indeed our lives, should always be fascinating and all consuming”.
That’s the interesting theme of a piece she wrote this past Sunday in the New York Times that is well worth your time.
It is filled with great little tidbits on how various Professors, Psychologists, and Authors look at job fulfillment, and the role of passion in achieving it.
The point she makes amongst these opinions is that not everything we do in the workplace is going to be “passion-worthy” – there is a lot of routine, boring, and outright unpleasant stuff that happens along the way. But that shouldn’t stand in our way of a general sense of career enjoyment, or finding some meaning in what we do.
So instead of shooting for all passion & glory, all the time, perhaps there is a more reasoned way to approach it.
One way that made a lot of sense to me in the article was offered by Professor Csikszentmihalyi, and his concept of “flow” – or “a state of complete involvement“. Put simply, it’s being so absorbed in your work that you lose track of time.
I could completely relate to this – during the part of my career when I was unhappy, I was always looking at the clock – counting the minutes to when I could go home. These days, where I’m in a job I like, time just totally flies, and there never seems to be enough of it. So my “flow” is pretty good – not perfect, but good.
Then there’s dopamine. That’s what gets released in our brain when we accomplish goals – and makes us feel good. Professor Gary Marcus concludes that “the way to be happy in life is to set a series of achievable goals”. Fair enough, but the purpose of the goal setting does factor into it – otherwise everybody would be fulfilled in life by winning at video games instead of cracking the genetic code or inventing a new Social Media software.
Finally, there’s “the love of the job”- to Tugend’s point, it’s pretty rare when we absolutely love everything that happens on any given day on the job. It’s more like a series of trade offs that lead to a generalized good feeling – as she quoted Byron Wolt, “if you love what you do, what you don’t love about it isn’t so bad“.
In the end, Tugend concludes that perhaps searching for passion is “not so bad”- but it has to be infused with a sense of realism that understands that it’s not going to be there all the time. In fact, it seems like any way you look at happiness in the workplace, be it through passion, or “flow”, or goal setting, or love, if we can indeed keep our sense of perspective through it all, we don’t need 100% of any of it.
How much DO we need?
Tugend quotes Author Lawler Kang as saying – “if 85 percent of what you’re looking for is there, that’s great“.
85 Percent – that’s sounds about right to me.
Let’s call it the “85% Happiness Solution – Because The World Ain’t Perfect (and Neither Are We)”
Sounds like a pretty half-full way of looking at it, don’t you think? Thanks Alina for a great article, and the inspiration.