Keep Your Passion Front and Center


When I served as a panelist for OCA’s Professional Leadership Summit: What’s Passion Got to Do with It?, I didn’t realize how much I would get out of the experience. It forced me to reflect about my own career and how I’ve stayed in tune with what I’m passionate about over the years. I also benefited tremendously from hearing the other panelists’ stories.

So, I have three tips I’d like to share to help you keep your passion front and center:

1. Set aside time to re-energize and reflect.

As I have analyzed my career path, I realized that every three to four years I have taken some kind of big break—a leave of absence or sabbatical—to help me get perspective and clarity about what’s next for me. During that time, rather than obsessing about my career, I always focused on doing what I really enjoy (e.g., hiking, biking, international travel, etc.), to infuse positive energy into my life and give me the perspective I need to move forward.

I recognize that not everyone can take big chunks of time off. So, the next best thing is to make sure that you set aside time on a regular basis to reenergize and reflect. If you haven’t read it already, there’s a great HBR article, Manage Your Energy Not Your Time, that will help you determine how to recharge on a day-to-day basis.

As for reflection time, even as little as fifteen to twenty minutes, periodically, can really help. I know that one size does not fit all, so figure out how often you should set aside time to stay in tune with your passion and priorities. When you do take the time, ask yourself the following questions:

What do I enjoy most about what I do? What do I like the least? What am I tolerating (i.e., what is weighing me down)? What one step can I take to get more out of what I’m doing today? What one step can I take to move towards more of what I want?

I know that there are so many questions you could ask yourself, but these will get you started.

2. Surround yourself with the right people.

Energy, both positive and negative, is contagious. Surrounding yourself with people who can give you the support you need (whatever “support” looks like for you) and who get excited about the possibilities for you, can make a huge difference. Naysayers certainly have their value (e.g., they can help you think through potential risks) but they can also zap your energy, especially when you are trying to make a big, difficult change.

So take a look at who you interact with regularly or go to for advice, and think about the type of energy you get from each of them. You may realize that you need to make some shifts.

3. Make sure others understand your passion and skills.

Finally, always keep the pulse on what you are known for—your personal brand. If you don’t know what it is today, you don’t really know whether it’s hurting or helping you. So, clarify what your brand is and what you want it to be.

Remember that when that perfect opportunity comes along, you want the key influencers and decision makers to think of you. If there is a big disconnect between what that perfect job entails, and what others consider your skills and passion, you probably won’t get the job. So, set aside even five minutes each week to ensure that the right people understand the value you bring. I present on this topic all the time, so trust me when I say that you can do it tastefully and in a way that serves you and your company.

Let me end this article with a Call to Action. Determine one step you’ll take to keep your passion front and center. Remember that small steps can lead to big results.

Be Still But Keep Moving

I had a chance to hear Bill White, a community and business leader in Dallas, speak. For years, he has been a strong supporter of the United Way. His quote is the inspiration for my article today: “Be still but keep moving.” This really stuck with me, and reminds me of two important things that can be easy to forget as we rush through life.

Be Still

As I reflected about the first part of this quote, several things came to mind. First, there are times in your life where you need to stop pushing so hard and just let go. You know, those moments where you need to take a leap of faith and trust that you have done all that you can.

Sometimes, that brief pause can allow important lessons to surface that you might not otherwise notice in the midst of it all. Or it can create space for others to step up or things to unfold in ways you hadn’t expected.

Second, being still emphasizes the value of taking time to reflect and understand where you are. So when you do move forward, it’s strategic and deliberate. Strong leaders have mastered this practice.

Keep Moving

Now let’s think about the second part of the quote: “Keep moving.” To explain what he meant, Bill compared life to a bicycle. He said, “You have to keep moving to keep it in balance.” In other words, if you allow yourself to stay still too long, you will falter and won’t achieve what you want. You won’t get to the other side. So, you can’t allow yourself to stagnate or keep tolerating what doesn’t work for you. Sometimes you just need to do something and allow yourself to learn from it. Often taking even one small step can give you the insight, motivation, or information you need to take the next one.

There are times when you need to be still and other times when you just need to keep moving. Both are important to achieving your goals, personal and professional. So, what one step will you take to put this into play for yourself this week?

What Seeing Things in Black and White Can Do for You

I realized that I received five journals as gifts this year from various conferences at which I have spoken and events that I have attended. Seeing that stack of journals reminded me about the power of writing things down. It seems like such a simple thing - so simple that many underestimate its value.  So, as you wrap up the year and begin thinking about the next, take time to write down these three things:

1. Your goals

Writing down your goals has tremendous power. Once you put them on paper, you will find yourself applying more scrutiny to them, refining them, and thinking about how you will achieve them. Often that step to get the goals out of your head and onto a sheet of paper is the most important one in making that commitment to achieving them.

What are your top 3 goals for the next six months or year? Be specific.

2. How you define success

People tell me all the time that they expect to be past a certain point by now, whether they are talking about their careers, a particular project, or something related to their personal lives.  “Come on, shouldn’t I be there by now?!”

When I dig deeper, I usually find that they haven’t defined where “there” is.  In other words, they don’t really know what success looks like. So, of course they never get “there.” And even if they did get “there,” would they know it?

In situations like this, most people don’t realize that their definition of success may have become a moving target tied more to their feelings in that moment rather than their progress against clear measures of success.

So, what is your definition of success for the next six months or year? How will you know when you have achieved it?

3. Your accomplishments

I find that high performers usually underestimate or overlook their successes, quickly moving to the next thing on their lists without taking the time to notice or celebrate what they have actually accomplished.

Having a list of your achievements handy will not only help you recognize your achievements, but also arm you with the information you need to regularly provide “strategic snapshots” of your performance to key stakeholders.

What are the three accomplishments you are most proud of from this year? Who will you share them with? How will you track your accomplishments next year so that you can keep them front and center?

I hope this week’s article has gotten your wheels turning. I urge you to look at your calendar, and find some time to answer the questions I posed. Remember that you don’t have to do it in one big chunk of time. Just do it in a way that works for you