Tag Archives: happiness

Finding Your Passion and Your Purpose (When You Think You’re a Lost Cause)

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

What’s your purpose in life? What’s your passion?

Are you looking for it? Maybe you’ve been looking for it a long time. Yeah, I know how you feel. This is probably at least the thousandth page you’ve Googled to try and find an answer. You’re tired of looking. You may be on the verge of concluding that you don’t have a purpose, and certainly don’t have a passion (at least not one that counts).

That’s what I thought about myself too, but I was wrong.

Turns out I just wasn’t looking at the problem in the way I needed to so that the answer would be revealed.

In fact, I’m not sure that the answer has been revealed… but I know I HAVE it! (How’s that for a paradox?!)

Although I’ve always been an optimistic and upbeat person, most of the time, I’ve struggled with this big question. Nothing I’ve ever seemed to do has been significant enough. Sure, there are things I like to do, but nothing that I’d ever call a passion – or anything close to an activity which reliably consumes me or might well connect me with my personal purpose in life. What I’m ultimately here to contribute.

I always thought that identifying my singular passion would direct me to my PURPOSE in life – some kind of PRODUCT that I’m here to produce, to give, to contribute. I tried everything. I found great articles like “Finding Your Passion When You Don’t Know What You Want” – but nothing helped. I read books. (Lots. Of. Books.) I got depressed and despondent, and just felt like the world and all its purpose and passion had just left me behind. I must be a lost cause, I concluded. Everyone else has one but me.

That’s when I gave up trying to find it. I had no energy left! So imagine my surprise when the voice in my head got all smart about things and started chatting me up heavily. It revealed quite a bit to me! (Why couldn’t that have happened earlier!?!!) Here’s what the voice in my head started chattering about:

  • It does not have to be an all singing, all dancing, all burning passion! In fact, if FLASHING LIGHTS are what you’re expressly looking for, this might be the limiting belief that’s helping you overlook your personal secret sauce.
  • Your passion might be quiet and subtle. I always thought when I found my passion it would be like having a crush on a person or an idea and I’d just be jittery with glee and purpose all the time. But it’s not. It was there all along (like breathing, or regularly bathing, or anything else that’s so normal you don’t notice it).
  • It might keep changing. I thought that once I found my passion… that would be IT! It would be MY passion for-EV-er! Unchanging and solid and stable and I could set my watch by it! Nope, sometimes your passion involves things that change – to the point where they change so much that you think it’s not solid or “real” enough to be a passion.
  • It might be a combination of things – a cross-cutting theme. I studied meteorology in school and that was fun, but I was too interested in too many other things to stick with it. I wanted to learn about earthquakes and the ionosphere and solar storms. Then, when I found out that data was so fun to play with, I wanted to learn about anything that had data in it or on it or mixed inside it. Once I get to know the data, I want to move on and become acquainted with other data. Can’t settle down with data from just one topic or discipline.
  • It might be simple. For example, I really like looking up information, especially weird information. I love “odd news”. I enjoy pseudoscience because it stretches my brain, and I don’t need scientific proof of anything to appreciate the fabric and texture of an idea. I like pretty much all religions, traditional and unorthodox, because of what they reveal about people’s emotions and inner lives and fears and aspirations. I like psychology, abnormal psychology, and positive psychology. I don’t want to commit a whole lifetime to any one piece of information, I want to date around, and play the field, and get intimate with whatever notion I want whenever I want. The weirder the idea, the better. I’ll try it on for size or style for a while. In short, I just really LIKE learning new stuff, and I’ll explore things that are true and things that are just speculated. I don’t discriminate. I like intellectual diversity.
  • It might be something that you think is insignificant, or not important, or that no one else could possibly ever care about. It may even be something you think is a liability. (I obsessively check data: severe storms, earthquakes, solar flares, tweet frequencies… I’m a data junkie. I always thought this was a huge weakness, a distraction, and nothing but a drag on my time… but then I started considering that maybe if I looked at my weaknesses, I’d find my strengths enmeshed with them…)

In short, I came to one profound conclusion.

Your purpose might be a PROCESS, not a PRODUCT.

Your passion is made up of the things, and thoughts, and places, and ideas, and interests that you keep coming back to. I’ve always liked talking, explaining, writing. I really like playing with data. I like making things better, and more effective, and more efficient. I don’t like everything LOUDLY PASSIONATELY all the time or with the same degree of HELL YEAH. My tastes and immediate interests and latest curiosities change and shift from week to week and that’s OK.

The years I spent as a software development manager (and then a more senior-level manager) were particularly confusing. I wasn’t producing anything. I was helping other people produce stuff, but I didn’t feel like I was generating anything of value. I was blind to the value I was helping other people produce just by being me, and being around them, and contributing my me-ness to their awesome productivity.

 I’m not here to produce a product. My purpose is to BE A PROCESS, not necessarily to produce a product. I may produce products (like books) along the way, but that’s just a side effect.

My purpose – my process – is to be a filter for words, thoughts, and ideas. I take ideas in, I mix them with other ideas, and I color them with my past experiences – and who I am – and my perspectives. Sometimes I shake the ideas up like a carbonated drink, just so I can see the impact of the thoughts bursting forth when I let them out. I share my ideas with other people, sometimes in person, and sometimes in writing. The ideas don’t have to be good, or totally correct, or even interesting. Their “purpose in the universe” might just be to get someone else to start thinking about something! I am a stimulant and a catalyst. I am here to infect people with my enthusiasm about the things I think are cool and awesome.

I’m here to show other people that it’s OK to try on crazy ideas for size and style, to just be “mature enough” without having to give up fun, and to be a good citizen and be caring and compassionate to those around you. I’m here to be an example of how you can be responsible without ever having to grow up or get serious about committing to ONE THING. I’m here to show people how to play with ideas.

Just by being ME I am LIVING MY PURPOSE. My problem, previously, is that I just didn’t think this was important enough. I wanted to see the product, the evidence, the outcome of having found a passion and a purpose. (But then again, so many famous and recognized authors and poets only achieved their recognition posthumously, so was it really worth trying to KNOW it for them? I wonder how many of them struggled to find their purpose. They never knew it, and yet their legacies are remarkable.)

Finding my passion just means noticing what stuff I routinely and consistently gravitate towards, stuff I don’t mind doing, stuff that feels easy and calm… not what stuff gets me super-flashing-lights-excited all the time.

Once I stopped looking for my passion and my purpose, I found both.

I can’t tell you what either of them are, but I feel them, and I think all I need to do to live my purpose is NOTHING. (Just keep being a filter. Which I can’t stop being, because it’s like a reflex. It just happens without me doing anything. I even filter ideas in my sleep.)

That’s a pretty big and liberating thought.

Is your purpose to be a process too?

Three Principles for Healthy, Authentic Relationships

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

This isn’t specifically quality or innovation related, but it came out of my mouth over coffee this morning in answer to the question “What do you think is the best approach to maintaining healthy relationships?” I wanted to record it because it does influence my personal quality of life – and I realized it could also be the key to identifying and cultivating new types of innovative relationships. (What does that mean? Not sure yet. Just feels like it could happen.)

Principle #1: Treat every person and situation with kindness, consideration and compassion. Always. No matter what.

Principle #2: Be true to your own authenticity even (especially?) when it’s unorthodox, socially unacceptable, or doesn’t quite make sense. (You know if it feels right… so just focus on that. And note that feeling good and feeling right are two entirely different feelings, ones that require true discrimination within your emotional self.)

Principle #3: Aim to embody Principle #2 within the terms of Principle #1. Sometimes when you’re living to the limits of your own authenticity, you’re going to hurt people. And others doing the same could, similarly, hurt you. When channels of communication are open and free, and everyone knows that everyone else’s intent is to act with kindness, compassion, and consideration, the result is an environment of deep trust where new modes of relating can root and grow.

Can Quality Professionals Help Others Get Happier?

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

In his April post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks “Are Quality Professionals Happy on the Job?” His question was motivated by a recent Forbes article that rated software quality professionals among the ten happiest in their careers.

However, I’d like to make his question a call to action for the quality community!

As improvement specialists, I suggest that as quality professionals, we are perfectly situated to use our skills to help everyone in an organization become happier… and thus more productive! Anecdotally, I’m sure few will argue that on the days you feel secure, balanced, and on top of the world – it’s easy to fly through tasks, collaborate effectively, and make amazing progress on pretty much anything.

The notion has already entered the quality community – and my position is that this topic needs more exploration, both in research and in practice. For example, in the February 2012 issue of Quality Progress, Johnston & Beck’s article on “The Power of Positive” takes a first step towards proposing how the relatively new discipline of positive psychology can be leveraged by the quality profession to catalyze breakthrough improvement.

I strongly support this new direction in thinking, and here’s why. ISO 9000 p. 3.1.5 (formerly ISO 8402:1994) defines quality as “the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.” In industry, we usually think of a product or a process as the entity, and then we work on improving the product’s quality or improving the effectiveness or efficiency of the process. So why don’t we turn it inside out and think of our SELVES as the entities?

The question I’ve posed is… what if that ENTITY is YOU? That’s exactly what I wanted to accomplish by proposing the notion of quality consciousness, which asks the question: “What are the totality of characteristics of YOU that bear upon your ability to satisfy the stated and implied needs of yourself, your communities, and the organizations where you contribute your talent?”

The three aspects of quality consciousness are AWARENESS of what quality means in a particular context, ALIGNMENT of you and your talents with the problem to be solved and the environment in which the problem and its solution are embedded, and the ability to focus your ATTENTION on the problem or situation that needs to be improved.

In Garvin’s 1988 book Managing Quality, he characterizes five dimensions of quality: 1) quality as defined by the customer, 2) as conformance to manufacturing requirements, 3) as the presence or absence of product characteristics, 4) as the degree of excellence delivered compared to the cost (value-based), and 5) the transcendent dimension which says you “know quality when you see it.”

I also believe that you know quality when you can FEEL it – within yourself, and within your teams and organizations.

Why Positive Psychology is Essential for Quality

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

This semester, I’m sitting in on a Positive Psychology course offered by the JMU Department of Psychology. A lot of friends and colleagues have asked me why I’m taking a class in psychology when my research and teaching interests are, in contrast, related to quality and process improvement. But in my opinion, there’s no way you can be ultimately quality-minded, optimally productive, or blissfully innovative unless your psyche is relaxed, engaged, stimulated, and happy – and that’s what positive psychology is all about.

My favorite definition of quality originally comes from ISO 8402:1994 – “the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.” As quality professionals, we tend to focus on four types of entities: products, processes, organizations and teams. Although there have been some efforts to focus on the individual as an entity, in particular through the efforts of ASQ’s Human Development and Leadership (HDL) division, it hasn’t really caught on that the totality of characteristics of YOU will bear upon your ability to help create other entities that satisfy the stated and implied needs of a variety of stakeholders!

Your health and well being is a critical component of the chain, if not THE most important part! Think about you at your professional and emotional best, and imagine yourself on a team with other people who are working at the same level. Then, envision creating organizations where a spirit of quality will flourish. It’s a pretty powerful, innovative, inspired picture!

But then — think about how drastically the picture changes when you come to work distracted, emotionally drained, or unmotivated – in addition to just feeling down, you’ll drain the members of your workgroup or anyone else you interact with because of your own struggle to get through the day.

All of the following passages come from “Positive Psychology: An Introduction,” by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the January 2000 issue of American Psychologist. When I read these passages, it is clear to me that the science of POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY can provide QUALITY PROFESSIONALS with great insights about how to self-manage, how to cultivate high performance teams, and how to create high impact, innovative organizations and institutions. I’ll comment on all of these in later posts, but for now, I’m interested to hear what sorts of things the little voice in your head says as it thinks about these statements from positive psychology:

A science of positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions promises to improve quality of life and prevent the pathologies that arise when life is barren and meaningless.

… the social and behavioral sciences can play an enormously important role… they can show what actions lead to well-being, to positive individuals, and to thriving communities. Psychology should be able to help document what kinds of families result in children who flourish, what work settings support the greatest satisfaction among workers, what policies result in the strongest civic engagement, and how people’s lives can be most worth living.

The field of positive psychology at the subjective level is about valued subjective experiences: well-being, contentment, and satisfaction (in the past); hope and optimism (for the future); and flow and happiness (in the present).

At the individual level, it is about positive individual traits: the capacity for love and vocation, courage, interpersonal skill, aesthetic sensibility, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future mindedness, spirituality, high talent, and wisdom.

This science and practice will also reorient psychology back to its two neglected missions – making normal people stronger and more productive, and making high human potential actual.

At the group level, it is about the civic virtues and the institutions that move individuals towards better citizenship: responsibility, nurturance, altruism, civility, moderation, tolerance, and work ethic.

People and experiences are embedded in a social context. Thus, a positive psychology needs to take positive communities and positive institutions into effect.