Written by Julie Jones, Guest Career Coach
Recently, I was doing a bit of spring cleaning, going through boxes and getting rid of a few things we no longer need. As I sorted through the pictures from when my kids were small, I noticed their faces — when they lit up as they mastered their pogo stick, or celebrated July 4th watching fireworks. Their expressions showed pure joy, anticipation, and wonder. But I did notice some of the uninhibited joy faded from their faces in later photos.
Doesn’t the same thing happen at work? Do you remember the first day of a new job? You are so excited about the possibility, but stuff happens, and the luster fades. And over time, work may become an obligation instead of an opportunity. You wonder how others find joy or fulfillment in life and work.
If so, you’re not alone. Consider the career changes driven by the pandemic and the so-called Great Resignation when it was estimated that more than 40 million people quit their jobs. Of course, not everyone had a choice, but, during this time, people made decisions about how they work and what is important to them.
Richard Bolles, in his book, What Color is Your Parachute? Your Guide to a Lifetime of Meaningful Work and Career Success includes many planning exercises to guide career development or shifts. One of them includes developing your expertise and enthusiasm matrix. Enthusiasm is on the X axis, and expertise is on the Y axis yielding four quadrants: high enthusiasm, high expertise; high enthusiasm, low expertise; low enthusiasm, low expertise; and low enthusiasm, high expertise.
When I completed the exercise, I found that some skills I honed over 25 years with high expertise weren’t necessarily ones I looked forward to using as much anymore. How many of your current job roles or activities fall into the lower enthusiasm quadrant?
Drill down and get specific with your current job roles and functions and consider these questions:
In your job (or other pursuits),
- What activities do you love to do?
- What gives you energy or sucks your energy?
- When do you operate at your best?
When I considered the high enthusiasm quadrants, I identified skills and activities that gave me energy, fueled my work tank, or I made time for in my busy schedule. I was excited by the high enthusiasm and low expertise quadrant. Learning can jump-start curiosity, possibility, and joy. I participated in a few online and in-person learning activities as well. I WAS a beginner, and learning was sometimes challenging. But I had fun pivoting to a new interest. Change is good.
Are there skills you want to develop to grow your expertise in these high-enthusiasm activities?
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN? HOW CAN YOU CRAFT A MORE JOYFUL WORK EXPERIENCE?
Organizations hire for expertise in the role — the top half of the graph. But are there other high enthusiasm skills or activities you could add to your work functions, or would your leader be open to providing you the opportunity to develop?
Many skills complement other primary skills, such as visual design in learning or empathy in leadership. Leaders who learn more about each person’s expertise/enthusiasm matrix, strengths, motivations, and desires begin to craft a culture of meaning and joy at work. And, in the process, help others realize their potential.
BUT WHAT IF YOU CAN’T INCLUDE MORE HIGH-ENTHUSIASM ACTIVITIES IN YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
Plan A: Volunteer in an organization where you can use or develop these skills. Be selective in finding the right fit for you.
Plan B: Explore additional career options or consider a career shift:
- Complete job shadows and interview others who have these jobs.
- Identify career planning priorities – there are a variety of books and tools to guide this process.
- Online searches – job postings and job descriptions paying close attention to the roles and duties.
- Take a side job in an area of interest to learn more and gain experience.
- Join a new professional association you are interested in — Talk with others.
- Create a personal advisory board of mentors or others who know you well. How might you use their skills to help you navigate a career shift?
The enthusiasm/expertise matrix helped me identify when I’m at my best — when I’m in the flow, and an activity consumes me. For me, joy and flow are connected. For over 35 years, I have kept a picture from my first job on my desk as a reminder of the excitement I felt for my first dietetics job.
What can you do today to help rediscover joy at work? Small steps and positive mind shifts can make a meaningful difference.