I was 20 years old when I founded my first children’s charity. I remember the excitement I felt like it was yesterday. I remember how eager I was to change the world. I had been volunteering for a good few years before this moment. I remember all that energy, the sheer enthusiasm, the limitless opportunities around me, and the strong desire to do my part for society and to serve my community. It’s been 12 years since then. In the meantime, I’ve lived in 5 different countries, changed careers, got married and divorced in my 20s, travelled the world, started a business, met incredible people, learned to juggle four jobs at once, and grown tremendously as a person and as a professional. However, through all this change there’s been one constant – my strong desire to serve my community and to support people’s growth.
The case for passion – passion doesn’t mean you are stuck in one career
A large body of evidence-based career advice says that people who are passionate about what they do will be happier and more productive at work. I agree. Caring deeply about what you do in your job and being aligned with the purpose of your work while being in sync with your values as a person is a powerful combination.
We are all familiar with this statement – “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. I wouldn’t go that far. There will be good days and bad days regardless of how passionate you are about what you do. There will be days when you’ll feel like running away from your passion while questioning your choices and contemplating dozens of other careers. Acknowledging this simple truth makes one’s life a lot easier. Passion might drive some people down a certain career path, or even several career paths, but it doesn’t take away the bad days. The good news is that once you are clear on what matters and why, you can focus on honing your skills and enhancing your knowledge and see your passion unfold.
In my case, my passion to serve the community and help people grow has driven me to found a children’s charity to serve children’s best interests, to work with UNICEF and the UN on human rights and now, through my HR roles, to serve small and medium-sized organisations to transform the way they work so they can reach their most ambitious dreams, and to serve the next generation of people professionals by sharing my expertise though teaching and mentoring. Different careers with one thing in common – my passion. My passion has become my purpose and my fuel. I can achieve my purpose in many different ways. And so can you.
Nowadays, job choice flexibility is high and this incredible fact gives us the invaluable opportunity to spread our wings in different industries and try out a variety of career opportunities. But our purpose and values could be our constant.
If you want to follow your passion but can’t deal with things not going to plan, you won’t go far
Passion doesn’t guarantee you a simple life. Far from that. Many times, you’ll suffer for your passion. The origin of the word ‘passion’ (Late Latin passiō – suffering, submission, derivative of Latin passus, past participle of patī to suffer, submit) should be a good clue. If you want to be a writer, but can’t handle the rejection, then you’ve already reached the end of the road called ‘passion’, at least on this occasion. Passion is not a route planner that solves all your problems. Passion is the fuel, and often your very own personalised lens though which you see the world, but it’s up to you to manage the fuel. And let’s be honest: often, you won’t know your exact route when you start off; and even more so when you are blazing your own trail.
I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had to deal with last minute changes and things going south. That’s ok. I’ve learnt invaluable lessons.
What’s important is to learn through trial and error. What’s even more important is to be authentic, to stay true to your purpose and values and find your crowd. Your passion will guide you.
What makes you forget to eat?
Do you have those moments when you are so engrossed in something that minutes turn into hours and suddenly it is 5pm and you think ‘What’s happened with the day? I’ve barely moved from my chair?’ I am not talking about working towards a very tight deadline. I am talking about losing track of time while doing what you like the most. By no means I am advocating for skipping meals or breaks. That’s extremely unhealthy and it is important to stay healthy and balanced while honouring your passion.
However, people’s behaviour reveals a lot about what is happening inside. When I get so absorbed in my work, I have to actively remind myself to step outside my work mindset and do the basics. I have become better at this but there is still a lot to do in this area. That’s my weakness but also my strength. When I’m working on a project, a restructure plan or a people strategy for my clients, or helping someone navigate employment law, I lose track of time. My whole energy goes into my work, my passion pulls me in, and I enter a wonderful space of creativity and energy. When I visualise the change that my work will bring to the organisation and the support people will get through my work, I can easily forget if it’s day or night. And then when those plans go from words on paper to effecting real change, and as soon as I see organisations improve their way of working, their people more engaged and happier, and their resources better used, I am pulled back to start again and help another organisation achieve their mission through their people. It’s a never-ending cycle.
Think about yourself. Is there anything that makes you forget to eat? If yes, how are you managing this energy? What do you do with this energy?
Can passion consume you?
My passion is the source of energy and creativity on which I have been relying for years and it has never disappointed me. It’s also my best guide. However, this doesn’t mean that I haven’t felt its burning power. I was 24 years old when I first burnt out and decided to move countries, to start over and maybe even leave my passion behind. I was hurt by my own passion, by my own mishandling of this fire inside me. I wanted to do too much, too early. I moved to the UK to pursue a degree at a business school and convinced myself that serving the community and helping people grow was not for me. ‘Let others do it’, I told myself. How naïve I was. My passion never left me. It just kept quiet for a few months. This is how I’ve learnt the power of taking a simple break.
Can you avoid burnout?
Yes, you can.
I’ve seen passion in action. Passion made me embrace possibility. Passion has taught me invaluable life lessons. The most valuable lesson? If you choose to put all your eggs in one basket and follow your passion, make sure to take breaks when the basket gets too heavy. Don’t drop it. Sometimes passion gives you the feeling that you have endless energy. You don’t.
Find the balance that keeps you healthy. Know your breaking point. Schedule free time if you find it hard to take it. Learn to enjoy the ‘now’ and ‘here’. Try mediation. Work out.
A very personal one – Travel.
Learning how to control your passion is of great importance. My passion has been with me for many years now, and I am grateful for that, but I’ve had moments in my life when I let it be in the driver’s seat and that turned out to be too much. Now I let it be my guide and fuel, but I am in the driver’s seat.
How would my life have been without my passion?
I believe in work-life balance. But I also believe that ‘balance’ is a personal affair. Balance doesn’t necessarily follow the ‘50-50’ rule. I would certainly burnout faster and be unhappier working 6 hours a day at a job that was hurting my soul than I would be working 14 hours a day on something that makes my soul happy. Work that aligns with my purpose and my values. And ultimately, my passion.
Honouring my passion helps me stay authentic and happy. It’s not always easy but it is definitely rewarding.
So, am I changing the world?
Yes. Step by step and with the same sheer enthusiasm. By wearing my four HR hats – I teach HR and have the honour to see my students grow as wonderful people professionals who are driven by values, I manage HR for an UK-wide charity where I met dozens of people with a powerful passion to serve others, I am a school governor who is humbled by the sheer passion of people involved in delivering education at the highest standards, from the school’s staff to my fellow governors, and lastly, I work with small and medium-sized organisations from my role as founder of peopleknd. to transform the way they work which has given me the opportunity to experience first-hand the resourcefulness and passion of small and medium-sized organisations with big hearts. I am honouring my passion. I am still learning to take more regular breaks and step outside my work mindset. It’s a wonderful yet challenging process.
Back in 2008 when I founded my first children’s charity, I thought that changing the world means gigantesque steps towards a better world. Now I know that small change is change nonetheless, and it counts. I might not be able to change the world as quickly as I thought possible when I was 20 years old, but I can still contribute to a better world while serving my community and helping people grow. And you can contribute too.
A picture is worth a thousands words. When I was 15 years old I was dreaming to change the world. I still do. What about you?
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