Is Your Heart In Your Job?

by Doug DeCarlo, Principal
The Doug DeCarlo Group

Valentines day has just passed. But it's still a good time to fling a few arrows and ask some heart-hitting questions like these: Do you hate to get up in the morning and go to work? Are you letting it grind you into the ground? Is your job heart healthy?

Having been in the workforce for 35 years, I find that most people are unhappy in their jobs. Especially project managers. Most of the project managers I have known live lives that vacillate between quiet and frantic desperation. The demands of their projects leave them emotionally bankrupt, to say nothing of the disruption to family life and the guilt feelings that can go along with the sacrifice. Some project managers no longer even have weekends left to look forward to.

Are You Trying To Get Better At Something You Don't Like?
Part of the problem has to do with the nature of the beast: being a project or program manager is a very hard job. But the bigger part has to do with being in the wrong job in the first place. I believe that very few people are cut out to be project managers.

Many Are Chosen But Few Are Called
The boss assigns us to a project. Suddenly we are a project manager. Most project managers wind up in their job by accident. It's rarely in response to a driving passion. We get there unintentionally if not unconsciously. We then become so invested in gaining the requisite skills to succeed, that being a project manager now becomes our job identity. We fool ourselves into believing that this is who we really are and what we want to do. Some would even seal their fate by becoming professionally certified. We now become so locked in to 'our' profession that we become hard pressed to even imagine other viable options. This is a true identity crisis: somehow we've become distracted and dis-identified from our real self.

Introducing The Karaoke Project Manager
This identity crisis gives rise to what I now call the Karaoke Project Manager ® (KPM ®). For the KPM, project management is not a true expression or extension of his or her authentic self. On the contrary, the KPM becomes an expression of project management. They do this by singing songs out of the PMBOK® Guide instead of singing from their own hymnbook. Rather than having project management become an expression of who they are, they become the unwitting mouthpiece for someone else's material... not unlike the dummy speaking from the ventriloquist's lap. This is what happens when there is a gap between who you are and what you do.

If You're Not Living Your Own Dream, You're Living Some Else's Nightmare
Jean Davis, a psychologist based in Evanston IL, points out that our most productive work is an extension of our "authentic self: all our original material is there... but [it has become] laid over with someone else's nightmare." I know this first hand. I was a square peg in a round hole for 22 years in the publishing business.

Even when the nightmare becomes the norm, deep down inside we know something isn't right. We hear a faint voice that longs to sing the song of our own heart.

Right Livelihood: Synchronizing What You Do In Life With Who You Are Inside
Right livelihood is more than a fashionable term. It means being at ease (as opposed to diseased) with one's work and life. It means not separating work from life, but in a positive sense; that is, our life becomes the natural expression of our innate talents and gifts both on and off the job.

There are three steps to right livelihood. The goal here is to narrow the gap between your dreams and what you actually do.

  1. Awareness
    This simply means having the realization that our work is out of sync with what energizes us. When we become aware of this, we move from being unconsciously incompetent to being consciously incompetent. A light goes on and we find ourselves poised at the threshold of change.
  2. Acceptance
    The next step, should we decide to take it, is to embrace your current job no matter how bad it is. That's because spending energy whining and complaining keeps you stuck in the grips of the conflict. Even if you hate everything about it, recognize this as a blessing: you are getting a loud and clear message that your work is out of sync with the real you. Be grateful for this message. And don't kill the messenger. After all, the messenger is you.
  3. Adjustment
    Start by asking the right question. The wrong question to ask yourself is, "What kind of a job do I really want?" You're not out to get a job. You're out to get a life. Better questions: "What kind of a life do I want to live? What turns me on?" With those answers in mind, only then are you in a position to look for a job that expresses the kind of life you want to live. Your right-fit job is your own self-expression turned outward in the service of others.
Aristotle, a wise guy if there ever was one, said, "You will find your vocation where your talents meet opportunity." A talent is not a skill. You can become skilled at something for which you have little talent or innate desire. Remember the Karaoke Project Manager? I used to be good in statistics. I even taught it at the college level. The truth be known, I hated statistics. But, a talent is something you love to do or dream about doing. You feel good just thinking about it. It often presents itself as an urge. You would like to do more of it. It comes natural to you, even if you have little formal skill training. Some people can just pick up a guitar and start playing songs in no time.

Start by identifying what you love. Here's how:

  • Make a list of things that you've done that have given you great enjoyment. Include jobs, hobbies, sports, travel, etc.
  • Include your wish list: things that you would love to do... just thinking about them turns you on.
  • Now, look back and identify the themes or common pattern of activities that run throughout.
For instance, my pattern of activity across many jobs, hobbies and sports turned out to be teaching, leading high-risk ventures, inventing something new, setting standards, showing people how to succeed, making memorable presentations, communicating using drums, writing, working and socializing with people who are part of the self-actualization movement. These then are my motivators (talents, activities and affinities.) I was living these motivators even before I had developed a formal set of skills, or even professional qualifications.

Today, extreme project management has become my delivery vehicle for putting all of my motivators to work. Those of you who have seen my keynote presentations at conferences, will remember that I even found a way to work in my drumming talents in order to illustrate the rhythm and pace of different kinds of projects.

The Road Back Home: Put Your Heart Back Into Your Job
Take your time. You don't have to jump ship, at least for now. I think it's best to take small steps in the direction you want to go. Begin to bloom where you're planted. This can mean consciously building your motivators into your existing job. For instance, even though I hated statistics, I loved the teaching part of the job. So I focused my energy on improving my teaching skills. A secret to success is to build on your talents rather than waste time compensating for weaknesses. Focusing on your talents lifts your energy level, which is crucial for moving ahead.

Guideline: spend at least 30 minutes a day living one or more of your motivators.

Once you have more put more heart back into your job, you can begin to brainstorm some possible news jobs, or even career changes that would enable you to live your talents full time, to make them your life's expression.

It's a little late for Valentine's Day. But it's never too late to put your job in your heart and your heart back in your job.

eXtremely yours,


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