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Make Your Passion A Priority At Work

Make Your Passion A Priority At Work

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    Maybe one of your goals involves traveling the world or maybe you’re looking for enough time to help with a cause you feel passionate about. Either way, though, you likely have a prior commitment to an employer — or at least to paying rent and eating on a regular basis. Most of us are not in a position to quit working and spend all our time on those activities that we’d like to make a priority. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t add our own priorities to our work — it’s possible to incorporate our own interests into our work even if we haven’t landed our dream jobs.

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    Talk About Your Passions

    Your interests may have absolutely nothing to do with your job: most corporate jobs don’t take your passion for the arts or your after-work involvement in sports into account. But that doesn’t mean that limiting your discussion of such topics will pay off in the end. If you want to balance your work with your passions, it’s worth making sure your work actually knows that you have a few passions.

    I went to school with a friend who took an IT job immediately after graduation, despite being far more interested in making films. Just talking about his passion opened up some opportunities for him: he’s gotten involved in national competitions for films on his employer’s behalf, gotten access to company property for sets and props for his own projects and has been able to add some interesting responsibilities to his resume that actually involve making films. At the very least, he’s turned his job into something he enjoys — but he also has moved a little closer to working in a job that focuses on his passion, rather than incorporates it.

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    You don’t need to dominate every conversation around the water cooler, but it’s worth mentioning your hobbies and interests when they’re relevant. And if you see a clear path to bringing your interests to work, speak up. Even if it’s as simple as something like asking your employer to sponsor a local sports team, the company probably isn’t aware of the opportunity — or benefits — of sponsorship.

    Look for Flexibility

    There are certainly passions and professions that don’t really intersect: if your employer primarily targets local customers, you probably won’t be able to convince the company to send you to Thailand. That fact doesn’t stop a web designer that I’ve worked with in the past. She doesn’t have any interest in running her own business or freelancing — she likes the company that employs her. But she also enjoys spending about half of each year in Thailand. With a little flexibility on both the designer and the employer’s part, they’ve come to an agreement that works out pretty well for both of them. She telecommutes for months at a time, making sure to be in the country for those projects that her employer really wants her to handle inside the country.

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    Once again, you’ll have to actually mention that you’re looking for some flexibility to actually get it. As long as you have a pretty clear idea of what you want — leave work early once a week, telecommute or any other option that makes it easier for you to devote time to your priorities — and how you can turn that into a benefit for your employer, ask for a meeting with your supervisor. You may not get a ‘yes’ straight away, but if your employer sees that you are serious about making a change, you’ve at least built a starting point.

    Skip the Bluffs

    Adding your own priorities to your work day isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do. There will be cases where bringing the two together just isn’t possible, times when you have to focus on the fact that your employer is paying you money for your time and the company just isn’t interested in your hobbies. That’s okay. You don’t have to stop trying to focus on your passions during your 9 to 5 — it’s just time to step back and asses the situation.

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    There’s a danger in pushing too hard for one of your own priorities. There are plenty of examples out there of folks who told their employers that another priority or the need for flexibility and heard that the company couldn’t or wouldn’t offer them any help. In such situations, there is a temptation to try to bluff — to suggest that if you’re needs aren’t meet, you’re ready to move on. Such a bluff is generally not an ideal option. That isn’t to go against my suggestion to simply talk about your passions, especially to your boss. Instead, it’s an issues of the force you put behind such discussions.

    Instead, before things progress that far, it’s worth considering your options as a whole. For the time being, the best option may be keeping your job as your main priority: you still have after hours to work on your own projects, and you can slowly work towards finding a new job or business that allows you to shift your priorities. Your alternative is making the jump now: you can start a job hunt in earnest, hopefully focusing on jobs to are more closely related to your own pet projects. Or you can strike out on your own, focusing on freelancing or building your own business focused on your own priorities. It’s a question of which option is practical for your own situation.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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