This Is How to Stop Being a Victim: 18 Practices

Why me? Why can’t I ever catch a break?

If you’re in the habit of asking such questions, it’s a sign you may have a victim mentality. When you’re playing the victim, you believe that bad things you experience are the fault of others.

What’s more, you believe those bad things will keep happening, so there’s no point in changing. It feels like the world is against you.

There’s a difference between being a victim of real hardships (e.g., poverty, disease, trauma) and having a victim mentality. (1) With a victim mentality, you believe not only that you’re a victim of negative circumstances but also that you’re helpless in the face of them.

Such thinking may provide some psychic relief, at least in the short term. But what you’re really doing with this kind of thinking is sabotaging yourself.

A victim mentality is not only a problem for individuals, according to researchers. Groups and teams can also fall into this trap. That damages the culture, so leaders need to monitor and address this problem early and often.

Having a victim mentality comes with a substantial price. For example, it can:

  • drain your energy
  • bring frustration, anger, resentment, and bitterness
  • result in giving up and feeling self-pity
  • diminish your sense of agency
  • lead to withdrawing from friends, family, and colleagues
  • stop you from taking necessary actions
  • damage your mental and emotional wellbeing
  • be a gateway to other maladaptive behaviors, including numbing behaviors like abusing alcohol or drugs
  • become a vicious cycle, with poor responses to tough situations, inviting more problems and then ultimately feeling worthlessness and pointlessness

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

How to Stop Being a Victim: 18 Practices

According to psychologists, victimhood is an acquired trait, not inborn. That means you have the power to overcome it.

Here are 18 ways to stop being a victim:

1. Avoid wallowing in negative emotions. Dark and gloomy feelings are natural, even universal. But that doesn’t mean you have to dwell on them. Catch yourself tuning into negative feelings and resolve to change the channel when you do so.

2. Change your self-talk. Analyze and question your beliefs. Dispute the idea that you’re a helpless victim. For example, ask whether your identity as a victim is true. Ask whether your current beliefs are useful or harmful. Then act accordingly.

3. Don’t ruminate on your problems. Focus instead on something more positive (e.g., what you’ve learned or what you’re looking forward to). (See my article, “What to Do About Overthinking, Rumination, and Worrying.”)

4. Recognize the patterns of when you lapse into victimhood. Be wary of those people or things and devise ways to avoid or address them. Recall the kinds of things that help you stop these downward spirals.

5. Develop a healthy view of yourself and your capabilities. Build your confidence by preparing well for challenges or big projects. Focus on learning and developing as you go.

6. Recall situations in which you’ve overcome adversity. You may be more resilient than you think.

7. Take an inventory of your strengths. Know what you’re good at—the things at which you excel most. Brainstorm how you can use your strengths to address challenges you’re facing. (See my article, “The Power of Knowing and Using Our Strengths.”)

8. Distinguish between yourself and your negative experiences. You are not what’s happened to you. Don’t assume the identity of a victim. Believe that you have the power to overcome your circumstances.

“I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”
-Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist

9. Realize that you always have agency. Yes, life is sometimes unfair. It comes with pain, loss, and heartache. But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless in the face of hardship.

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

10. Change who you spend time with. Avoid people who wallow in victimhood. Spend more time with positive people who take responsibility and proactively address problems as they arise.

11. Recognize that having a victim mentality is a form of self-sabotage. Resolve to transcend this thing that’s only prolonging your misery and holding you back.

12. Make a clear and firm decision to let go of the victim mentality. Why not choose to be happy and thrive instead?

13. Forgive. Forgive people who have harmed you—if not for them, for you. Maya Angelou called forgiveness “one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself.” And forgive yourself as well for past mistakes. Make peace with your past.

14. Take responsibility for your whole life and everything in it. That means everything, including the things that are unjust or unfair. (See my article, “The Power of Taking Full Responsibility for Your Life.”)

15. Be kind to others and find ways to serve them. By doing so, you’ll escape an unhealthy fixation on yourself and your dramas. The fixation feeds the victim mentality, while service starves it.

16. Engage in daily self-care practices. Create systems for this, make it easy, and develop good habits. That should include exercise, good sleep and healthy eating habits, and perhaps other practices like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing.

17. Develop a gratitude practice. This will interrupt your negative thought loops and place your feelings of self-pity in a larger and more accurate perspective. (See my article,The Trap of Not Being Grateful.”) When you focus on the good things in your life, it’s hard to feel like a victim.

18. Seek help from a therapist, counselor, or support hotline when needed. Options include:

Wishing you well with it.

Gregg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tools for You

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.

 

Related Articles

 

Postscript: Inspirations on How to Stop Being a Victim

  • “Whatever has happened to you in your past has no power over this present moment, because life is now.” -Oprah Winfrey, media entrepreneur, philanthropist, and author
  • “Once you have identified with some form of negativity, you do not want to let go, and on a deeply unconscious level, you do not want positive change. It would threaten your identity…. You will then ignore, deny, or sabotage the positive in your life.” -Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
  • “…what helps victims best is the development of a healthier self-concept.” -Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, “Are You a Victim of the Victim Syndrome?”
  • “If it’s never our fault, we can’t take responsibility for it. If we can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.” -Richard Bach, writer
  • “…an individual’s sense of personal control determines his fate.” -Dr. Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life
  • “Most people are in love with their particular life drama. Their story is their identity. The ego runs their life. They have their whole sense of self invested in it.” -Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
  • “The difference between the hero and the victim is the way they react to the pain they experience.” -Donald Miller, business executive and author
  • “…even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.” -Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor
  • “Turn your wounds into wisdom.” -Oprah Winfrey
  • “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” -Napoleon Hill, author
  • “Constructive action is the opposite of victimized brooding.” -Dr. Robert W. Firestone, clinical psychologist
  • “…people suffering from the victim syndrome are prone to aggravate the mess in which they find themselves. Strange as it may sound, they are often victims by choice. And ironically, they are frequently successful in finding willing victimizers.” -Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, “Are You a Victim of the Victim Syndrome?”
  • “A victim identity is the belief that the past is more powerful than the present, which is the opposite of the truth.” -Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
  • “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” -Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor

(1) If you’ve experienced trauma or abuse, try to disclose it as early as possible to trusted family members, friends, or trained professionals. That can lead to more support and quicker processing and healing.

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, TEDx speaker, and coach on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

This Is How to Develop Self-Awareness: 7 Approaches

Are you self-aware? It’s common for people to overestimate their self-awareness.

Being self-aware means having a clear and accurate understanding of yourself, including your feelings, motives, desires, core values, strengths, and weaknesses.

Do you have a realistic view of yourself,
including a good and true sense of how others perceive you?*

Based on multiple investigations with nearly 5,000 participants, organizational psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich and her colleagues found the following:

“…even though most people believe they are self-aware, self-awareness is a truly rare quality:
We estimate that only 10-15% of the people we studied actually fit the criteria.”
-Dr. Tasha Eurich

Psychologist Daniel Goleman considers self-awareness one of the four domains of emotional intelligence (along with self-management, social awareness, and relationship management). What’s more, self-awareness is the foundation for the other three.

If you lack self-awareness, you’ll have blind spots that cause problems. For example, if you don’t know the reasons for your actions, you’re likely to keep making the same mistakes. Also, you’ll be less likely to take responsibility for them, damaging your credibility.

There are many benefits to having high self-awareness. For example, it can help you communicate more effectively, improve your relationships, and increase your happiness and fulfillment. It can help enhance your sense of personal control, improve your decision-making, increase your confidence, and augment your influence.

“…self-awareness is a predictor of success in leadership.”
-James Kouzes and Barry Posner, A Leader’s Legacy

Also, how can you expect to find good work that’s a good fit for you—and know what work you should avoid—if you don’t know your strengths, passions, and preferences, and if you don’t know what energizes you and what drains you? How can you avoid conforming to the desires of others if you don’t know your own heart?

“When you start thinking that you don’t know what to do with your life,
what you really mean is that you don’t yet know who you are.”

-Brianna Wiest, The Mountain Is You

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

How to Develop Self-Awareness: 7 Powerful Approaches

Here are seven things you can do to elevate your self-awareness:

 

1. Engage in frequent self-reflection.

Reflect on meetings or other encounters and their emotional wake. Pay attention to what you love, what you long for, and what makes you come alive. This means sometimes getting out of “climbing mode” (striving to move up the ladder of success, focusing on achievement and advancement) and getting into what I call “discover mode” (learning about who we are, including our values, strengths, passions, and dreams, and what we can do in the world). Listen to your inner voice.

 

2. Take assessments.

They can facilitate not only your self-awareness but also your personal development. For example:

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

3. Ask for input from family, friends, mentors, and coaches.

Solicit honest feedback, not only about your behaviors and strengths but also about your weaknesses and blind spots. At work, this can include “360-degree reviews.”

 

4. Consider not only what you know about yourself but also what others know about you.

For this, check out the Johari Window, a framework that can help you identify what’s known to yourself (or not) and what’s known to others about you (or not). See below.

Source: Adobe Stock

How many people get to see your true self? Do you have blind spots—things that are known by others about you that you’re not aware of? Consider writing down ten words that describe yourself—your main characteristics. Then have people who know you well do the same for you. Compare the lists to see how much overlap there is (or isn’t).

 

5. Journal.

As you journal, reflect on your experiences and feelings. Seek insights and look for patterns.

 

6. Join or start a small group.

When run well, small groups can facilitate deep conversations about meaningful things. Make sure the conversation includes not only self-reflection but also input from the group. That way, participants will have a chance to consider new insights in a safe environment.

 

7. Make time for renewal and sanctuary.

Engage in daily restorative activities (e.g., meditation, yoga, or gardening). Find places or practices of peace that help you guard and recenter your heart. Without renewal and sanctuary, you’re likely to be too scattered and frazzled to maintain high self-awareness.

 

Developing your self-awareness will have powerful effects on your life, work, relationships, and leadership. It’s an investment that pays big dividends.

“’Know thyself’… is still the most difficult task any of us faces. But until you truly know yourself, strengths and weaknesses, know what you want to do and why you want to do it, you cannot succeed in any but the most superficial sense of the word.” -Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader

Warren Bennis quote

 

Reflection Questions

  1. How well do you know yourself?
  2. Might you be overestimating your self-awareness, like so many others?
  3. Are you asking for feedback regularly, and are you truly open and receptive to it?

 

Tools for You

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.

 

Related Articles

 

Related Books and Videos

  • Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
  • Tasha Eurich, Insight: The Surprising Truth about How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More than We Think
  • William L. Sparks, “The Power of Self-Awareness,” TEDx Asheville
  • Tasha Eurich, “Increase Your Self-Awareness with One Simple Fix,” TEDx Mile High

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Self-Awareness

  • “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.” -Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher
  • “Know thyself.” -inscribed on the temple wall at Delphi, 6th century BCE
  • “If a man does not know himself, how should he know his functions and his powers?” -Michel de Montaigne, 16th century French Renaissance philosopher and writer
  • “Self-knowledge is best learned, not by contemplation, but by action. Strive to do your duty and you will soon discover of what stuff you are made.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer, poet, and scientist
  • “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” -Witold Gombrowicz, Polish writer
  • “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” -Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  • “The deepest vocational question is not ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding ‘Who am I? What is my nature?’… Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening…. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” -Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
  • “To be aware of a single shortcoming within oneself is more useful than to be aware of a thousand in somebody else.” -Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama
“Self-awareness is the foundation of authenticity. You develop it by exploring your life story and your crucible, and by understanding how these experiences shape you as a person and leader. You enhance it as you seek honest feedback from others. You refine it by adopting practices that help you remain mindful and aware, even amidst life’s chaos.”
-Bill George and Zach Clayton, True North: Emerging Leader Edition

 

* There are two types of self-awareness, according to researchers. The first type, internal (or private) self-awareness, is about how clearly you see yourself and whether you notice and reflect on your own internal state. The second type, external (or public) self-awareness, is about how aware you are of how you appear to others.

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

Why You Should Build Your Passions into Your Life and Work

What are the things that consume you with palpable emotion over time? What are the things you love so much that you’re willing to suffer for them? Those are your passions.

You probably have passions in different domains of your life. Are you passionate about your work—or at least parts of it? Do you talk often about what you like about your work, or find yourself working extra hours even when you don’t have to? Are you building your passions into your days and weeks?

 

14 Benefits of Building Your Passions into Your Life and Work

There are many powerful benefits to building passions into your life and work. For example, doing so will:

  1. boost your motivation
  2. enhance your engagement
  3. increase your productivity
  4. sharpen your focus
  5. augment your creativity
  6. help you achieve your goals
  7. motivate you to keep learning, growing, and developing in your areas of interest
  8. boost your persistence
  9. help you be more resilient in the face of challenges
  10. lead to more happiness and fulfillment
  11. inspire others to find and work in areas of their passions when they see you loving life and thriving
  12. help you avoid burnout
  13. lead to much higher job satisfaction, according to a meta-analysis that reviewed data from nearly a hundred different studies (1)
  14. result in better work performance, according to a meta-analysis of sixty studies conducted over the past six decades

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

Of course, there’s also a flip side to this: there’s much lost when you don’t have passion for what you’re doing. In that case, you’re much more likely to lack enthusiasm and “phone it in.” Over time, this can put you on a downward trajectory.

To what extent are you building your passions into your life and work?
What more could you do?

 

Tools for You

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

Related Articles

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Passions

  • “If there is any difference between you and me, it may simply be that I get up every day and have a chance to do what I love to do, every day. If you want to learn anything from me, this is the best advice I can give you.” -Warren Buffett, legendary investor
  • “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” -Oprah Winfrey, media entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist
  • “Paul and I, we never thought that we would make much money out of the thing. We just loved writing software.” -Bill Gates, co-founder, Microsoft
  • “I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever.” -Stephen King, writer

(1) Mark Allen Morris, “A Meta-Analytic Investigation of Vocational Interest-Based Job Fit, and Its Relationship to Job Satisfaction, Performance, and Turnover,” PhD dissertation, University of Houston, 2003.

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

+++++++++++++++++

Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

 

How to Set Boundaries: 14 Proven Practices

Many people struggle with setting and enforcing boundaries. It requires knowing their preferences and breaking points. It means being willing to assert their desires and needs. This is hard for many people, either due to their upbringing or personality—or both.

There are many advantages that come with getting good at this. For example, it can help us protect our emotional wellbeing, grow as a person, develop greater self-respect and confidence, protect our time and energy, avoid burnout, earn respect from others, and prevent unnecessary relationship conflicts.

When we set boundaries, we’re helping others interact more effectively with us. Sometimes we’re setting lines for ourselves that we resolve not to cross. We’re getting clear on what we’ll accept or tolerate.

Boundaries help us function effectively. They allow us to enjoy our life and work while also giving us a sense of control over our lives.

When we don’t set and enforce boundaries properly and consistently, we’re more prone to anxiety, frustration, and resentment. We get overcommitted, perhaps falling into overwork, workaholism, exhaustion, or burnout.

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

How to Get Better at Setting Boundaries: 14 Proven Practices

Thankfully, there are many things we can do to get better at this. Here are 14 proven practices for setting and enforcing boundaries:

1. Recognize that setting and maintaining boundaries can benefit our lives greatly, including our work and our leadership. Given all the benefits, it’s well worth the effort. Also, it gets easier over time.

2. Realize that setting and enforcing boundaries is not just good for us but for everyone involved. Why? Because it creates clarity and generates mutual respect.

3. Avoid falling into the trap of overestimating the resistance that will come from setting boundaries. Our brains are good at generating fear and anticipating worst-case scenarios. Often, the reality is not nearly as bad as we fear when we get into worrying mode.

4. Stay focused on the higher purpose of setting boundaries instead of the down-side of the temporary awkwardness. When we set boundaries, it’s usually for a good and important reason such as protecting our wellbeing or reserving our time for our top priorities. In this light, it’s well worth a little temporary pain or awkwardness.

5. Evaluate our current boundaries to identify areas that need improvement. In particular, look for situations that often result in discomfort or resentment.

6. Take an inventory of boundary crossings that have happened. Thinking about these instances, focus especially on the people, the situations, and how they make us feel.

7. Determine new boundaries that we want to set and recommit to or update old boundaries. Our core values and current goals and priorities should inform these decisions. If we’re new to setting boundaries or have struggled with it in the past, we’re wise to start small and build out from there.

8. Communicate boundaries clearly. Sometimes, the problem is that we’re expecting people to read our minds and just know our boundaries. It’s a recipe for frustration and failure. Sometimes, we may want to explain our rationale so the person has context (e.g., “I’m fully booked now so I can’t help with that”). In other cases, we can leave it with a declaratory statement (“I can’t take that on”) or even just a simple “No.”

“No is a complete sentence.”
-Anne Lamott, writer

9. Be consistent in communicating and enforcing boundaries. This is key. It’s where the rubber meets the road. Without consistency, others are likely to get confused or forget, and that may take us back to square one. Better to do the hard work upfront and in the early stages until things start to take on a life of their own.

10. Develop our assertiveness, including getting better at saying “no” and saying it more often. We can focus on saying no to requests and opportunities that don’t align with our values or advance our priorities. We can avoid spending time with negative people who drag us down with their criticism, complaints, neediness, or narcissism. And we can decline opportunities or requests, so we don’t end up doing all the work ourselves (versus delegating things to others).

“The difference between successful people and really successful people
is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”
-Warren Buffett, chair and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway

11. Be kind but firm. Ideally, we come across as thoughtful and considerate while still assertive and clear. Sometimes, a little humor helps.

12. Get clear about who we are, what we value, and how we work best. When we’ve done this inner work, it allows us to set and enforce boundaries.

13. Set boundaries on our work time. For example, we can set a maximum number of hours we’ll work each week. We can limit email to certain hours, with rare exceptions only as needed. It helps to plan ahead—and be sure to identify and focus on our most important tasks.

14. Place boundaries around our emotional commitment to others. Boundaries aren’t just about our time. They’re also about the focus of our attention and emotions. It’s a trap to feel responsible for other people’s choices or their happiness or outcomes.

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

Conclusion

Of course, setting and enforcing boundaries isn’t a one-and-done deal. It’s an ongoing process that requires reflection and course corrections. As we proceed with it, we must keep making judgments about when to be strict and when to make exceptions based on new information.

As we choose our boundaries, we should bear in mind that other people will make different choices about their boundaries. What works for us may not work for others. So, we should respect other people’s boundaries even as we fight for our own.

Also, it’s a mistake to think about boundaries only in the negative—only as things that we and others can’t do. Why? Because when we get good at setting and enforcing boundaries, it sets us up for all the positive things we actually want to do and experience. By setting limits, we gain freedom. We free up our time and energy to live life on our terms.

“Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it.
You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won’t accept.”

-Anna Taylor, author

 

Tools for You

Goal-Setting Template

Goals are the desired results we hope to achieve—the object of our effort and ambition. Goals are common in our life and work, but that doesn’t mean we’re good at setting and achieving them. Use this Goal-Setting Template to set your goals properly, based on the research and best practice.

 

Related Traps

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Boundaries

  • “Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.” -Josh Billings, American humorist
  • “Givers need to set limits because takers rarely do.” -Rachel Wolchin, author

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

+++++++++++++++++

Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

The Power of Integrating Our Passions into Our Life and Work

In the world of personal development, passion is one of the things that’s most misunderstood. “Follow your passion” is common advice.

But is it right?

The answer may surprise you.

 

What Is a Passion?

Our passions are the things that consume us with palpable emotion over time. They’re the things we love so much that we’re willing to suffer for them. Researchers have defined passions as strong inclinations toward activities we value and like or love, and in which we invest our time and energy. (1)

Author and coach Curt Rosengren calls passion “the energy that comes from bringing more of you into what you do. In essence, passion comes from being who you are.” Our passions are connected with our intrinsic motivation (our impulse to do something because of the inherent satisfaction of doing so and not the desire for a reward for it)—and with our innate talents and abilities.

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

Not Feeling Passion at Work

We can have passions in different domains of our lives. What are the signs of passion at work? The signs include loving our work, wanting to talk often about what we like about our work, or finding ourselves working extra hours even when we don’t have to, mainly for the inherent satisfaction.

To what extent are people passionate about their work?

According to the data analysis team at Zippia, only 20% of U.S. workers are passionate about their job. Around the world, according to the 2013 State of the Global Workplace report by Gallup, only 13% of workers are passionate about their work.

 

 The Benefits of Integrating Our Passions into Our Life and Work

There are powerful benefits to integrating passions into our life and work, according to researchers. For example, doing so can:

  • boost our motivation and engagement
  • increase our productivity and persistence
  • enhance our focus and creativity
  • help us achieve our goals
  • motivate us to keep learning, growing, and developing in that area
  • help us be more resilient in the face of challenges
  • lead to more happiness and fulfillment
  • help us avoid burnout
  • lead to much higher job satisfaction, according to a meta-analysis that reviewed data from nearly a hundred different studies (2)
  • lead to better work performance, according to a meta-analysis of sixty studies conducted over the past six decades
“Passion is the driver of achievement in all fields.”
-Sir Ken Robinson, author and advisor on education in the arts

Passion is also contagious. People pick up on our enthusiasm, and it can inspire them to find and work in their areas of passion as well.

There’s also a flip side to this: there’s much lost when we don’t have passion for what we’re doing. When we’re not living and working with passion, we’re much more likely to lack enthusiasm and “phone it in.” Over time, this can put us on a downward trajectory.

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Confusion about Passion

Passion can be tricky because it often gets confused with other things, including hobbies and interests. Passion is related to these things, but there are important differences.

  • A hobby is something we do for pleasure or relaxation and not as our main occupation.
  • An interest is a feeling of wanting to be involved in something or to learn more about it, or something that attracts and holds our attention.
  • A passion, as noted above, is something that consumes us with palpable emotion over time.

A key difference, then, between passions and hobbies and interests is the degree to which we’re emotionally invested in the activity. And this can change over time. A hobby can turn into a passion, and vice versa.

 

How to Know What Our Passions Are

To determine our passions, we can take assessments and/or observe our own experiences and ask ourselves questions like the following:

  1. What things bring me joy?
  2. Which subjects interest me the most, continually drawing me in?
  3. What would I keep doing enthusiastically even if I didn’t get paid for it?
  4. What am I continually curious about?
  5. What things do I get excited about doing or discovering?
  6. What fills me up with energy and makes me come alive?
  7. What activities do I lose myself in, losing track of time?
  8. What problem(s) do I feel compelled to solve?
  9. What am I curious about or fascinated with?
  10. Is there something I long to master?
  11. Is there a person, group, place, or cause that I feel compelled to help (e.g., youth, my hometown, endangered species, the planet)?
  12. What lit me up when I was a child?

We can also ask for feedback from others (e.g., family, friends, colleagues, mentors) about what they observe about our passions and how we can integrate them into our life and work.

Finally, we’re wise to experiment and explore possibilities—to try things.

 

Passion and Grit

Angela Duckworth, University of Pennsylvania Professor and co-founder of the Character Lab, notes that a passion isn’t about just obsession. It’s also about consistency over time—about how steadily we work on certain things with sustained and enduring devotion.

In her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, she writes that a passion isn’t just something we care about and enjoy intrinsically, but something we care about “in an abiding, loyal, steady way.” She ties passion to what she calls “grit,” which is a combination of “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.”

 

Passions Can Develop and Deepen over Time

Professor Duckworth notes that passions tend to be developed more than they’re discovered. In other words, there’s an important time dimension that tends to proceed with certain components, including interest, experimentation, discovery, development over time, practice, purpose, and persistence.

It begins, she notes, with interest—with intrinsically enjoying what we do. She notes that interests are typically “triggered by interactions with the outside world” and experimentation, and not discovered through introspection or analysis. Then, she writes, “what follows the initial discovery of an interest is a much lengthier and increasingly proactive period of interest development. Crucially, the initial triggering of a new interest must be followed by subsequent encounters that retrigger your attention—again and again and again.” In other words, the fire will go out if not tended to.

For the passion to blossom, it should be an activity that we practice—with “the daily discipline of trying to do things better than we did yesterday”—ideally leading to mastery.

For the passion to ripen, she reports, it should be connected to our purpose (our reason for being), with a conviction that our work matters. That means not only connecting to our personal interests but also to how we can serve or contribute to the wellbeing of others.

For us to maintain a passion, we must persevere with it through the inevitable challenges and setbacks.

In a nutshell, Duckworth recommends focusing not on following our passions but on fostering them intentionally and systematically over time.

“…here’s what science has to say: passion for your work is a little bit of discovery,
followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.
-Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

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How to Integrate Our Passions into Our Life and Work

It’s one thing to know what our passions are (which isn’t straightforward for everyone), while it’s another thing to integrate them into our life and work.

For one thing, there are practical challenges. We live in the real world, with bills and mortgages to pay and retirements to save for. So, for starters, many people have given up on this game from the get-go. That’s understandable, but it warrants a second look.

Here are 8 steps we can take to integrate our passions into our life and work:

  1. Of course, we must begin by knowing what our passions are. (See above.)
  2. Challenge beliefs that aren’t serving us well. For example, reconsider a belief that that it’s not realistic to have passion in our life or to be passionate about what we do for a living.
  3. Evaluate how much time we’re operating in the area of our passions. Are we in the passion zone frequently, or rarely?
  4. Set goals that align with our passions. For example, if we have a passion for learning, we can set a goal of reading one nonfiction book every month or taking a new course every year.
  5. Decide what actions we’ll take and habits we’ll adopt to operate more in the areas of our passions. For example, we can choose one or two things that we do regularly as part of our morning, mid-day, or evening routine. Calendarize them and evaluate how it’s going regularly.
  6. Determine what we’ll do to reduce the amount of time we’re working on things outside our passions.
  7. Find others who share our passions and engage with them often.
  8. Connect our passions with our purpose, including ways we can serve others.

In this process, it may also be helpful to have a coach or mentor because we may not have clarity about our passions or how we can use them more.

As we go forward, we must remember to be patient. It can take a while to right the ship.

 

Myths and Misconceptions about Passions

There are many myths and misconceptions about passions. For starters, the idea that following our passion(s) will automatically lead us to success is prevalent and even a bit of a cliché.

It’s not wrong, but it’s only partly true.

It’s not enough to follow our passions. In this competitive world, our passions need a business model. We need to do things that others are willing to pay us for. And not all passions are well-suited to being our primary occupation that brings in our required income.

Many people don’t know what their passion is—and they may be intimidated by the thought. For many of us, our passions don’t come to us in a flash that’s crystal clear and that instantly changes our lives. Many of the people Angela Duckworth interviewed told her they spent years exploring several different interests, and the core passion wasn’t recognizable at the beginning.

In his book, Deep Work, Georgetown University computer science professor and author Cal Newport notes the flawed thinking that “there are some rarified jobs” that fuel passion—”perhaps working in a nonprofit or starting a software company—while all others are soulless and bland.” He argues that we don’t need a rarefied job; rather, what we need is a rarefied approach to our work. More on that below.

Some people may not want to have their passion incorporated into their job, as it may risk soiling it or leading to burnout. Also, we don’t necessarily have ONE PASSION. We can have many, and they can change over time.

There’s also a lot of confusion about the interplay between passion and purpose. For starters, many people use these terms interchangeably. Big mistake. A passion, as we’ve seen, is something that consumes us with palpable emotion over time. By contrast, our purpose is why we’re here, our reason for being. Stanford University professor William Damon defines it as “a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond self.”

Ideally, we bring them closer together, tying our passions to our purpose and in the process redirecting our passions toward something more meaningful and significant.

“What ripens passion is the conviction that your work matters.
For most people, interest without purpose is nearly impossible to sustain for a lifetime.”

-Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Our passions, like pretty much anything in life, are at risk of dwindling over time. We can exhaust them or burn them out if we’re not careful. Two things can help here. The first is purpose. By connecting passions to purpose, we’ll attach them to a renewable source of energy. The second is novelty. Creatively finding new ways to use our passions—and with new people and different settings—will help keep the fire burning.

 

Mindsets about Passion

In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport points out that “When it comes to creating work you love, following your passion is not particularly useful advice.” He explains:

“The conventional wisdom on career success—follow your passion—is seriously flawed. It not only fails to describe how most people actually end up with compelling careers, but for many people it can actually make things worse: leading to chronic job shifting and unrelenting angst when one’s reality inevitably falls shorts of the dream.”

The idea here is that if we have unrealistic standards about what work will be like, we’re likely to become disappointed and perhaps even cynical. Part of the problem, Newport notes, is that we have this fantasy of a perfectly right dream job waiting for us out there. We only need to find it. This is often naïve. People may have a dream job for a while, but things have a tendency to change, with new managers, organizational transformations, industry shifts, and changes in our own lives. Great work is more of a mindset and pursuit than it is a destination.

Newport distinguishes between two different mindsets about work. The first is the “passion mindset.” The idea here is that if we do what we love, the world will make us succeed. This mindset (which is common) is focused on what the world can offer us. The problem: it’s too simplistic, and it’s misleading.

The second is the “craftsman mindset” (a craftsman is skilled at a certain trade, perhaps working skillfully with his or her hands to make things with exquisite attention to quality and detail). This mindset is focused on what we can offer the world, not on what the world will do for us.

Newport urges us to adopt the craftsman mindset, not the passion mindset—and get good at something. Really good. And really good at something via developing “rare and valuable skills.” With this mindset, we can build up “career capital,” which will give us a strong base for crafting a career of great work that’s also generous with freedom and autonomy, ideally tied to a compelling purpose.

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Conclusion

In the end, it’s not so much about following our passions as it is about discovering, developing, and deepening them over time—and creatively integrating them into our life and work.

Ideally, we know not only our passions but also use our strengths (the things we’re good at, based on our innate talents, knowledge, and skills) to serve groups or causes we’re motivated to support in line with our core values. That’s a powerful approach to living honorably and living well.

 

Reflection Questions

  1. What are your passions?
  2. To what extent are you integrating your passions into your life and work (relationships, health, work, education, community, activities)?
  3. What more could you do?
  4. Is there anything preventing you from doing so and, if so, what will you do about it?
  5. What will you do differently, starting today?

 

Tools for You

 

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Postscript: Inspirations on Passions

  • “Allow yourself to be silently guided by that which you love the most.” -Rumi, 13th century poet and Sufi mystic
  • “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” -Steve Jobs, co-founder, Apple
  • “If there is any difference between you and me, it may simply be that I get up every day and have a chance to do what I love to do, every day. If you want to learn anything from me, this is the best advice I can give you.” -Warren Buffett, legendary investor
  • “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” -Oprah Winfrey, media entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist
  • “One of the huge mistakes people make is that they try to force an interest on themselves. You don’t choose your passions; your passions choose you.” -Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO, Amazon
  • “Paul and I, we never thought that we would make much money out of the thing. We just loved writing software.” -Bill Gates, co-founder, Microsoft
  • “I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever.” -Stephen King, writer
  • “People who are connected to their passion can be spotted from a mile away.” -Mark Shearer, Executive Vice President, Pitney Bowes

(1) In the academic literature, researchers distinguish between “obsessive passions” and “harmonious passions” in what’s called the “dualistic model of passion.” With obsessive passions, we’re consumed with an activity and have a hard time letting it go. It can lead to conflicts between this activity and other important things in our life—and potentially injury, burnout, or other adverse consequences (e.g., when we keep dancing even when we’re injured). The problem occurs because we tie things like self-esteem or social acceptance to the activity, so we persist at it rigidly and develop uncontrollable urges to continue engaging in it.

With harmonious passions, by contrast, we freely accept the activity as important to us and engage in it willingly but don’t attach contingencies to it and don’t feel compelled to continue it. We’re able to leave space for other important things in our lives. Such passions lead to higher work satisfaction and don’t lead to those kinds of conflicts—or to burnout. Source: Vallerand, Robert & Paquet, Yvan & Philippe, Frederick & Charest, Julie. (2010). On the Role of Passion for Work in Burnout: A Process Model. Journal of personality. 78. 289-312.

(2) Mark Allen Morris, “A Meta-Analytic Investigation of Vocational Interest-Based Job Fit, and Its Relationship to Job Satisfaction, Performance, and Turnover,” PhD dissertation, University of Houston, 2003.

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, TEDx speaker, and coach on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!