At the Center for Positive Organizations we have an immensely successful course for undergraduates called Magnify. I once attended the graduation ceremony. I listened to each student present a five minute explanation of their life journey and the impact of the class on that journey. In every case there was joy in the present, but also deep concern about the future. They each expressed anxiety about career choices and their own employability.
These talks filled me with positivity. I felt genuinely attracted to each student. As I rejoiced in them, the master of ceremonies, without warning, suddenly announced, “I know that Bob Quinn has to leave in a few minutes, so I would like to call on him to say a few words.”
Because I was so focused on the welfare of the students, I did not panic with the very normal egotistical fear of failure. I simply began to speak about my feelings for them. As I did, ideas came and words began to flow. I have noticed that when my focus is genuinely on the welfare of others my speaking and teaching often unfolds in an effortless way and I often sit down knowing more than I knew when I first stood up.
In speaking to them I first noted their anxieties. I told them that I clearly remembered when I had those exact feelings. When I was their age, I could not imagine why any organization would ever want to hire someone like me.
I then told them of a segment I once heard on National Public Radio. NPR aired three short clips of statements made by famous figures during commencement addresses. All three speakers advised the students to do the same thing. They told the students to devote their careers to what they most loved to do. It turns out that pursuing what we love to do is one of the most consistent themes given at graduations.
I told the students that such advice is good. When people do what they love a transformation occurs. Abraham Maslow captured the transformation when he did a study of self-actualizing people. A self-actualizing person is a person who realizes their own potential. They live differently because they are self-empowering. Instead of simply living to survive, they pursue a purpose and they live to thrive and flourish and they tend to help others do the same. Maslow claimed that his self-actualizing subjects had brought about an unusual integration. Work and pleasure could not be differentiated with Maslow’s subjects because they were doing what they loved—for them work was pleasure.
This transformation is of great importance. When someone turns their work into pleasure, they spend their careers doing what they love. They have a calling, and pursuing it accelerates their growth. They become ever more masterful as they give their strengths to others.
The NPR narrator then pointed out that most people do not spend their careers doing what they love. Furthermore most people do not know what they would love to do. NPR then featured a segment in which three economists tried to help a student determine what he might love to do. The economists asked many questions but the process failed. At the end the student still had no idea what he loved and what career he should pursue.
I then told the CPO students that there is a way to solve the puzzle. They could use what they had already learned about the positive perspective to reverse the conventional, fear based logic that governs job pursuit. Science suggests that we can find or create a calling through experience, feedback, introspection and reflection.
I told the students they simply needed to orient their current lives to the constant clarification of purpose. In every situation they needed to clarify their deepest intentions and act on them. Doing so would take them out of their comfort zones and constantly generate new experiences. Reflecting on the successes and failures in those new experiences will allow them to further clarify their purpose and become still more internally driven. They would thus become increasingly unique and attractive. They would then become magnets.
I told them that, if they become magnets, instead of fretting about finding a job, they could relax and let the jobs find them. Organizations need people of higher purpose and increasing mastery. They need people who love what they do. Such people are invaluable. If universities and corporations understood the power of purpose, development programs would look very different. Since they do not, each of us needs to learn to develop ourselves and orient ourselves to purpose.
The door to a meaningful life is guarded by the demon of fear. That demon disappears when we have internalized our purpose. People flourish when they open the door. Organizations flourish when leaders open the door for others.
Why are graduates advised to do what they love?
What happens to an organization when people love what they do?
How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?