#438  from Innovative Leader Volume 8, Number 12          December 1999

Spread Your Excitement
by Richard Chang, Ph.D.

Dr. Chang is CEO of Richard Chang Associates, Inc., a management consulting company, in Irvine, CA.  He is chairman of the board for the American Society for Training and Development and is author of The Passion Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide to Discovering, Developing, and Living Your Passion (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, 1999), from which this article is excerpted. www.RichardChangAssociates.com www.The PassionPlan.com

Not long ago I was asked to facilitate a business planning meeting for senior-level managers.  When I asked the executives about management issues in their company, I was amazed.  One after another, they complained about the company, its procedures, and culture.  Some complaints were valid, even though this company offered excellent products and services.  But I soon realized that the criticisms were not the true cause of discontent.

After listening to their grievances for fifteen minutes, I stopped them.  I surveyed the furrowed brows and pursed lips and asked, ďIf youíre all so unhappy, whatís keeping you here?  The room fell silent.  They were stunned.  My question apparently caught them off guard.  I then said, ďI donít see any balls and chains keeping you here.  If youíre so miserable, why donít you leave?Ē

A few moments passed before one director mentioned that she was biding time until retirement.  Another cited the companyís generous benefits package.  From the corner, in a tone of utter bewilderment, a vice president responded, ďI have no idea why Iím here.Ē  Not one member of the group cited actual enjoyment of the job or the feeling of doing something important or worthwhile.

The attitude these managers displayed is not so different from that shared by many people today.  We spend a lot of time doing things we donít want to do in places we donít want to be for no other reason than that we feel we have to.  We have to bring home a paycheck, please our friends and family, and meet the expectations the world has set for us.  If nothing else, we find ourselves in less than ideal situations out of habit.  We follow the paths our lives begin to take and are too afraid, or too reluctant, to change our course as time goes by.


I have learned that those able to overcome the deterrents to fulfillment derive their energy and initiative from a single source: passion.  The kind of passion that fills you with energy and excitement, that gets you up in the morning and keeps you awake at night.  When you experience it, you lose track of time and become absorbed in the task at hand.  This passion creates personal intensity, uplifts you, and inspires you.  It heightens your performance and enables you to achieve things you may never have dreamed possible.  Most important, it holds the key to your happiness.

Passion is not a privilege of the fortunate few; it is a right and a power that we all possess.  You might envy those who are fired up about their lives.  You may view their success as a product of luck or circumstance, but rarely does either factor play a part.

The Executives

In case you think you canít learn or be convinced, Iíll follow up on my tale of the grumbling executives.  When they returned a week later, they were an entirely different group.  I had asked them to list the things in their lives that they were excited about.  Then I asked them to brainstorm a list of areas and functions within the company where they might have the opportunity to pursue some of these passions.  Given their former misery, I wasnít sure what they would say, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Each was able to identify something he or she would like to pursue in the company.  One man realized that one of his passions was competition.  He loved the adrenaline rush he got when he focused on winning or achieving a quantifiable result.  His position in the finance department offered him little opportunity to do that; he was enduring his position rather than enjoying it.  Making his list, he realized he was also uncompetitive in his personal life.  He had not created an outlet for his passion.  I was not surprised that that he felt apathetic not only toward his job but toward life in general.

We discussed his options, and determined that he needed to find a place for competition in his life.  As work he felt it was possible to move from finance to sales and marketing or product development, either of which would be more competitive. 

As the day progressed, we developed plans for all the executives to let passion into their work.  Some saw opportunities for change in their existing jobs, whereas others felt a new position would be the most effective route.  One realized that a more drastic change was necessary--that he was in the wrong company.

You might think the company would resent my intervention, but not so.  Within a few months all the managers had improved their performance and become more fulfilled in their jobs.  The finance manager left accounting and moved into sales and marketing.  Soon his passion expressed itself, and people noticed.  He became a star performer; before he was thought average.  The changes he made at work were reinforced by changes he made in his personal life.  He joined the softball team, and as his family cheered him on, he began to play out the passion he had so long repressed.

The changes this man made were relatively minor, but they were enough.  How about you letting passion into your work?
The Passion Litmus Test

If you have been suffering from passion deficit, it might take a while to discern between passion and interest.  Think about your potential passion for your work as you ask the following questions.  Check the statements below that are true for you.

___       I lose track of time when Iím engaged in this activity.
___       I perform beyond my normal capabilities when Iím engaged in this activity.
___       My energy level is higher when Iím engaged in this activity.
___       I get excited when I think of this activity.
___       I dream about this activity.
___       My enthusiasm for this activity is consistent over time.
___       I feel more confident or empowered when Iím engaged in this activity.
___       Others notice me based on my involvement or performance in this activity.
___       Others rally around me or want to be involved with me in this activity.
___       I feel energized after engaging in this activity.


Give yourself a point for each statement you marked true.  Then read on to learn where you stand.

0-2        This activity is not a passion.
3-5        This activity is an interest.
6-8        This activity is a potential passion and should be re-evaluated after further investigation.
9-10      This activity is definitely a passion.  You should take further action to determine how to incorporate it into your work on a regular basis.

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