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Career Coach

What your love life can teach you about your job

About the author

Elizabeth is a freelance writer in California and a former Career Q&A columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

Is it important to be passionate about your work? (iStockphoto)

Is it important to be passionate about your work? (iStockphoto)

For the past decade, Khaled Fawzy has run a logistics and freight-forwarding company out of Egypt. But business has faltered recently, partly due to the country’s political turmoil and partly due to mistakes Fawzy says he has made along the way.

In the last two years, the company has gone from 109 employees and five branches to 22 employees and two branches.

It’s understandable, then, that the decline and current status of a business he grew and nurtured has left Fawzy feeling uncommitted to his job and lacking passion for it.

Like many professionals, Fawzy said he wonders whether he can “get his spirit back” or if he should simply pack it in and try something completely different.

About 60% of workers around the globe say that they are either unsatisfied with their jobs and companies or that their jobs are just “ok”, according to an ongoing Glassdoor.com survey with data from companies in 190 countries. Only 23% of employees in the United States are passionate about their jobs, according to Deloitte LLP’s 2010 Shift Index Report.

Career experts say working to your potential without passion is difficult — and can be even harder when you once felt enthusiasm for a job and lost it. But there are ways to get it back.

Taking the first step

Recognising that something is missing is the first step to getting your career, and your passion, back on track, said Stella Mandehou, a career services manager with the American University in Dubai.

“By taking responsibility for change... you will eventually take the initiative to change,” she said.

Mandehou said careers are much like relationships.

“If you want to fall back in love with your work, try to ‘spark’ that relationship by learning something new about your field,” she said. “Gain a new skill, read a new book or attend a professional conference or seminar and show enthusiasm about learning and sharing experiences.”

Mandehou also suggested becoming a mentor to someone in your field. You’re likely to feel like you are making important contributions to someone else’s career and may “absorb some of that lost beginner’s enthusiasm and excitement,” she said. Likewise, you can try to step back and look at your career the way you did when you first started. “Focus on experiencing your work with a state of curiosity and exploration,” she said.

Take a break

Melbourne, Australia-based executive career coach Mary Goldsmith said taking a break from the day-to-day routine and doing something different for a week can be the answer for some people.

 “When people have lost their passion, it often means they’re burnt out or plain bored,” she said. “Sometimes, we need to remove ourselves from a situation to create space to develop some perspective, identify the things we enjoy and help plan the next steps.”

Changing attitudes

In countries like Egypt, where Fawzy runs his business, major political and social turmoil make it easy to both lose sight of what you want out of work and make your plans for your future more unclear, according to Bruce Kasanoff, author of Smart Customers, Stupid Companies: Why Only Intelligent Firms Will Thrive, and How to Be One of Them.

“You may have had a vision for what people needed [in the market] five years ago, but what do they need now?” he said.

Being open-minded and adaptable in situations like these is essential to success, added Kasanoff.

Happiness matters

For Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and forthcoming book Before Happiness, the best way to maximise both happiness and success at work is to find the position that puts you at the “intersection” of three key areas:

  • Are you good at your work?  
  • Do you enjoy it?  
  • Do you find it meaningful?

If you can — honestly — answer yes to those three questions about your current job, then you are in the right place, said Achor. If you can’t, it is probably time for a change.

But before you head for the exit, lean on workplace social support networks. They are the biggest predictor of happiness at work, said Achor, and they can easily falter in times of stress. For someone in Fawzy’s position, that can mean something as simple as making one positive comment per day to an employee about the job he or she is doing or sending out a positive email to someone new at work each day.

“The best way to re-energise passion for work is to invest in your social relationships,” said Achor.

Career Coach is a twice-monthly column on BBC Capital in which we consider the career turning points and questions many professionals face. We welcome questions from readers at careercoach@bbc.com.

When people have lost their passion, it often means they’re burnt out or plain bored. — Mary Goldsmith

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