Prescription – Finding fulfillment at work

This month we’ve tackled a dysfunction that all of us wrestle with in our lives: “Is this it? Finding fulfillment at work.” The irony is that the biggest challenge we face with this dysfunction isn’t the struggle to find the answer. The greatest challenge we face is the risk we run if we avoid answering the question all together. Years can pass and suddenly we can find ourselves down a path that is not the right one for us. We become “pricing specialists for the tire industry” with no clear way out. We settle. So where can you start?

TREATMENT PLAN – The 5 Questions

Over the years of working with hundreds of individuals wrestling with this challenge, I’ve found that there are 5 questions that can start you down the path to fulfillment. Before you dive in, a few caveats on The 5 Questions:

• They are deeper questions so you might not have an answer right away. That’s o.k. Let the questions simmer and stew until something bubbles up for you.

• You only need one good answer to one question to point you in the right direction. Don’t shoot for answering all 5 Questions. You just need one answer to get you moving.

• The 5 Questions are not the only ways to find fulfillment at work, but I have found in my experience they are a great start.

Question 1: What did you always need and not get enough of? Turn that need into what you give to the world. For more, read the full post on Question 1 here.

Question 2: What did mom or dad always need and not get? Sometimes saving the next generation of mom / dad or someone else close to you can be tremendously fulfilling. For more, read the full post on Question 2 here.

Question 3: What did you particularly value from your childhood that you would like to give to others? What was it that you got that others didn’t that made the difference in your life? Giving that to others could be the answer for you. For more, read the full post on Question 3 here.

Question 4: Who do you want to help or serve? Who do you want your customers to be? Arguably, the most important of The 5 Questions, finding the right customers is critical. Do you like your customers? Maybe you need some new ones. For more, read the full post on Question 4 here.

Question 5: What gets you mad or sad in the world? The easiest of The 5 Questions, look for something in the world that sparks your emotions. That spark could lead to something bigger. For more, read the full post on Question 5 here.

BONUS Question: Did you overcome a particular hardship in your life that you would now like to help others overcome? Ex: cancer, loss of a loved one, struggle with addiction, etc… This can be another great way to find meaning and fulfillment in what you do.

Hopefully one of those questions has sparked something for you. Fantastic! Now, the real work begins. You have to start down the path towards making it a reality. Ask yourself what is the easiest way to start down the path. An important point about fulfillment – fulfillment is not a moment in time. It is the product of a long journey. You’ve found your destination, now you just need to map out the course to get there. As a good mentor of mine once told me, “people change is hard. What’s the easiest way to take the first step?” Don’t over complicate your plan and always default to action over preparation. Oh, and be sure to pack the essentials you’ll need to overcome fear along the way (purpose, courage, and faith). You’re gonna need them.



Expiration Date: This prescription will lose its strength over time. While it will never “go bad”, it’s effectiveness in helping you live the life you’ve always wanted decreases with each passing year. For best results, take immediately and regularly.

Risk of Death: This prescription will NOT result in death. I promise you won’t die by confronting your fears. However, it is also important to note that life is short – you will die eventually. The question to ask yourself is this: “Do I want this to be my life if I died tomorrow?” Do you?

Potential Side Effects: Growth, fulfillment and the life you’ve always wanted. Specifics results vary from person to person.

So what are you waiting for? The clock is ticking.

Here’s a bit of inspiration for you as you get ready to bring more fulfillment into your life. It starts with a splash of imagination.  Nothing like Willy Wonka to put it all in perspective.

The story of the plastic heart

Robert was your typical college student – lost, unfocused and simply going through the motions.  What Robert did know, however, was that he always loved tinkering.  He spent most of his time perpetually lost in his thoughts, dreaming up some invention that was going to revolutionize the world.  But alas, other than a surgical stapler, not much had ever come out of Robert’s workshop.  So here was Robert, an inventor at heart trying to find his way through college, trying to find that spark to keep him focused and feeling alive.  After wandering from subject to subject, Robert settled on art and architecture.  He thought surely architecture would be the proper home for his creativity and his expansive mind.   He dreamt of building tall buildings that would pierce the sky with their spires… at least until he became bored and found something else more engaging.

One chilly morning Robert’s world stopped.  The call came through with an icy coldness.  Robert’s father was going to need open heart surgery immediately.  Robert was stunned.  How could this be happening?  Robert still had so much to ask his dad… so much they had never shared, never talked about.  Growing up, Robert had never been particularly close to his dad, but since he had gone off to college, the distance was bringing them closer together.  He was actually beginning to like his dad for the first time in his life and now to have it all taken away?  No.  That’s not fair.  And unfortunately, no tall building was ever going to be tall enough, strong enough or well-built enough to save dad.

And that’s when Robert decided.  He switched his major from architecture to medicine.  In that moment, he dedicated his life to studying the heart.  Over the next few years, what he found was fascinating.  He discovered that many people with heart disease actually need heart transplants but there simply weren’t enough extra hearts lying around to meet the need.   Then the light bulb went off.  Robert could make more.  What if he used his inventor mind and his dedication to the heart to solve a huge problem that his dad and many others in the world were facing – not enough hearts to go around.

Fast-forward to 1982.  It was in that year that something magical happened that would forever change the course of medicine.  Dr. Robert Jarvik implanted the first successful artificial heart in a human being.  Today, his “Jarvik heart” has had a huge impact on millions across the globe and has been the foundation for similar medical breakthroughs in implant technology.

I love this story not only because of the amazing end result, but because it reminds us that we can find fulfillment and purpose simply by looking close to home.  This story reinforces that by answering one of the “5 Questions” (can you guess which one Robert answered? Here’s a link to the answer) we can be provided the focus, fulfillment and purpose we need to follow something all the way through to the end.

So how about you?  You’re on the cusp of something big.  Do you know what it is?  Discover it and change the world forever.


Finding meaningful work: Question #5

“Anger and sadness are great indicators of a deeper connection to a subject or issue.” 

Question #5:
What gets you mad or sad in the world?

Naturally, I save the easiest question for last.  If the first four questions are leaving you stumped, Question #5 is just for you.  Here it is:  “What gets you mad or sad in the world?”  Now, before you get cranky with me for such a fuzzy question, hold on.  The idea behind Question #5 is to get you tapping into your emotions in order to find topics or issues that spark some kind of strong reaction from you.  Personally, I LOVE strong emotions such as anger and sadness when I work with clients.  Strong emotions are fantastic sources of data.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had clients apologize for their rowdiness or for their tears.  In fact it should be just the opposite.  I should be thanking them for such great sources of information.  Anger and sadness are great indicators of a deeper connection to a subject or issue – and often that subject or issue can be traced back to a need in the world that you have a particular connection with.  And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about – figuring out the particular need in the world that you feel connected to and then finding out a way to address it?  Take Allison for example.

Allison’s Story

We all know an Allison in our lives.  That friend, family member or acquaintance that is so incredibly passionate about a particular issue that it borders on crazy.  In Allison’s case, the issue is cats, particularly the abandoned or abused varieties.  Allison gets visibly angry every time she sees a stray or homeless cat.  If you are in her presence during one of these encounters, be prepared for a mini sermon on the sins of animal cruelty and the moral duty to care for these innocent creatures.  For Allison, it’s not just words.  She takes action.  Allison has made it her personal mission to fund the local cat rescue center, she volunteers regularly on the weekends for cat adoption groups and she has personally taken in countless cats of her own.  Allison is a bona fide cat rescue nut and is committed to addressing that need head on.

There are three important points about Allison’s story (and Question #5) that we can apply to us:

Point #1I have no idea why Allison is so incredibly passionate about caring for felinesWhile self-awareness is ideal, it’s not necessary.  When it comes right down to it, if you act on your emotional connection to an issue or need in a positive way, that’s all that really matters.

Point #2It doesn’t have to be your job.  In Allison’s case, she lives out her passion and fulfillment in her “free” time.  She uses work as a means to an end so she can fund her true calling.  You might find that option is the easier or 0ptimal path for you so don’t let limited vocational prospects prevent you from addressing a need you feel a connection to or passion for.

Point #3I really don’t like cats.  I have one of my own and all she gives me is the occasional slimy hairball strategically placed directly between my bed and the bathroom.  There’s nothing like the feeling of a cold, wet hairball squishing between your toes at 3:00 AM.  So personally, I think Allison’s emotional connection with cats is absurd, over the top and potentially in need of clinical attention.  After all, they are just cats.  And that is simply the point.  What gets Allison fired up (or you for that matter) doesn’t have to make sense to me or anyone else.  As long as you have an emotional connection to a particular need or issue in the world, go for it.  While I may not fully understand it, I know we need people like Allison.  Otherwise, without her we might find ourselves overrun with dangerous gangs of roaming cats that prowl neighborhoods late at night frightening small children, harassing innocent squirrels and stalking the loose strings on the back of our clothing.

So, what gets you mad or sad in the world?  Look for an answer that brings out an emotional reaction in you.  Once you’ve got that, you’re well on your way.  And of course, don’t just sit there.  Take action!


Finding meaningful work: Question #4

“Figuring out who you want to help or serve is half the battle to finding meaningful and fulfilling work.”

Question #4:
Who do you want to help or serve?  Who do you want your customers to be?


O.k.  So I lied.  I said you don’t need to have answers to all 5 questions, just one good answer to point you in the right direction.  That’s partly true.  However, if you can’t answer this question, Question #4, you’ll never find total fulfillment at work. So, in other words, I lied.  You’re gonna have to answer Question #4.  Here it is: “Who do you want to help or serve?  Who do you want your customers to be?” Why is this question so important?  Simply put, if you don’t like your customers, you’re not going to enjoy, nor will you be good at, serving them. Consider Carlos’ story:

Carlos’ Story

Carlos came to me several years ago in quite a pickle.  Carlos was about to graduate with his MBA and he knew he wanted to go into marketing.  No issue there.  In fact, Carlos was sure that he wanted to be in brand management – the folks that oversee the running of a brand (think: Coke, Pepsi, Klennex, Nike, etc…).  The problem:  Carlos was targeting no less than 30 companies.  As he put it, “this is killing me.  I can’t keep up with that many companies, industries and contacts.  Consequently, it doesn’t feel like I am doing any of it well.”  We started through the “5 Questions” in hopes of helping Carlos get some clarity.  When we got to Question #4, I looked up at Carlos and noticed what he was wearing.  Carlos had on a kid’s cereal t-shirt.  “Hmmm…” I thought.  I asked Carlos, “You don’t want to work on products for adults do you?”  Sure enough, Carlos said, “not really.”  As we began looking at different customer groups, it became clear to both of us that the customers he wanted to serve were kids. This took Carlo’s list of companies from 30 to 5 in a hurry.  He focused his search, worked his tail off and today he is the brand manager for a major brand of kid’s toys.  He loves what he does.


Before we shift this question back to you, it is worthwhile to ask, “why did Carlos have so many companies on his list in the first place?”  Simple.  He was attracted to the shiny.  Be careful.  Shine can distract you from focusing on what really matters and is meaningful to you. Big named companies or organizations are only good if they do one of two things: allow you to directly serve the customers you want to serve OR get you closer to where you want to go.  Shiny is not a destination… nor is it fulfilling. It is a trap that is as deadly as quick sand so watch out.
Grab a handy napkin or envelope and jot down the answers to these questions to get you closer to figuring out the answer to Question #4:

  • Do you like your current set of customers? Be gut-level honest with yourself.  Do you really like them?  If you’re not sure, one way to tell is if you think about them on the weekends – not because you have to but because you want to.
  • Who have been your favorite “all-time” customers and why? Make a list of the people you have served throughout your career / life that have been your favorites.  Notice any patterns which may be popping up?  Their age?  Gender?  Background?  Values?  Etc…
  • Still stuck? Look in the mirror. We often like to serve people who are just like us.  .
  • Try to narrow your list down to one group and identify their need.  Think of that group of customers and ask yourself what are they not getting that you could help with?
  • Finally, brainstorm ways to meet that need and look for organizations already working to meet that need. Are their companies or organizations that are currently working to serve that customer group in the way you want to?  How could you get connected to them?


There you have it – Question #4.  Be honest with yourself and ask yourself what customer group you really want to serve.  If you can figure that, that’s half the battle to finding meaningful and fulfilling work.

Finding meaningful work: Question #3

Giving to others the thing that you particularly valued growing up – the difference-maker for you in your life today, can be extremely meaningful and fulfilling.”

Question #3:
What did you particularly value growing up that you would like to give to others?

O.k.  So maybe you are saying to yourself, “Brandon, those first two questions are way too deep… I got nothin’.”  If that’s you, Question #3 may be right up your alley.  Here it is: “What did you particularly value growing up that you would like to give to others?” Simply put, look back on your life and ask yourself what was it that you got growing up that made the difference for you in your life.  What was the difference-maker?  Maybe it was education opportunities… or a close-knit family… or exposure to other cultures.  Regardless of what the difference-maker was, finding a way to give that to others can be an excellent form of meaningful and fulfilling work. Consider Todd’s story:

Todd’s Story

Todd was your typical consultant / banker type – very analytical, not particularly emotional and very direct and to the point.  Todd knew that neither banking nor consulting were fulfilling to him; stimulating – yes, fulfilling – no.  He wanted more.  We sat down and began to go through the “5 Questions.”   Question #1 didn’t spark anything from Todd.  Question #2 had the same effect – nothing.  After Question #3, Todd paused, looked up at me and said in a low voice, “that’s it.”

Todd grew up in a blue collar family.  Todd’s dad was a local mechanic and Todd’s mom worked part-time at a day care up the street from their house.  Todd’s parents didn’t have much money and weren’t well educated, but they had plenty of love.  For Todd, it was the summers that held the key.  Every summer without fail, his family would go camping for weeks at a time.  As Todd put it, “those were the best times in my life.  To be outdoors, enjoying nature and spending time with my family… I just loved every minute of it.”  Todd leaned across the table, and as if he was confessing a deep secret that he had been keeping bottled up for years, whispered to me “I always wanted to be a park ranger.” After a brief pause, Todd continued, “In fact, even to this day, there is a part of me that still wishes I could be a park ranger.”  We began to noodle with this idea.  On the one hand, Todd could absolutely drop everything and become a park ranger.  The path was pretty clear.  However, what do we do with all of Todd’s other experience?  His work in banking and consulting just had to be valuable in some way. Could there be a way for him to use his past experiences to give to others what he particularly valued in a bigger way? I left him with that question and we ended our time together.

A few weeks later, Todd reached out to me.  “I’ve got it!” he said.  And he excitedly began to lay out his plan.  “I’m going to go back into banking.  But this time it is going to be different.  I’m going to go in with the sole purpose of developing my own fund that I can run and manage.  Here’s the best part, in addition to being a good investment, one of the purposes of my fund will be to buy land and create more parks.”  He’d be giving to others what he valued most growing up – in a pretty big way.

Now onto you.  Question #3 may just hold the answer for you as it did for Todd.  Here’s a “back of the envelope” way to start:

  • Think about your life growing up. Try to think about all the good stuff that you received that had a positive influence on you and shaped who you are today.
  • Now, think about all your childhood friends that you grew up with. What did they not get that was the difference between your paths?
  • What was the one thing that you got that made all the difference for you? Try to put your finger on the difference-maker for you in your life.
  • What would it look like if you gave that to others? Jot some ideas down.  Consider how you can incorporate your past experiences (like Todd did) to help you to achieve that vision.
  • Determine your next steps. What’s the path you need to be on?  Figure out the first step and don’t make it too hard.  Dreaming is good, action is better.

There you have it, Question #3 – a path to meaningful and fulfilling work by taking all the good from your childhood and finding ways to “pay it forward.”


Next Up: Question #4 – the one question that EVERYONE needs to have an answer for.  You won’t want to miss this one.



Finding meaningful work: Question #2

“Sometimes, saving the next generation of someone close to us can give us meaning and fulfillment in what we do.”

Question #2:
What did your mom / dad always need and not get enough of?


Some people find meaning and fulfillment in what they do by tying it to someone important in their life… and saving others like him or her from a similar fate.  Often this person is mom or dad (or mom AND dad), but it doesn’t have to be.  It could be a brother, sister, uncle, aunt, grandparent, etc…  The point is to think about someone important to you in your life and give the next generation of him or her what that person close to you always needed and never got. Maybe that takes the form of saving others from the same tragic fate or perhaps it is helping others to realize a particular version of unlocked potential.  For example, maybe mom could have been a gifted artist, but wasn’t given the encouragement, education and opportunities that she needed.  So you commit your life to creating education opportunities for aspiring young women like mom.  Or dad could have been a successful entrepreneur but no one would ever give dad a loan.  You commit your life to providing loan products to people like dad.  Let’s take a deeper look at how answering “Question #2” can lead to fulfilling work.  Susan’s story is a perfect example.

Susan’s Story

Susan grew up in rural Oklahoma.  Her dad owned a truck stop – “Slim’s Truck Stop.”  Every day Susan and her siblings worked at their dad’s truck stop alongside their parents.  Susan said the time working at the truck stop were some of her best memories growing up.  She became extremely close with her family and she learned the value of serving others during this time.  This routine went on for many years until one day her dad was unloading one of the Monday-morning deliveries and threw out his back lifting a heavy crate.  The injury was more serious than initially thought and he wasn’t able to work for months.  The business suffered without his guidance and day-to-day presence.  To make matters worse, he didn’t have any form of insurance for himself or for the business, so when he went down, the business followed.  “Slim’s Truck Stop” closed a year later and her parents were left penniless.

Susan didn’t want any other entrepreneur or his or her family to suffer the same fate as her parents.  As a result, she has dedicated her life to working with small business owners to make sure they have the proper insurance to take care of themselves and their families if anything unexpected should ever occur.  Susan is an insurance sales person, but that’s not how she sees it. She says she protects families and small businesses from suffering the same fate as her parents.  Susan is the best in her field because, as one of her clients puts it, “it isn’t just a job for Susan… it’s a calling.  She speaks with such passion and conviction that we know she has our best interests in mind.  I couldn’t picture her doing anything else.”

Now onto you.  Do you have that same kind of conviction, passion and fulfillment in what you do?  If not, consider answering “Question #2” to find the answer.  Grab a scratch piece of paper and follow these steps:

  • Identify someone who had a significant impact on you growing up (whether for better or for worse)
  • What did he or she always need and never get?  What difference would that have made for him or her… and for you if they had gotten that need met?
  • What would it look like if you saved the next generation of him or her by meeting that need?
  • Jot down jobs or services that meet that need and see what you come up with.  Don’t let rationality or fear limit your thinking.  Come up with as many possibilities as you can.

Saving others from the same fate as those close to us can be extremely meaningful and can lead us to fulfilling work.  So, get thinking… and as always, get moving!



Finding meaningful work – Question #1

“Perhaps the most challenging of the five questions to finding meaningful and fulfilling work, this first question can be one of the most powerful.”

Question 1:
Growing up, what did you always need and not get enough of?

On the surface this question may seem “out of left field,” but in actuality, it could hold the key for finding meaning in what you do. Here’s why. Whether we know it or not, we all have unmet needs as we are growing up that we carry with us through adulthood – it is part of being human. We call these needs from our childhood – core needs. Core needs are usually derived from what we didn’t get (or didn’t get enough of) from our nuclear family (mom, dad, siblings, etc…). Core needs are not things (money, toys, etc…), rather they run deeper and speak to what we were looking for from our family that we just simply didn’t get enough of (security, worth, acceptance, being valued, etc…). We often spend the majority of our lives trying desperately to get our core needs met in the relationships we have with others at work and outside of work. The irony is that it is this need which holds the key to meaning and purpose. We are so sensitive to that need as we walk through life that we become expertly suited to meet that need in the world and in others. We can see, sense and notice things tied to that need that others simply cannot. And we have a unique appreciation for that need in the world because of our story. Let me share a few examples:

Jordan’s Story

Jordan’s parents owned a local pet store in his home town. While Jordan’s parents loved their work, they struggled financially throughout Jordan’s childhood. He remembers moving from their home to an apartment because “mom and dad could no longer pay the bills.” That instability shaped Jordan. He always felt as though the family was down to its last dollar and this created a sense of fear within him. A desire for stability, a need for stability, motivated Jordan. For many years he would not pursue anything that involved the slightest ounce of risk – in fact he could “smell” the slightest threat or turn for the worse before it happened. Jordan’s friends envied his financial savvy and were in awe in his ability to know just when to pull his money out of the market before things headed south. He excelled in school, got a stable job with a large company and pursued a graduate degree in business hoping to get an even more stable and “safe” job. What Jordan came to realize is that his unique gift of sensing risk could be used to lead a safe protective life for himself or it could easily be turned into something more purposeful – helping others to navigate risk so their lives could be more stable. He decided that the most meaningful role for him would be to eventually work in a senior finance role for an organization so he could help the organization (his family in a way) avoid risk and preserve stability, thus impacting positively all the people that work for and with the organization.

Annabelle’s Story

Annabelle grew up the youngest of 7 children. Growing up in such a large household, Annabelle was loved and cared for, but felt she was never truly heard. Her older brothers, sisters and parents made all the decisions for Annabelle. Growing up, her need was to be truly heard for her own unique thoughts and opinions. She carried that need into adulthood. Annabelle would become ultra sensitive in any large group. She would shrink into the background and wait for someone to notice and hear her. One day, Annabelle realized she noticed and saw group dynamics that others didn’t see. She was acutely aware of who got noticed and why. She began mentoring others on navigating corporate politics and loved it. Today, Annabelle has her own coaching firm that specializes in helping high potentials navigate the intricacies of getting heard and noticed in their organizations.

In both Jordan and Annabelle’s case, they took their core needs from their childhood (need for stability and a need for being truly heard, respectively) and found meaningful careers by meeting those needs in the world. As one of my mentors nicely puts it, “our core need hollows out the seed bed in us for our strengths, talents and purpose to emerge.” So, as you reflect on your core need, here are some more specific guidelines.

  • Our core need from childhood is often shaped between the ages of 4 -15
  • Look past “things.” Money is not a need, nor is a bicycle, gaming system or a house. A need is deeper. “Things” often translate into needs such as: stability, security, or opportunity
  • Common needs are some of the following: Acceptance, Being heard, Stability, Unconditional love, Being truly seen, Encouragement / support, Being enough, Appreciated, Valued, Honesty, Seen as competent, etc…
  • Core needs often are tied to one’s relationship with their nuclear family so look there first (mom and / or dad are a great start!)
  • You know you are getting close to your core need when there are strong emotions the first time you say it out loud (tears, anger, etc…)

Hint: If you are still stuck, consider the best boss (or teacher) you’ve ever had. Odds are, he or she met your core need and that was what made them your favorite!

Once you are on the “scent” of your core need, consider how you could turn it so that your job allowed you to meet that need in the world in some way or another. That could take the form of a bold shift as we noticed in the cases of Jordan and Annabelle as they undertook job / career changes. With others it can be a more subtle shift and take the form of “how” they do their current job more meaningfully. In those cases, one may choose to develop others around him or her by paying particular attention to giving others what they always needed and didn’t get enough of. Those individuals often become the great managers and mentors that shape our lives and others.

Determining our core need is no simple task, so don’t feel frustrated if after some reflection you’ve “got nothin’.” For some, it comes almost immediately, but for others it is tougher to identify and articulate and may require the help of a skilled professional. Never fear. That’s why there are 4 more meaning questions on their way!

Finding meaningful work – the 5 questions

Hands down… bar none… without a doubt, the most frequently asked question I receive is: “how do I find my calling – meaningful and fulfilling work?” All of us want it, but how do we find it?
I’m gonna start us down that path in a very dark place, a Nazi concentration camp outside of Dachau in 1944.  A young Jewish doctor is working as a slave laborer, watching his fellow prisoners fall one by one. This young physician has already lost his family to the horrors of concentration camps and sits alone, toiling away. It was during these dark days that Viktor Frankl discovered the power of meaning and purpose. He noticed that prisoners who could find meaning and purpose in their existence could continue through the harsh realities they were forced to endure, but once that meaning and purpose was lost, those individuals would give up and die shortly thereafter. Upon his liberation, Viktor Frankl went on to publish Man’s Search for Meaning and founded logotherapy, a therapeutic approach based on helping individuals find meaning and purpose in their lives. As Viktor Frankl so perfectly put it,

“The existential vacuum – or, as he sometimes terms it, ‘existential frustration’ – is a common phenomenon and is characterized by the subjective state of boredom, apathy, and emptiness. One feels cynical, lacks direction and questions the point of most of life’s activities. Some complain of a void and a vague discontent when the busy week is over.”   Yalom, Irvin D. (1980) p.449

Wow. Eerie isn’t it? How many of us don’t have those feelings and thoughts when we think about our jobs? In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl argues that we can find meaning in three different places:

  • By creating a work or doing a deed – What we do at work. Either the work product itself or that sense of completion we get when something’s done
  • By encountering someone (in our lives) – Our role as it relates to others in our lives. Our role as a mother, a son, a wife, a brother, a father, a manager, etc…
  • By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering – Overcoming difficult struggles in life and making meaning of those challenges later – think cancer survivors

Fast forward to today. Finding meaningful, fulfilling work is no easy task, but with some introspection it can be done. In my years working with individuals from all walks of life, from graduate students to frustrated entrepreneurs, from stay-at-home moms to retiring senior executives, I have found 5 questions that are some of the most powerful questions we can ever try to answer. I offer those to you in future posts as we go through the journey of finding meaningful work together.

In this video, I set up the 5 questions and get you ready for what’s ahead.  And in case you’d like to check out ol’ Viktor in action, here’s a clip for you.  He was and is absolutely FANTASTIC!


























One final thought, finding one’s purpose is 50% of the battle. Taking the steps to making it become a reality is the other 50% – and it is a tough 50% so get yourself ready!

Passion vs. Fulfillment – What’s the difference?

What’s the difference between passion and fulfillment? Is there a difference? As you noodle on that, let me tell you a story. Tamara loved what she did. She lived in the Caribbean and held a prominent marketing role for a large company. Her job was to bounce from island to island, building relationships with locals, tasting their local cultures and promoting her product. Not a bad life, huh? Given the description I laid out, would you describe Tamara as “passionate” about what she did? Probably a fair statement. Here’s the kicker, Tamara’s product was tobacco. Given that important tidbit, do you think Tamara was “fulfilled” in what she did – spreading cigarettes throughout the Caribbean?

This brings us to a very important distinction – the difference between passion and fulfillment.  Passion and fulfillment are two different, but equally important components in our jobs and lives.


Passion can be loosely defined as those things that give us energy. And while there is tremendous value in getting energy from what you do, passions are amoral. In other words, just ‘cause your passionate about doing something, it doesn’t mean that it is a good or healthy thing to be doing. Here are some examples of different “passion” statements:

  • “I love winning”
  • “Getting recognized charges me up”
  • “Proving people wrong is exhilarating”
  • “I’m passionate about never having to work again – that’s why I work”
  • “Serving people energizes me”
  • “I love to build things”
  • “I’m passionate about finance… marketing… accounting… (you get the picture)”

We all want to find something that we are passionate about – something that charges us up.  However, the downside to passions are that they tend to be fleeting and they tend to come from an external force (someone else recognizes us, we beat someone else, etc…).


Fulfillment is closer aligned to meaning. It is the “why” in what we do whereas passion is more closely related to the “what we get” when we do it. While both are important, I love having fulfillment in my tool box because it helps me to keep my passions in check. Here’s a great example of passion without fulfillment. In Tony Hsieh’s book “Delivering Happiness; a Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose” he talks about his journey to becoming the CEO of Zappos. Initially Tony had tremendous success building a company and selling it before he joined Zappos. Flushed with cash, Tony bounced around from hosting legendary parties to hitting the poker circuit. As he puts it, one day “I realized that I needed to be doing something more fulfilling, that maybe I was no longer playing the right game.” (p. 69) Tony was passionate about what he was doing (parties, poker, etc…), but it was fleeting. Today, at Zappos he describes himself as both passionate and fulfilled. Here are some great examples of “fulfillment” statements:

  • “This is what I’m meant to be doing”
  • “I feel like I’m making a difference”
  • “I’m building something meaningful”
  • “My life has meaning”
  • “I’m meeting a need in the world”
  • “I’m making a difference in the lives of the people I serve”

Unlike passions, fulfillment tends to be less fleeting and is internally driven. The downside to fulfillment by itself is that you run the risk of not getting recharged enough on a daily basis to keep yourself going.

Now onto you. Are you passionate about what you do? Are you fulfilled by what you do? The trick is to get both. Don’t be the tire guy.  Start asking yourself the tough questions and get moving.

Next up: The 5 questions to finding fulfillment at work.  Good stuff!


The tale of the tire guy

Several years ago, I met a consultant with a large consulting firm named Steve. Steve introduced himself to me as the “pricing specialist for the tire industry.” Pretty exciting, huh? As I mentioned in an earlier post, you can find fulfillment in any job and pricing tires is no exception. It is very possible that Steve loved his job. But after he introduced himself to me, it was clear to me that he didn’t. How did I know? It was the way he introduced himself to me. He didn’t say, “I’m the pricing specialist for the tire industry” with energy, a smile and a twinkle in his eye. Rather, he introduced himself to me with a look of confusion and puzzlement across his face. It was as if he was saying, “how the hell did this happen to me?”

Steve’s story is not an unusual one. He graduated from college top of his class and took the first job offered to him. He worked for several years and decided that he wanted “something different” but he wasn’t sure what. So he went back to school for an MBA. Upon graduation, he received an offer from a consulting firm. “Fantastic!” Steve thought. Consulting will be like a buffet. He could choose a project and an industry and if he didn’t like it, he could always go back through the line and pick something else. Surely, he would find the right fit. Any guesses as to Steve’s first project? Yep – pricing work for a tire industry client. Steve did a phenomenal job. So much so, that the client wanted a follow-on engagement with Steve on the project. Ten years later, Steve is THE pricing specialist for the tire industry. If you’ve got a question about rubber, you can ask him.

The moral of the story? If you don’t intentionally decide what work you want to do – the kind of work you get energy and fulfillment doing, someone else will decide for you. And it won’t be based on what they think you might enjoy from the buffet. No. It will be whatever is left over.

So, have you been waiting for the right job to “come along?” Waiting for someone else to present you with a fulfilling job? If so, you may find yourself “pricing tires” for a very very long time. This month is about intentionally and actively pursuing fulfilling work. With some courage, purpose and faith, it can be done. So, drop the tires and get moving.


“Is this it? Finding fulfillment at work”

I was having dinner with a client last week and in the middle of dinner, she paused, looked up over her salad and with a steely seriousness she said to me: “Is this it? Is this all there is? I just don’t feel any excitement or fulfillment at work. It feels like I am just going through the motions.” Does that sound like you? Hands down, the most frequently asked question I receive is: “how do I find fulfillment at work?” Everything from passion to meaning and purpose. We’re all looking for it.  So how about you? Are you energized with your work? Do you find meaning in what you do?  Or do you feel as though the work you do is slowly killing you with every key stroke?

This month, we will tackle this dysfunction: “Is this it? Finding fulfillment at work.” Throughout the month we’ll cover, amongst other things:

  • Passion vs. Fulfillment
  • The 5 questions to finding meaning and fulfillment in your work… and life
  • What can you do to start down the path of finding fulfillment in your work?
  • And if you are the leader, what can you do to create a workplace full of fulfillment?

Every week, I’ll kick off our conversation by addressing one of these big questions. Throughout the week I’ll collect and share stories, examples and other opinions as we dig in. By the end of the month, if we haven’t cured this dysfunction, we’ll do a darn good job treating it!

Write to me with your stories, examples or opinions on the subject. I promise to protect the innocent (and guilty!).

So, are you a poster child for fulfillment at work or are you a lost soul? What if this is as good as it gets? Never fear, help is on the way!


(Link) View more Melvin Udall Sound Clips and As Good As It Gets Sound Clips