Right Stuff for Starting a Business

To start your own business or not?

I recently worked with an MBA client employed in a Fortune 500 company who commutes 2 hours each way.  He’s tired of it and wants out.  He’s been exploring the option of buying a franchise business.

He thinks he’d be good at it but contacted me as a reality check, i.e. to make sure he’s not simply acting on a confirmation bias.  Instead, he wants to know:  “Do I have the right stuff to run my own business?”

He knows what to do.  After all, he’s got an MBA so he knows how to design and implement business systems that work.  What he really wants to know is whether or not running his own business aligns with his strengths and motivations. 

Definition: an entrepreneur is a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.

He asked for a quick and easy assessment to help with his decision-making.  He presented me with a matrix of job duties that he did and did not enjoy in previous jobs.  Clearly, he has many financial, operational, and managerial skills that align with running a business.

But was he motivated to use those skills in the circumstances of starting a new business?

Clues

A natural entrepreneur has a knack for spotting opportunities and acting on them quickly.  This talent usually shows up early in life, not just in work-related activities but in other circumstances too, such as school projects or volunteer activities.  To uncover such events in a person’s life, I often ask simple questions.

– Tell me about a time when you felt strongly about something and were able to recruit others and lead the charge down a new path or new venture.

– Give me an example of where you motivated others to start up a group in order to bring about some kind of change.

– Tell me about any projects that you’ve started from scratch with others.

– Tell me about a business or hobby enterprise that was failing and you got excited about turning it around.

– What is easier for you—getting a project off the ground or maintaining it once it’s up and running?

– When you find yourself as part of a group or team and things get bogged down, how do you normally react? (Can you give me an example of when you took the ball yourself and ran with it?)

My client’s answers to these questions revealed no knack for taking the initiative or recruiting others to help him start projects.  Instead, they revealed a strong inclination to be recruited by others and work on solving problems related to new business ventures.  The challenge and variety of such problems brought out the best in him.

He often gravitated to roles in new ventures where he could operate as a Key Contributor, getting involved in activities that were crucial to the success of the project or business.   Other team members valued him as a stabilizing influence in what were often very fluid, challenging situations.  He was the kind of team player that may not always be noticed when he’s there but is very much missed when he isn’t.

New Path

When this pattern was pointed out to him, he realized that his entrepreneurial aspirations were really a reaction to his current job as a cog in a very large wheel of a Fortune 500 company’s with firmly established policies, procedures and practices.  He was expected to do the same thing day in and day out, which was a direct conflict with his natural inclination to be involved with a variety of challenging problems related to new ventures.

Of course, he can start his own business, using determination and business skills…but over the long run he would probably be drained by such a venture and be unmotivated to continue, or find that recruiting others (as staff and customers) might be too stressful.

As we explore options together, he may find that a much better job fit for his combination of experience, education, strengths and preferences is to rebrand for a senior Manager role in a high-growth company or franchise where his knack or solving new venture problems would be recognized and rewarded. 

Measure your Job Satisfaction

Job satisfaction is cited in many employee surveys as the #1 factor for staying in a job.  But what is job satisfaction and how do you measure it?

First, let’s be honest, there is no such thing as a perfect job where you are 100% happy and satisfied all the time.  The world is just not organized that way!  Second, let’s look at two key aspects of a job: (1) your key responsibilities or core job duties, and (2) the context or work environment in which you perform those duties.

Core Job Duties

Most job descriptions list about 10 key responsibilities that you are expected to perform regularly.  Ask yourself, what percentage of an average work day do you spend performing job duties that energize or stimulate you, as opposed to drain or bore you?  One key to job satisfaction is to spend 60% of your day or more performing job duties that energize you.  Because, let’s face it, many job duties are just grunt work, things you can do but don’t really enjoy doing—in fact, you probably roll up your sleeves, grit your teeth, and wipe the sweat off your brow to get them done.  This is the down side of your job.

Job satisfaction often depends on your ability to limit the downside of your job to 40% of your key responsibilities…which means that the remaining 60% of your job duties should engage your strengths and motivations—things you do naturally and effortlessly.  But, in my experience, most individuals end up performing dull or boring job duties 60-90% of their day, which is a recipe for stress and burnout…and helps explain why depression is the number one workplace disability today.  Why would you want to go to work and spend most of your day performing boring or dull job duties?

This 60/40 split becomes increasingly important as you grow older and have less energy available to you. However, you need to be aware of the likelihood that many times this ratio may slip to 40/60, in which case you may feel drained by brief periods of routine work.  This is nothing to be alarmed about as long as the ratio returns to 60/40 in due course; if it doesn’t, you’ll need to take action.

Work Circumstances

Besides a 60-40 split in terms of core job duties, job satisfaction is often a result of certain factors, such as good relationships with co-workers, especially your immediate supervisor.  You could have the best job duties in the world but if your compensation doesn’t allow you to pay the bills or get ahead, then job satisfaction declines.  Or, perhaps your commute is killing you.  Or, your metabolism can’t adjust to shift work.  Being in work circumstances that align with your values, priorities and preferences also contributes to job satisfaction.

For example, numerous studies point to the following factors that influence satisfaction on the job: a lot of job security; relatively high incomes or university degrees; how much say you have over what you do and the way you do it; small workplaces; the amount of time you spend commuting or working at home; dealing with people; who controls the pace of work is critical…tight deadlines and high-speed is a source of job dis-satisfaction for many people; while small freedoms—such as being able to move your desk or change the lighting—adds to job satisfaction for others.

As you can see, jobfit and career satisfaction are influenced by many factors related to what energizes you in terms of core job duties and what brings out the best in your in terms of a work environment.

Interviews–listen, laugh, & land the job!

I often use this blog to talk about the importance of narrative in career development.  Telling good stories in an interview can be essential to getting a job offer.  Here’s why:

“I must sell myself.”  This is the mindset of most individuals when they go into a job interview.  They presume that the interview is primarily about them.  After all, the opening question is usually some variation of “Tell us about you.”

I know it’s counter-intuitive but the interview is not really about you; it’s really about the needs and priorities of the organization conducting the interview and, more specifically, about the needs and preferences of the manager that you might report to.

When I coach my clients through interviews, I ask them to take some time after the interview to write down the questions they were asked.  For example, here are some questions a client was asked at a recent interview for a Business Systems Analyst (BSA) role:

– What are some of the challenges I have had with communicating to stakeholders?

– What are some of the challenges I have had communicating with employees? 

– How do I deal with not sticking to a deadline and how do I communicate this with stakeholders? 

– How have I contributed to the productivity of my previous team? 

It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand what a BSA does.  What matters here is that these Qs reveal the concerns of the employer, they reveal the internal challenges or pain points this company is experiencing in their current client service operations.  They want to make sure that this candidate knows how to deal with such challenges and can solve these problems, not make them worse.

Most people think of an interview as a test, a one-way street on which interviewers ask questions and the interviewee must give the ‘right’ answers in order to pass the test and get a job offer.  Again, I know this is counter-intuitive, but an interview is actually a conversation or dialogue conducted by an employer who is trying to get to know you well enough to decide if you are ‘safe’ to hire.  Your goal in the interview is to make it easier for the employer to hire you because you are, in fact, a ‘safe’ candidate, someone who will make the manager’s job easier not harder.

Because I had prepared my client for such Qs, he told stories of himself in action solving these types of issues and getting quantifiable results for his previous employers.  He even managed to insert some humour into his stories. 

Think about this:  who is the most popular person at a party (besides the host providing the food and beverages)?  It’s usually the best joke teller or storyteller.  We live in a narrative culture, immersed in stories all around us—it’s what binds us together socially.  The strongest communicators among us are often the most popular, sometimes the most likeable.

Everybody enjoys a good laugh—just like the strong communicator at the party, you will become instantly likeable in an interview when you share a funny anecdote that gives people a chuckle.  A human hires humans not resumes. 

In summary: the best way to increase your chances of landing a job offer is to tell compelling stories of you in action solving problems for previous managers that are relevant to the manager you are interviewing with while getting quantifiable results…and generating a few chuckles along the way!

How To Get Away With Murder of your inner critic

It’s the start of another year…but are you still haunted by an inner critic from your past? We learn as children to please others who are important to us, such as parents, teachers, peers and coaches. And when we earn their criticism instead of their praise, we often internalize that critical voice for the rest of our lives.

It doesn’t take much—a verbal criticism of something you said or did, a big red fail on a written exam, or a cold shoulder, a sharp rebuke, a stinging reprimand—and you never wrote another poem, or played another game of soccer, or sang another song, or designed another dress, or did whatever gave you joy, made you feel free, or deepened your sense of accomplishment. Because, after that…every time you tried, the inner critic reared its ugly head and crushed you with that ‘voice’ in your brain.

I think we, as individuals, underestimate the influence of others in our young lives. We are, after all, social beings who want to be liked and loved by others. As children, we usually aim at becoming something that will please others long before we take the time to find out who we are.

Many individuals are channeled down a certain career path using ‘can do’ skills based on the advice of these well-meaning influencers. This can create problems later in life, not the least being stuck in a dull or meaningless job that fosters deep dissatisfaction.

Kill the critic

The best way to kill this inner critic is to replace it with your ‘authentic’ voice. Since 1986, research from more than 200 studies shows that creative, expressive and reflective writing about thoughts and feelings in a structured safe space helps individuals gain control over a negative life event. There are many exercises for killing that inner critical voice in order to make room for your own voice. Years ago, I had a lot of fun doing this one:

I found a list of the 1001 ways to kill somebody. I picked one that I felt would suitably avenge my inner pain. Then I wrote a letter to my persecutor describing in detail how I was going execute them. I was shocked at the depth of my anger and pain! These transgressions against our souls, our very beings, create deep wounds…the pen I held was my sword of vengeance!

How to get away with murder

Remember, this is an exercise, a form of creative play in a safe place, so a few words of caution are necessary: put your bloodthirsty letter in an envelope…but don’t mail it…you could end up in jail! Instead, burn it, bury it, cut it to pieces, do whatever feels right…but don’t actually send or give it to the transgressor. Kill that inner critic figuratively not literally–that’s how you get away with murder!

This simple writing exercise liberated me from an inner critic. It helped me trade in that ‘other’ for my own. Since then, I have expressed my voice through this newsletter and blogs, through several books, articles in newspapers and career magazines, through academic journals, as well as through creative writing, my own radio show, and at career conferences. It’s all fun; it gives me to have my voice engaged in meaningful conversations that influence others.

Reclaim your voice

If you feel that your voice has been swallowed up by the values and priorities of someone else in your life, then draw on this scientific method of killing that inner critic. Simple writing exercises combined with an experienced coach will help you think, feel and write your way though rigid beliefs or behaviours that keep you stuck in life or work.

Liberate yourself! JobJoy is collaborating with Phrase Strategy and its Essential Voice programs to help individuals to see reality in a new way and find their voice. Claim your freedom by uncovering YOUR voice! It will enrich and enlarge your life and work…

Storytelling is key to career change

As a career counsellor in private practice for the past 25 years, thousands of individuals have confided in me about their motivations for working. For most of us, it boils down to this: we work because we have to, simple as that, in order to pay our bills and provide for our loved ones.

Until now, most of us have had no real reason to question a way of life that is organized in its most simplistic form around our potential to get a good education, secure a stable job, purchase a house, grow a family, and follow a life script of working and buying as a reward for what we do. This is The American/Canadian Dream—‘work hard, play by the rules, get ahead.’

Except that getting ahead is getting much more difficult (even impossible) for many of us due to various social, economic and technological forces. For some, the link between work and wages amounts to ‘wage slavery’ if the work is dull, dirty or dangerous…while others feel stuck in jobs with ‘golden handcuffs,’ because the wages and benefits are too good to give up no matter how much they dislike the actual work.

Even for those who like their work, we must acknowledge that depression—often caused by work-related stress and burnout—is now the #1 disability in North America, costing billions in productivity losses, billions more in social welfare, while eroding family security.

Adding fuel to that fire, we find wages stagnate while housing costs soar and inequality between the very rich and the rest of us increases dramatically. We lose our job security when companies move their operations to cheaper labour markets. Robots are replacing unionized factory jobs. Automation is replacing white-collar jobs. If you doubt it, subscribe to Undone free weekly online mag to track these trends & issues.

All this is now business as usual. And we accept this entirely, well…because we have to.

Really? Do we, as individuals, have to accept this state of affairs as rational and inevitable? Does winning at life mean we must accept this story of work with all its built in assumptions? One of the most effective ways that I know for stepping outside this employment trap is to write out your story and get it analysed for a pattern of meaning.

Storytelling opens up a space for challenging our current identity, for re-interpreting our life experiences in a way that opens up space for new career options. You can change your career, your job, and your life without losing money or status or health or whatever is near and dear to you. There is evidence to prove it. There is the example of thousands who have done it.

In short, your story is not fixed but fluid. You are not trapped but, instead, you have access to many opportunities that may be more rewarding and enriching than the one you have now. We make our story because we make our life. We have choices.

You can create and live a better story!

If jobs disappear, you can be paid for what you love to do!

If you could be paid for work that you love to do but is now unpaid…would you take it?

Home childcare, or writing a movie script, or inventing gadgets in your backyard, or building a single engine airplane in your garage, or making music, or volunteering overseas for a preferred humanitarian cause, or getting active in a local environmental one, or designing beautiful gardens, or beekeeping, or taking better care of aging family members, or taking all the time you need to develop one of your brilliant ideas into a business–these are just a few ‘passions’ that some of my clients have identified over the years but could not pursue because of economic insecurity.

Universal Basic Income

However, the day may be coming very soon when work previously un-paid will be covered by a UBI, or a universal basic income. Why? Because the industrial economy of mass production based on human labour is coming to an end. And it will change many of the assumptions and practices that we now take for granted.

For example, we have to work to live—this is the simple truth known as the work ethic and is deeply rooted in our culture for the last 2000 years, maybe longer. For most of us, it is reality. And the idea that we have to work becomes synonymous with a job. It’s the main reason many of us stay in jobs or organizations that we hate…because we have to make a living and pay our mortgages and provide for our loved ones. Work is often a trade-off between what we’d like to do and what we have to do to pay the bills. It’s a fact of life that few question. As a result, the work ethic has been at the center of who we are as individuals and as a society. In short, we are defined by our jobs.

But business billionaires Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Sam Altman and others predict that automation, robotics and artificial intelligence will eliminate the need for most jobs within 20 years. Most people will no longer need to work in order to live. Our basic needs for housing, food, clothing, transportation will be covered by technology and, perhaps, a universal basic income (UBI).

What a radical idea! If jobs disappear and are not replaced by new kinds of jobs…well, what will people do? Or, who will they be? It really depends on how you define ‘work’. Some of the most important work in the world is unpaid labour, such as child rearing. Some of the least important work in the world is the highest paid.

What if bankers disappeared?

For example, a study was done on a bankers’ strike in Ireland that lasted 6 months in 1970. Predictions were that the Irish economy would collapse with dire consequences for the man in the street. Instead, the economy actually grew during those six months because ordinary people forged a decentralized monetary system with the country’s pubs as the key nodes for clearing checks and finding cash.

The ‘crisis’ demonstrated how much our economy runs on trust not treasure. And there have been few strikes by financiers since. However, garbage collectors in New York City went on strike about the same time and a state of emergency was declared after six days and the strike settled three days later.

Bankers and garbage collectors both perform valuable roles in society but who really is more essential to society’s long-term health and well-being? When our economic system puts profits before people, then the highest paid individuals are often those doing the least important ‘work’…because they have the gold, they make the rules.

Technology is now changing the rules of the game in some fundamental ways. For example, working for a living has always involved producing something in return for wages. But what happens when ‘things’ can be produced by robots and other forms of artificial intelligence?

The answer to this question is behind UBI, a proposal for changing the very structure of society as we now know it. The idea is that the wealth created by robots and computers will be shared more equitably with all citizens…rather than accrue in the bank accounts of fewer and fewer people at the top of the income scale.

I believe this is a significant idea with serious implications not only for those of us working today but especially for our children. As difficult as it might be to think that our current economic model could change so drastically, any responsible parent will want to stay on top of these developments in order to secure a promising future for their children.

UBI is not a done deal. There are pros & cons, as well as other options, such as 15 hour work weeks, open borders, and more. If you want to learn more about these issues and trends, subscribe to my free UnDone online mag.

Or, at the very least, start thinking about what you might do with your time. My JobJoy Reports have helped hundreds of individuals clearly identify their motivational pattern and where they might apply it in terms of meaningful work so that they live to do work that energizes rather than drains them.

Job search success! A true story of the right mix of strategy & tactics

Looking for job postings online, following up on tips, asking for referrals, attending workshops in your hometown is still hard work, even in such familiar surroundings with a built-in goodwill network of family, friends and former colleagues.

Imagine how much harder it is to job search when you move from another country, even with solid credentials and experience. I experienced this very challenge myself when I moved to Australia from Canada in the 80s with no prospect of a job. It took me 8 months to land something commensurate with my degree and experience.

Each person is different of course and has a specific set of credentials and experience, and each one is operating in a unique set of circumstances. But, in my personal and professional experience, the right mix of pro-active job search strategy and tactics executed with persistence and patience always pays off in a good job. Here’s a true and recent case:

In May 2015, Paul relocated from the UK to Toronto when his wife got transferred with an international company (can’t use his real name due to his wife’s terms of confidentiality). Paul had resigned his UK position as a Senior Building Surveyor with an engineering company that managed construction projects in the public sector.

After getting his two young sons settled into T.O. school and life, he started looking for work in his field in line with his visa conditions. He did a smart thing and followed up on leads from his UK contacts but they did not materialize into any job prospects.

He also sent out dozens of resumes but got no call-backs. When I looked at his resume, there was an obvious issue—Building Surveyor is not a job category in Canada, so he wasn’t getting screened in for interviews. But, more importantly, there is an oversupply of construction professionals in Canada, so employers didn’t need to consider prospects from the UK.

We quickly modified his resume and LinkedIn profile to better position/package him for the T.O. market as a Senior Project Manager-Construction because it combined the key technical, account management, and leadership responsibilities of his UK role.

When he sent out his resume and followed up with phone calls, employers now took his calls and talked to him. These conversations taught him a lot about the employment culture in Canada, and what was similar or different to his experience in the UK. It also demonstrated to him the importance of being pro-active in a job search for senior roles.

Consequently, he dialled back his online job search and put together a list of target companies. I encouraged Paul to leverage his natural charm and strong communication skills into “networking” in his neighbourhood. I explained the benefits of doing so. Sceptical at first, he started telling his neighbours and parents at his sons’ school what it was that he was looking for and asking them directly if they knew anybody in his targeted companies.

Besides building his confidence that his UK experience offered value to the Canadian marketplace (because his neighbours took him seriously), this pro-active approach generated a number of referrals, including one to a local recruiter who specialized in placing senior people in construction. This recruiter introduced Paul to a small firm headed by two partners from the UK. They were immediately interested in Paul but didn’t have a position that fit his experience.

I explained to Paul that this was code for “we don’t know you well enough to feel safe enough to hire you.” I explained to him how 40%+ of jobs are created for senior people who walk through the door, who get into conversations that uncover a firm’s key corporate goals/priorities and the major challenges that get in the way of them achieving those goals, and who can then spot the work opportunity in the intersection between the two…because a job is nothing more than activity organized around solving problems to reach corporate goals.

After meeting both partners several times in a professional manner in their offices and in a social setting over dinner, Paul was sent a job offer, which he accepted at the end of November. Interestingly, they left him to define his job description during his first 3 months on the job!

At JobJoy, we specialize in customizing a job search to the right mix of strategies and tactics that will land you a job that corresponds with your value. Call George today to discuss your situation 613-563-0584.

Fitting Your Square Peg Into Round Hole of Work

Career research has shown that you are more likely to have job satisfaction if you have a work-role fit, one where their core job duties align with their talents, skillsets and motivations.

It’s no surprise then when the same job seems very meaningful to one person but not to another. If your essential motivation goal is to help others, commercial careers organized around attaining sales goals, status or power will feel empty.

If you get deep innate satisfaction from always learning new things and promoting your curiosity, then repetitive and structured jobs will wear you out.

If your chief interest is working with others in a setting where there is freedom to talk and interact, make new friends, then you will hate jobs where you have to spend long hours alone working independently on a task in a concentrated manner in a work setting that is not socially or personally interactive–this is why so many competent professionals hate working from home as independent consultants.

Your motivational pattern

When you do not know what their motivational pattern really is, then you will probably react in a negative manner to situations at work simply because your job does not align with your natural inclinations.

However, when you have the full picture of your talents and motivations, you have more power to find your right work or to communicate in your current job with more clarity and confidence to others what motivates you to be a productive and valued employee and thereby craft your job into a better fit.

When you are simply reacting to work circumstances and trying to fit like a square peg into a round hole, it can drive you crazy. That hole has been shaped by others with no consideration of your unique talents and motivations.

But you are not trapped because you can shape that hole to better fit you by getting knowledge about your motivational pattern.

The key to enjoyable work

Instead of reacting to your work circumstances, you can find a better fit by crafting your current job to fit you better—this is the key to enjoying your job (and life), as well as making your career (and life) more meaningful at a practical everyday level.

Let’s face it, work takes up much of our days and we all prefer to be energized not drained by our jobs.

In my next article, I will explain how you are more likely to achieve job satisfaction or find meaningful work when your job helps you to achieve longer-term goals, especially when those goals align with your core needs and values.

The Peter-Out Principle

As we get older, it is harder and harder to do work we don’t enjoy. Why? Because our energy gets drained by such work…leaving us less and less energy for what we really want to do. This is the Peter Out principle, not to be confused with the infamous Peter Principle.

I have written elsewhere about that one, the notion that people get promoted on the job because of their natural flair for doing certain kinds of work until they reach a level of incompetence because that new job doesn’t require any of their natural talents or motivations. Or, to put it in more simple terms, people advance in their career until they stop having fun.

Many others, of course, never find that fun to begin with. They fall into a job, or take a job because they needed to support their kids, or because they don’t know what else to do. Work, for them, often becomes a grind, a duty, or an obligation to pay bills, cover the mortgage, or take care of family. It’s our bargain with the devil of job security that leads to dissatisfaction or worse:

“I’m stuck. I’m shackled in the golden handcuffs. I have good leave benefits and look forward to a half decent pension, but I do not enjoy the work that I am doing. I crave that creative side that seems to be missing from my life and yet I never seem to get around to. I find that there needs to be a buffer of time to get the ‘creative juices’ flowing- time I don’t seem to have after-work commitments and commuting. I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall….” This is a complaint I hear again and again from men and women in mid-career or middle age. It is experienced by huge numbers of people.

This is the Peter-Out Principle in action. The origin of the phrase peter out is thought to be associated with the name St. Peter, which in medieval France may have morphed into slang for the male sex appendage. So, to peter out means to fall off in power, to dwindle away to…nothing.

As far back as 1962, psychologist Abraham Maslow discovered that one of the best–if not the best–way to achieve personal power is through work. “All human beings prefer meaningful work to meaningless work. If work is meaningless, then life comes close to being meaningless.” In his hierarchy of needs, Maslow was simply pointing out what we all know to be true: that work is not just about making money, it’s also about making meaning.

Doing our work well requires some competency, confidence, or power. When our enthusiasm for work fizzles out, fades away, we might say we are petering out. When we work just for money, our desire for meaning, for vitality, for life ebbs away, tapers off, melts away–it peters out!

When considering this truth, I can’t help but think of Hazel McCallion, the mayor of Mississauga, Canada’s 9th largest city, who first won office at age 57 and just retired at age 93. If she worked only for money, she’d have retired a long time ago. No one could accuse her of petering out! She is one example of many who prove it is never too late to find work that energizes you.

As a job change expert, my goal is to help you do so by identifying, defining and mobilizing your Aptitudes, Attitudes, and Appropriate Actions.

Avoid Burnout & Advance Career – Get in the zone!

Flow−the experience we have when we’re “in the zone”−has been studied for decades by psychologist Csikszentmihalyi. During a flow state, people are fully absorbed and highly focused…they lose themselves in the activity.

When your work utilizes your natural talents and motivations, when your daily grind is helping to create what really matters to you in life, then you are in your right work. There is a flow to it, an innate satisfaction abounds from it, and you derive genuine joy from what you do, a joy that is clearly evident to others.

Every job has a downside. We all have tasks we detest. Doing calculus homework in high school, for example, might be boring and hard if you have no knack for solving logical problems through numbers. You start but feel mentally exhausted, and you know you’re not getting the right answers.

But, you might also be an aspiring architect. Your math teacher clearly explains in detail how calculus can help you design more creative and ambitious structures. Your aspiration is personally important to you and the idea of creating interesting structures fascinates you. Suddenly, you see calculus in a new light. Instead of feeling exhausted by your homework, you now feel energized and motivated to learn to solve these problems. It’s the same work, but it now has a very different psychological effect on you.

Similarly, you might be in a helping profession, such as counselling, and have a strong desire to be self-employed in private practice working one-on-one with individual clients. But you can’t practice unless you have a funnel of clients who want your services. You don’t have a sales bone in your body. You once had a sales job and suffered burnout–it almost killed you.
But, now you gladly research sales and marketing tools techniques and implement them because your aspiration for self-employment is greater than you distaste for sales. You start to get clients and feel energized which, in turn, keeps you motivated to do the sales and marketing necessary to bring in clients.

Research shows that interest helps us perform our best without feeling fatigued. In one recent study, psychologists asked a group of undergraduates to work on word puzzles. Before they began, they were told them how exciting and enjoyable the task would be. Then they read a statement that framed the task as either personally valuable or of neutral value.

Those who read the first statement, and who also thought the task would be enjoyable, solved the most problems. Their engagement was more efficient because they were “in the zone” and not simply working on problems for a long period of time.

Psychology experiments often get participants to squeeze a spring-loaded exercise grip for as long as they can while performing another task to see if this increased performance makes people feel fatigued, or if high interest in a task maintains their mental resources. Much like the self-control needed to stay on task when we would rather do something more fun, resisting the urge to let go of your grip when it becomes uncomfortable also requires self-control. And that exertion of self-control is mentally fatiguing.

So, in a follow up study, psychologists found that people who thought the puzzle was highly enjoyable and highly important not only performed among the best, again, but they also squeezed the hand grip the longest. In other words, they solved the most problems, and it was not mentally exhausting for them. In contrast, those who were uninterested in the task generally performed worse, let go of the grip sooner, and were mentally fatigued by the effort.

Interest matters. It is crucial to keeping us motivated and effective without emptying our mental gas tank, and it can turn the mundane into something exciting.

Knowing the subject matter that most interests you, knowing your natural talents and motivations can help you harness “flow” to your advantage—to find your right work or advance your career.