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Infuse Passion Into Your Career

by Kathleen Brady

Identifying the passions and motives that drive you is the key to building a meaningful career. People tend to be motivated by what they like not by what makes sense. Yet, people allow obligations and external forces to become overriding considerations in choosing their career paths instead of building upon those internal motivations. They use other people's definition of success to fuel their efforts, which leads to burnout or unhappiness. But, by tapping into your passions and motives you can energize your career development.

Because people tend to be motivated by what they like it is important to recognize your "evil secrets"--those things that you might be embarrassed to say out loud because they seem trivial, but which you know in your heart you need to be happy. Whatever your "evil secret" might be-whether it's the need for status or high salary, or recognition and praise or an aesthehetically pleasing work environment--it must be considered when evaluating career options.

Finding the courage to forge your own path and construct a personal definition of success, despite the enormous obligations and pressures you face, isn't easy, but its rewards are monumental. The five step process outline below will help get you started.

Step 1: Know what you TRULY want.

Take some time to think about what you really want to do. Do not underestimate the power of passion. The world is filled with examples of people who achieved their goals-against all odds-because of their passion. Consider Neil Perry, the San Jose football player who's right leg was amputated below the knee after a horrific injury in a game during the 2000 season. Hours after his leg was removed, Parry vowed he'd play football again. Everyone thought he was delusional. Yet, in September 2003, Parry was back on the field and fans were hard pressed to notice a difference between his abilities and those of his two-legged teammates. He had the drive and passion to withstand 25 operations and countless hours of rehabilitation and physical therapy to achieve his goal. Neil Perry is but one example: with passion, we can move mountains. To help you begin to identify your motives, ask yourself:

  • What are my priorities?
  • What do I want from life? What am I after?
  • What am I willing to sacrifice to achieve my goals?
Step 2: Focus on your strengths, assets and talents, not your shortcomings.

Fueled by your internal drive, your shortcomings will have little or no impact on your ability to succeed. Your shortcomings may present hurdles, but your passion will galvanize your strengths and talents so you can easily clear the bar.

Step 3: Do not accept conventional wisdom unconditionally.
There will always be some perfectly logical reason why your qualifications are insufficient for a specific position. Anticipate what those reasons might be and decide for yourself if they are, indeed, insurmountable, or merely a hurdle to clear. Remember, conventional wisdom would suggest that amputees can not play football. Passion is stronger than conventional wisdom. Always strive to be the exception to the rule.

Step 4: Develop an action plan (SET GOALS).

Carve out some quiet time to think about the direction you'd like your life to take. First, list the ten to twelve most important things you want to accomplish during your lifetime. Date your list. These are your LIFETIME GOALS. From that list, select the four or five things you want to accomplish in the next 5 years to create your FIVE YEAR PLAN. Then, review your 5-year plan and choose the three or four things you want to accomplish during the coming year. These are your ANNUAL GOALS. For each ANNUAL GOAL listed, write down the answer to the following questions.
  1. WHAT is the goal?
  2. WHY do I want to achieve this goal?
  3. WHEN will I achieve this goal?
  4. HOW will I achieve this goal? (Or: What 3 things do I need to DO?)
  5. WHO can help me achieve this goal?
Repeat this process once a year, referring back to your LIFETIME GOALS and 5-YEAR PLAN. Revise each list as circumstances warrant. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish when you are clear about what you want and have an action plan in place to guide you.

Step 5: Make course corrections.

Keep in mind that goals and motives may shift as you mature and grow. What moves you to action today may bore you and disillusion you tomorrow. Change should not be seen as a sign of weakness nor as a lack of commitment. Rather, change should be seen as a prerequisite to personal and professional growth, and ultimately career satisfaction.

In order to achieve your personalized definition of success, you must develop the ability to decide between non-comparable, oftentimes conflicting goals. Throughout your life, you will be forced to continually make choices. From these choices you will begin to acknowledge what is the most important. When all needs cannot be met, it is important to know which one has the highest priority. That priority can be defined as your "career core." It serves as an anchor and shapes the choices you ultimately make throughout your career.

Research suggests that most people can be described in terms of one of eight "career cores." The career core can shift or lie dormant as you pass through different life stages, but ultimately, it is tied to self-image. Read the following descriptions to determine the core with which you most identify.


People in this category are drawn to the content of the work. They develop a technical expertise and commit themselves to a life of specialization. Most people begin their careers by specializing as a means to climb the ladder of success, achieve security, branch out on their own, etc. However, those in the SPECIALIST CORE are motivated by the need to be a recognized expert in their field. They measure success through "external equity", comparing their salaries and responsibilities to others at comparable organizations with comparable skills. They will tolerate administrative and management tasks, but are irritated by general managers who impose directives despite their limited expertise.


People in this category view specialization as a trap. They want to know enough about several functions within the business/industry to be able to move up the ladder of success. They develop analytical competencies that enable them to identify problems/solutions cross-functionally and they develop strong interpersonal skills in order to influence, supervise, lead and manage others within the organization. They measure success through "internal equity", comparing their compensation to those above and below them within the hierarchy and seek promotions that would elevate compensation and responsibilities.


People whose career core is AUTONOMY have an overriding need to do things their own way. They like clearly delineated, time-bound assignments within their area of expertise, but they want complete control regarding how to complete the assignment. Autonomously driven people measure success in terms of merit pay for performance and they seek promotions that provide them with greater autonomy.


These people organize their careers so they feel safe and secure. They focus on the context of the work, preferring future events to be predictable so they can relax in the knowledge that they have "made it." They prefer jobs/careers with tenure and good retirement plans. They identify with the organization, no matter what level of position. They measure success in terms of continued employment.


People in this category have an overriding need to "create" a new business, product or service or "reshape" existing ones to meet their own specifications. This need stems from the desire to prove it can be done as a result of their expertise, talents and motivations. The driving force is not money, nor even challenge, but ultimate ownership of the creation.


Those with the core of SERVICE are oriented more by values than actual talents or competencies. Their motivation is dedication to a cause. They define success as the ability to serve/help others.


These people build their careers around conquering the 'unconquerable!" Success is derived from overcoming obstacles, solving "unsolvable" problems or winning out over an extremely tough opponent. To feel successful, people in this category must be able to consistently exercise a competitive skill.


For these people work is important and satisfying only if it can be successfully integrated in their lifestyle. Success is measured in terms of flexibility to achieve work goals within a context of limiting interference with personal/family needs.

Focus inward to figure out how you would like to spend your career without being limited by what you think you could get employed to do or what the world of work tells you you should do. Revaluate your goals and priorities annually. The process of continual self-assessment will afford you the opportunity to articulate your goals and objectives as they evolve; describe and market yourself to potential employers; evaluate employment options and take charge of your future!

Reprinted with Permission from Brady & Associates Career Planners, LLC.

About The Author

Kathleen Brady has 20 years of experience delivering career development seminars and counseling attorneys on professional development issues and job search strategies. She is a recognized expert on topics including career planning for law students and experienced attorneys, networking strategies, interviewing techniques and recovering from a layoff as well as business management skills such as delegating, delivering feedback and effective mentoring. Brady has comprehensive industry knowledge. She started her career in the Placement Office at Columbia Law School and went on to serve as Assistant Dean of Career Services at Fordham University School of Law, National Director of Staff Recruitment and Development at Jackson Lewis and Manager of Associate Professional Development at Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy, LLP. She is also a past president of the National Association for Law Placement and a founding member of the NALP Foundation for Research and Education. Brady is the author of two books, Navigating Detours on the Road to Success: A Lawyer's Guide to Career Management (Inkwater Press, 2005) and Jobs for Lawyers, Effective Techniques for Getting Hired in Today's Legal Marketplace (Impact Publications, 1996).

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.