Protective Factors for Self-Care: Passion

Posted on May 5, 2017

This series on self-care came out of a couple of my past posts concerning Angela Duckworth’s book Grit. Grit helped me organize my thinking about self-care in general, and specifically the role of passion as a protective factor of self-care. This week’s post revisits the importance of this concept, this time in the context of helping us defend ourselves from the negative effects of burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and secondary trauma.

For most of us, our jobs are much more than a paycheck or just a step in a climb up the career ladder. When I ask people why they do this work, the answer often speaks to a connection between the work and a deeper purpose. In her book, Duckworth states, “What ripens passion is the conviction that your work matters” and “the intention to contribute to the well-being of others.”

Our purpose brings us into our work; passion is the joy we get from the privilege of helping others. Passion motivates us to do better, learn a new skill, take on a new challenge, or apply for a new job or promotion. Our benefits might not be the best, our wages might not seem adequate, our hours are long – but dammit, we have the purpose and passion piece nailed.

When it comes to self-care, our passion, not the stress and struggles, needs to be the focus of our work. When we just focus on the work, the negative aspects often dominate. When we see our work as being a part of us living our passion, it can put the difficult parts of the job in a different perspective. Connecting to our purpose and passion helps our focus to be on the amazing aspects of our work.

When we lose our passion, we start to focus on all the paperwork, terrible meetings, burnt-out co-workers, and the avalanche of voicemails and e-mails. Most of us have experienced this shift from positive to negative in some way. The important thing is not to stay in the negative, or it will eventually overwhelm our resiliency. Unfortunately, I often witness organizations lost in the stressful and emotionally challenging aspects of the work. Where passion should thrive, only a void exists, and I can feel it the moment I walk through the door. The physical space feels dirty, even if it appears clean, the staff are milling around like extras from The Walking Dead, and some seem dissociated from the reality surrounding them.

These organizations break my heart for several reasons. First, these zombies with name tags were once people with purpose, looking for an opportunity to express their passion. Second, in organizations like this, the clients are getting terrible care or services. Being in this reality is destroying the well-being and health of the staff, while also doing harm to clients by not meeting their needs and failing to provide hope for a better future.

Our passion is our lifeline to self-care, well-being, and strong performance. If we lose connection to this lifeline, we become lost in the waves, destined to be overtaken by burnout, secondary, and vicarious trauma. Reminding ourselves why we do this work, and enjoying the passion we get from helping others, is critical if we want to be effective in that work.

Luckily, Duckworth provides a few ideas to help us rediscover our passion. The first step is to find an area of our work which draws our interest. If you cannot find anything interesting in your work, you might be either in the wrong field or at a dangerous level of burnout.

Second, find a purposeful role model with a similar interest to the one you identified. The role model might be someone new to the field and bubbling over with passion and motivation. It might be someone who had been in the field long enough to achieve mastery and expertise. The essential characteristic that you are looking for is someone with a passion for your shared interest.

Third, find a problem in the world that needs solving. No lack of these in our field! End homelessness. Stop the HIV epidemic. Create a trauma informed school. Advocate for universal health care. Your role model might already be working on such a problem. If not, two passionate people can usually come up with several big issues in which to channel or reignite your passion.

My challenge to you this week is to take a moment to write down the purpose you fulfill by doing this work and write about the joy and passion you feel by fulfilling this purpose. If you want to share, please use the comment section.

5 responses to “Protective Factors for Self-Care: Passion”

  1. Rainey Wikstrom says:

    Hi Matt,

    I think this is a ‘show you could take on the road’. Great topic and I’ve shared on Facebook. This is one of those topics that is universal and pertinent in these times, on many levels.

    This is one of those topics that could become an area of expertise that you share with the world and build keynotes around etc. Organizations could really benefit from your perspective.

    • Matt Bennett says:

      Thanks, Rainey! I agree totally. Passion is so critical to organization and individual well-being in our professions. I’ll start working on the keynote!

  2. Randy Hylton says:

    I just can’t imagine doing this work without passion. Jung said “as far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being”. That light metaphor is echoed throughout philosophy and wisdom teachings. I believe that passion is that light and it’s the shining of it that makes that passion real in the lives of others. Having just recently witnessed your passion and the light you shine, I’m grateful that you’re kindling it in others. As always, I’m appreciative of your work. Today’s post is special. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”

  3. Philip J. Malebranche says:

    “Open your mouth for the mute,for the rights of the unfortunate. Open your mouth,judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” (Prov. 31:8,9) This Bible verse instills the passion in my life. It is a definition of advocacy, and is related to my studies in sociology; it concerns my interest in world affairs; it is about my own self-defense; it requires communication skills. It assumes that there are those who suffer, and that there are those who oppress. It suggests a reaction to oppression: siding with the weak and targeted. Aggression against the vulnerable is evil. God loves justice. This is my Weltanschauung. The evidence of this truth is clear to me. I behave accordingly.

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