When was the last time you were truly excited about something at work? If it's hard to come up with an answer, you're not alone. As Jay Nathan explains, the first step to changing this is asking yourself a simple question.
Image remixed from Yuri Arcurs (Shutterstock).
A year into my new role as a product manager, I was in a funk. Things were getting done, but I wasn't making an impact. My product roadmap was full of must-fix issues and critical gaps, and it felt like my agenda was being written for me as opposed to being the CEO of my product.
I was preparing for a meeting with my SVP, and had a 20-slide presentation to walk her though. One ingrained myth from my prior decade of professional services management was that slides are the most effective way of communicating with execs, even one-on-one. I showed up for the meeting not particularly enthusiastic about what I had to share, but intent on keeping the lines of communication open.
We talked for a while before I launched into my slides, diligently reviewing the content on each. About halfway though, she stopped me and said:
This is all good, but what on your list are you most excited about?
Excited? I'd never been asked a question like this, and my planned discussion points clearly didn't reflect excitement. Had I answered the question honestly, I'd say I wasn't particularly excited about any of it. But instead I quickly rattled off three items in no particular order.
The meeting ended uneventfully, but the question rang in my ears for days "What am I excited about?"
Over the next few weeks I had the opportunity to visit with customers. With this question now seared into my subconscious, something interesting began to happen. I started to see problems worth solving. Even better, I could see which ones were important to solve first. Seeing these opportunities and knowing there were solutions made me — could it be? — excited!
It turns out that for me, seeing users' problems firsthand and helping energise my team around solving them is a real motivator.
The following are a few reflections on the experience:
- We don't have forever. If you desire to make an impact, focus on it right now, where you are. It's easy to jump ship and go somewhere else, but the funny thing is that you always take yourself with you when you go.
- Start small, make little bets, get little wins. The little wins are bigger than you think, and little wins turn into bigger ones with perseverance and time.
- Prioritise. It's easy to get frustrated that you can't resolve all the issues at once. But one thing's for sure, you'll never succeed unless you take the first step.
I have to go back and give credit to that one simple question, "What are you excited about?" If you are a manager, ask your people this question, care about the answer, and help them do things in their work that also provide personal fulfillment.
If your manager doesn't ask, ask yourself, and don't let "nothing" be your answer. Find something to get passionate about and your work will become your life's work, not just a job.
The most important question I've ever been asked [Jay Nathan]
Jay Nathan is a director of platform product management for a software company based in Charleston, SC. He's passionate about the Internet, software, and the development of great products. Follow him on Twitter @jaynathan.