From the March 2003 issue of Executive Update®


Manage Your Ultimate Report
You manage your staff. You manage your programs. You manage your volunteers. The most important thing to manage, however, is your own life and career.

By Miriam Bamberger, CPCC and Heather Bradley, CPCC

Are things at work good enough but not great? Are you managing your job, or is your job managing you? Have you lost your passion for what you do? At whatever level we manage others, many of us neglect managing our ultimate report: ourselves.

If you found yourself nodding your head as you read the questions above, you may have allowed your career to progress in ways that you would never allow a project to progress — passively, haphazardly, ignoring the consequences as if you had no control.

Until recently, a hands-off approach to a career worked well enough. With plenty of job opportunities beckoning, an interview for another position was only a few networking phone calls away. When one situation didn't fit, we found another. Easy movement through the labor market allowed and encouraged us to focus on circumstances such as job title, salary, and travel time when evaluating a position. We could avoid asking ourselves the tough questions, such as what we wanted from the work experience itself. This avoidance came with a cost, and you may only now be noticing the effects: frustration and burnout. Without a clear understanding of your intangible job requirements, it is difficult to recognize whether your job meets your needs. When these personal requirements are not met, it is hard to know how to adjust and adapt to the situation.

The current environment offers less job mobility and flexibility than what was seen in previous years. It is no longer as easy to call the shots in terms of income, perks, and alternative employment opportunities, but we assert that this is a blessing in disguise. Having fewer alternatives forces you to look more carefully before making a change. While we may have less control over our workplace circumstances, we still have complete control of how we approach them.

There are strategies for exploring this deeper side of what you want from your work experience and for finding your passion in the workplace. What we call the "flourishing process," depicted in Figure 1, provides the structure and direction for you to understand and address your set of circumstances. While straightforward, this process requires rigorous, honest introspection to uncover what is meaningful for you.

Step 1: Clarity

While it may be tempting to jump into making decisions or taking action, the first step is to get crystal clear about where you are and what you want. This groundwork allows you to make informed choices and to take action toward creating the work life you want. By investing the time to work through the three-part exploration detailed below, you will start to form a clear understanding of what you want and expect from your work experience.

Part A: A realistic assessment of your current situation. Many factors influence our work experience, including the economy, organizational culture, other people (coworkers, members, boards), work assignments, salary, and benefits. To clarify the specifics of your current situation, look first at your sphere of control: What can you affect, and what is out of your control?

Make two lists of the factors most relevant to your situation and divide them into those you can control and those you cannot. A sample list is included in Figure 2. Note that some factors may appear on both lists. For example, you may have a lot of control over how you manage a given project day to day, yet little control over which projects you work on. There is no right or wrong answer; your coworker's list, for example, may look completely different from yours. When you have completed the lists, take note of which list gets more of your attention.

You may want to ask a colleague to brainstorm possible answers to these questions. Stay focused on the factors you can control. Many of us spin our wheels paying attention to the areas we can't control, complaining to others or driving ourselves crazy. Such venting is sometimes valuable and allows us to release our frustration and move on. More often, though, complaining keeps us from moving forward and drains energy we could use for more productive action.

Key Questions

  • How would I like things to be different?
  • What can I do to make things different?
  • If things were different, how would I feel?
  • What will the impact be?
Figure 2: Control
  Things I Can Control
Where I work
How I approach my circumstances
How I interact with other people
My reaction
My time
Deadlines — tasks to complete projects
Where to focus my attention
What I want from a job
Things I Cannot Control
Labor market
Organizational culture
Other people
Deadlines — project
My time

Part B: Your values. Values are the intangible principles that define what's important to you. Living and working congruently with your values will increase your level of commitment to a task, project, or purpose. Being grounded in your values gives you strength to persevere when the going gets tough. Values are not inherently right or wrong. However, they can shed light on whether a decision is right or wrong for you. You may even discover that, looking at your circumstances through this lens, you are exactly where you want to be.

When you act consistently with your values, you will build trust among your colleagues, coworkers, and members. Pressures to conform can distract us from our values and from thinking independently. It's easy to get caught up in the rush of our to-do lists as we handle more work with less support and seek to balance life at home and at work. The challenge is to know what your top values are and to find ways to express them throughout the day. By having a clear understanding of your values, you not only have a fundamental building block for your passion; you also have an important reference point for all aspects of your career and personal choices.

Key Questions

  • What are your top five values?
  • How well are you respecting them at work?
  • How well are your organization's top values aligned with yours?

Part C: Finding your passion. This phrase seems to be the buzzword du jour. What does it mean, and why is it important? "Finding your passion" can sound intimidating, full of lofty purposes and unique insights. Instead, we are referring to something less complex. By "finding your passion," we mean understanding and connecting with what excites and motivates you. It includes your values, the contribution you want to make, and the difference you want to effect. With a clear understanding of your passion, you are able to assess the fit of a work situation by weighing how the workplace factors support your passion.

Surprisingly, finding this critical driver eludes many people. Why is that? Part of the difficulty is in overcoming the tacit rules we've learned or made up about ourselves: rules about what we "should" be doing or how we "ought" to behave, rules about what it means to "be responsible" or "act like an adult." These rules limit the options we see for ourselves.

Another difficulty in finding your passion comes from the false notion that it needs to be profound or original. It doesn't. What's important is that it resonates with you. Your passion doesn't count less because someone else also gets excited about it. In fact, when others share your passion, they share their energy and power with you.

Key Questions

  • What cause or topic energizes you?
  • What is the contribution you want to make?
  • What would be so rewarding to do that it wouldn't feel like work?

Step 2: Choice

Now that you know what you want to focus on, you can determine an approach. It is easy to get stuck in a certain way of looking at a situation or experience; however, subjective factors are much more in your control than you might think. Maybe you can't change your circumstances, but you can change the way you approach them, altering the quality of your experience. Successful people think differently from unsuccessful people. Their ability to reframe their circumstances provides fresh perspectives and new possibilities.

For example, if you stay at your job because you feel you have no other option, chances are you will be aggravated and unproductive. By contrast, if you actively decide your current situation is the best place for you and actively choose to stay there, you will enjoy a very different experience.

We challenge you to actively make three choices based on your newly discovered clarity. The samples below offer a guide to formulating your choices. Lasting change and genuine passion will come from personally relevant choices you commit to fully.


  1. Today, I choose to shift my work experience from "good enough" to "great."
  2. Today, I choose to manage my job instead of my job managing me.
  3. Today, I choose to reclaim/find my passion in the work I do.

Key Questions

  • How are you currently approaching your situation?
  • How would you like to approach it?
  • What do you need to shift to create the work experience you want?

Step 3: Action

Once you have made your choices, it's time to take action. It's time to find your passion in the workplace so you can jump out of bed every day knowing that you are working where you want to work and doing the work you want to do.

Start by identifying the necessary steps to close the gap between where you are and the choices you made about what you will create for yourself. Depending on the size of the gap, your timeline may be very short or over an extended period. Be realistic. What action are you willing to take in the next 90 days?


  1. To make my work experience great, within the next 90 days, I will talk with my boss about how we can each meet our expectations for our work.
  2. To manage my job, every day for the next 90 days, I will delegate three tasks that do not use my time productively.
  3. To reclaim/find my passion in the next 90 days, I will reread my job application to reconnect with what I loved about this job in the first place.

Making It Concrete
Clarity, values, passion — these are all terms that are broad in scope and intangible. Elusive as they may be, these three elements are vital to long-term career success, professional development, and personal happiness. We often talk about working in harmony with our values and passions, but truly doing so can be difficult, as these seemingly simple elements can be hard to master. But making these abstract terms concrete and controlling them enables you to become clear about what you want, to rediscover your passion, to make the right choices, and to take action to create the reality you want.


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