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How to love what you do: Takeaways from 'Love+Work' by Marcus Buckingham

Shun comparisons, find your red threads or activities that absorb you completely, and more tips on loving work from Marcus Buckingham's 'Love+Work'.

October 16, 2022 / 03:11 PM IST
It helps to understand what makes you you, and drives your likes and dislikes. (Representational image: Nick Fewings via Unsplash)

It helps to understand what makes you you, and drives your likes and dislikes. (Representational image: Nick Fewings via Unsplash)

For over 25 years, Marcus Buckingham has been the world’s leading researcher on strengths and human performance as well as an entrepreneur, founding the strengths-based leadership development firm The Marcus Buckingham Company. He began his career at Gallup and was Love+Workthe co-creator of StrengthsFinder. He is the author or co-author of ten books, including First, Break All the Rules; Now: Discover Your Strengths; Standout 2.0; and Nine Lies About Work. He is currently head of People +Performance Research at ADP Research Institute.

“Do what you love” is advice that rolls out from parents, friends, and well-wishers often. Unfortunately, the world is not set up to help us do this always. What if we could, instead, find love in what we do? Marcus Buckingham tells us more about this in Love+Work—how to usher in ‘love’ into our lives and cash in on its immense power to drive success.

“… the only way you’ll make a lasting contribution in life is to deeply understand what it is that you love. And the inverse: you will never have a life you love unless you deeply understand how to contribute to others,” he writes. There's more:

1. Loves and Loathes

Buckingham introduces us to the concept of Wyrd (pronounced the same as ‘weird’), an ancient Norse term that refers to the distinct spirit each person is born with. It is this spirit that makes each of us love some things and loathe others, and shapes our individuality. This ‘extraordinary complex’ combination is also the powerful source of our excellence and success.

2. The conformity trap

Unfortunately, the world around us—be it the workplace, schools, or even our own families—tend to obscure the uniqueness in us. The demand
mostly is for conformity, expecting us to go through standardised testing at schools and meet prescribed goals, skills, and attributes at workplaces. In fact, many of the processes and tools used by organisations are seemingly designed to distance employees from who they really are. “Your unique loves, your uniqueness in general, runs counter to the organisation’s need for uniformity… and so the goal of work is experienced by you as an ongoing effort to make you as much as possible like every other salesperson, housekeeper, teacher, manager, nurse, machinist, or whatever your role might be,” he says.

3. Finding the love in what we do

According to Buckingham, our fullest life is one where our loves and work flow in an infinite loop, with the energy of one fuelling the other.
Highly successful, resilient, and engaged people don’t necessarily “do all they love”, but “find the love in what they do”, every single day, he says. They get a chance to do something that plays to the best of themselves every day. In the context of work, Buckingham feels that we don’t need to hold out for that perfect job where we do all that we love. Instead, we can learn the skill of finding the love in what we do—“identify those activities that excite us, where we feel at ease, at our best, pinpoint those moments or situations or outcomes that we love, and then learn how to weave them into what we do, every day”.

4. ‘Red threads’

Among the multiple activities that throng our lives, there may be ones that we lose ourselves in totally. When engaged in these, time rushes by and life seems to be easy-flowing. Buckingham calls these the “red threads”. He offers a red thread questionnaire too, comprising questions like “when was the last time you found (you were) looking forward to work” and “when was the last time someone had to tear you away from what you were doing”. Once you identify your red threads, weave them into the fabric of your life, at home and at work, he says. In a team work scenario, we can collaborate better if we have an understanding of each other’s red threads.

5. Resist the pull of comparison

Comparison is a fool’s game, an insult of sorts to the uniqueness in us, he observes. But again, that is what parents, schools, social media, and even workplaces often force us to do. Comparison hides the real us from ourselves because it uses standardised criteria as measure. If at all one feels the need to compare, the focus should always and only be on contribution. For instance, while we may admire the outcome of a teammate’s efforts, we should not try to copy his or her methods. Instead, we may use our most authentic way of achieving the same outcome.

6. Specificity Vs superiority

In job interviews, performance reviews, or even during daily conversations, many of us tend to show how amazing we are or how much better we are than others. Ditch the fakery of being ‘complete’ and differentiate yourselves instead, says Buckingham. When joining a new team, we could describe our red threads by saying, “You can always rely on me for…, or “I am at my best when…” We should also be comfortable with describing the threads that are not red. “I’m not my best when…, I seem to struggle with…, I’m drained when…, etc. This openness will help become a trusted teammate over time.

7. Mis-instincts

Buckingham explains the construct of ‘mis-instincts’ in the work context. For instance, if we lobby for a promotion only because of the perks it offers, or choose a posting just because it brings more prestige, it’s a mis-instinct. If our loves are to really turn into contribution, then we should pay attention only to the specific activities, not the outcomes—on the ‘what’ as opposed to the ‘why’ of it. So, before taking on a new role, we should be concerned about ‘what’ we are going to be doing rather than ‘why’.

8. Love+Work organisation

An organisation’s most valuable asset is its trust. Without it, there is no way love can be brought in. Love+Work organisations do not impose goals from above or use performance feedback tools or do cascaded talent reviews. They would have in place a formal team-joining programme; would prioritise frequent, one-on-one meetings between team leaders and team members; support employees’ education; will have a strong alumni association, and so on.

Anitha Moosath is an independent writer. Views are personal.
first published: Oct 16, 2022 03:11 pm