Passion – and Mid-Career Changes

In my role as a coach it is a special privilege to work with people, typically in mid-career, who have been highly successful in establishing and developing their professional standing in the private sector and who now are seeking ways to apply their skills in the development field. People in this situation typically find it very helpful to explore what it takes to make the transition: to evaluate and sometimes re-express their transferable skills before considering at what level they might change sectors; to become acquainted with the variety of routes in and the common strategies that are used to secure the development sector role they are seeking.

I have had a career spanning public and private sector education, financial services and organisational and leadership consultancy before becoming a coach in a global talent leadership role within the world’s largest child focused humanitarian development organisation. I find I can readily empathise with motivations for mid-career change.

I particularly appreciate the importance that passion plays in mid-career change. A growing conviction about the need to make a difference through their career is a common motivation for those seeking entry to the development sector in their thirties and later. Passion is, of course, not enough to make the change that some of my clients seek. Occasionally, to illustrate this point I might suggest that a client watch Larry Smith’s sobering TED talk entitled “Why You Will Fail To Have A Great Career”. Professor Smith teaches economics at University of Waterloo. He is a well-known storyteller and advocate for youth leadership and has also mentored many of his students on start-up business management and career development. The most notable start-up he advised in its infancy is Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry.

Discussion about this blunt and challenging TED talk tends to centre on what passion really means and costs but, as Carmine Gallo wrote in Forbes, what you will see here “in this TED Talk is essentially thirty years of Smith’s frustrations reaching a boiling point.” “Wasted talent is a waste I cannot stand,” and this talk is Smith’s response.

It’s challenging and – possibly – motivating too. At the heart of Smith’s talk and central to some of the work I do with mid-career changers is an assessment of the part passion plays in career decision making. If you are searching for your calling in life or what you most care about – here are five digested, and up to the minute, research findings worth thinking through:

  1. Types of passion A career path or a goal that fires you up is likely to lead to success and happiness. That much the research confirms. However, Robert Vallerandet al found, in 2003, that there is a real difference between a harmonious passion and an obsessive one. An out of control passion that upsets your mood and shapes your self-esteem can be referred to as an obsessive passion. Vallerand found that such obsessions, whilst energising, are also associated with burnout and anxiety. By contrast, if your passion feels in control, reflects qualities that you like about yourself, and complements other important activities in your life, then this is the harmonious version, and these are associated with positive outcomes such as vitality, better work performance, experiencing flow, and positive mood.
  2. An unanswered calling in life is worse than having no calling at all If you already have a burning ambition or purpose, do not leave it to languish. Recent research at the University of South Florida surveyed hundreds of people  found that work engagement, career commitment, life satisfaction, health and stress were all negatively impacted by having a calling that had not been responded to. The researchers concluded: “having a calling is only a benefit if it is met, but can be a detriment when it is not as compared to having no calling at all.”
  3. Invest enough effort and you may find that your work becomes your passion It’s all very well reading about the benefits of having a passion or calling in life, but if you haven’t got one, where can you find it? Duckworth says that it’s a mistake to think that in a moment of revelation one will land in your lap, or simply occur to you through quiet contemplation, what’s needed is to explore different activities and pursuits, and expose yourself to the different challenges and needs confronting society. This is where organisations like 80000 Hours can be helpful to the really talented individual. This Oxford, UK, based group conducts research on which careers have the largest positive social impact and provide career information based on that research. Many clients have found their website invaluable.
  1. Reverse the flow, perhaps It is also worth considering the advice of those who say that it is not always the case that energy and determination flow from finding your passion: sometimes it can be the other way around. Consider, for example, an eight-week repeated survey of German entrepreneurs published a few years ago. This found a clear pattern – their passion for their ventures increased after they had invested more effort into the ventures the week before. A follow-up study qualified this, suggesting the energising effect of investing effort only arises when the project is freely chosen and there is a sense of progress. “Entrepreneurs increase their passion when they make significant progress in their venture and when they invest effort out of their own free choice,” the researchers found.
  1. If you think passion comes from doing a job you enjoy, you’re likely to be disappointed
    Another issue to consider is where you think passion comes from. In a paper released as a preprint at PsyArXiv, Jon Jachimowicz and his team draw a distinction between people who believe that passion comes from doing what you enjoy, and those who see it as arising from doing what you believe in or value in life. The researchers found that people believing that passion comes from pleasurable work were less likely to feel like they had found their passion as compared with people who believe that passion comes from doing what you feel matters. This may be because there is a superficiality to working for sheer pleasure – which may not last in any case – whereas working towards what you care about is timeless and likely to stretch and sustain you indefinitely.

Introducing Vitas Consult Ltd

Growing English Capability


Across the globe, international humanitarian organisations and non governmental organisations are increasingly expecting managers and leaders to be able to write, speak and negotiate in modern business English. In this article we share some valuable resources that are being used to grow these increasingly important capabilities. This post also recommends some questions that managers who are coaching staff can use to encourage discussion.

Icebreakers & Introductory Level Learning

  • THE POWER OF TALK

https://youtu.be/zX7D1XincMA This very short video, from the BBC, shows how talk can be used to help people hold their leaders to account and influence the decisions that affect their lives. The language used is simple and straightforward and this video can be used as a discussion starter about the power of talk in development as well as a language learning tool.

Managerial coaching discussion questions, to support learning, arising from this material might include:

Did you find the speaker’s accent easy to understand?

How were words and visuals used to communicate?

What interested you about this video?

  • THE MOBILE PHONE AND REFUGEE’S EXPERIENCES

This six-minute film, designed to be watched vertically on a mobile ‘phone, helps the viewer to experience the confusion and fear facing refugees making a perilous journey by boat. It looks at how mobile ‘phones have become a vitally important part of the refugee’s toolbox. Managerial coaching discussion questions, to support learning, arising from this material might include:

What was the message of this short video?

How was the message communicated?

How were pictures and language combined to create impact?

What could you learn to use, at work, as a result of watching this?

  • CREATING CLARITY

https://essentialcomm.com/podcast/creating-clarity/ The big idea behind this very short podcast is this: speak simply. Do this by getting to the end of sentences quickly; using simple words; pausing between sentences; eliminating connecting words and ending sentences with downward inflections. Encourage others to do the same.

  • LISTENING TO ENGLISH SPEAKERS

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/listening Here you can find activities that will help you or your team members to practise their listening skills. Listening will help them to improve their understanding of the language and their pronunciation.

The free, self-study lessons are written and organised according to the levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR). There are recordings of different situations and interactive exercises that practise the listening skills needed to do well at work, to get ahead and to communicate in English outside of work. The speakers in these videos are of different nationalities and the recordings are designed to show how English is being used in the world today.

Vitas Recommendation: Ask staff planning to use British Council resources to take the free online English test to find out which level to choose. Then they can select their own level, from beginner (CEFR level A1) to advanced (CEFR level C1), and improve their listening skills at their own speed, whenever it’s convenient for them.

  • SPEAKING ENGLISH

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/speaking Here learners can find activities to practise speaking skills. They can watch and listen to videos that show how English is used in different types of conversations. As they listen and speak aloud, they will also improve their pronunciation.

See the Vitas Recommendation, above, about taking the test to work out which level to choose.

More Advanced and Longer Development Tools/Resources

  • EXPLORE THE 3 ROUTES TO GOOD COMMUNICATION

https://kayaconnect.org/course/info.php?id=412  This free, online, self-directed course – aimed at managers – will teach learners to communicate better. They will learn how to tune their non-verbal communication, communicate openly and understand the 5 levels of listening.

  • DEVELOPING AN INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION STRATEGY

https://kayaconnect.org/course/info.php?id=317 This free, online, self-directed course – also aimed at managers – will teach learners to use simple and concrete models to cultivate successful professional relationships. It also teaches the learner how to adapt their level of influence and to define precise objectives for communication. It will take between 30 minutes and one hour to complete.

  • LEARN ENGLISH SELECT

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/online-english-courses This page and the embedded video introduce the “Learn English Select” online courses from the British Council. These, highly commended courses, require a small subscription. The courses are designed to help individuals improve their ability to find and apply for the right jobs, develop their interview skills and learn how to perform in the workplace with confidence.

At each level, tutor videos and workplace scenarios guide participants through the materials, explain key language and grammar points and give the learner vocabulary that they can use in everyday business life.