“It occurs to me that my well-being is at risk… you know, that contented place of being happy, healthy and prosperous. I absolutely love my work and derive a lot of meaning through the variety and challenges each day offers. So, my life energies and time is approximately 85% work-related activities…I’m either providing services to clients, planning ways to do so or managing the administrative functions. It was okay for awhile because of additional training commitments. They’re finished. Now, it’s hard to stop. It’s like I’m hooked. The other parts of my life have faded in the background. I love my work, yet at times there’s a sluggish feeling that’s uncomfortable.”            


Does this sound like someone you know? Could it be you?

Are you a worker/owner/executive who finds joy and fulfillment at work and feels separation pains if you step away?

Do you often feel like the joy and passion you feel around your work takes over your life?

Are you thinking about your work when out with your partner or sharing time with friends and/or family?

Is your significant other or family complaining that you’ve become distant and moody when asked to spend time in another activity besides your work?

Finding purpose, joy and fulfillment through meaningful work is a good thing, yet, too much of a good thing can become a detriment. Or maybe it really hasn’t been that good for awhile.

Pursuing meaningful work with all the energy passion brings can become an unhealthy obsession that eventually robs the very purpose, joy and fulfillment desired not only for work but life generally.

This chapter’s focus is on recognizing how meaningful work with all the passion supporting it can morph into decreased job satisfaction and ultimately decreased well-being. The signs and symptoms of passion gone awry will be discussed as well as steps towards reclaiming well-being and harmonious living.

Let’s start by defining passion and how passion impacts meaningful work…


1. Passion is good. It’s how we use it that makes a difference.

According to researcher, Dr. Robert Vallerand, 85% of people are passionate about at least one activity in their life.  The passion could be anything like watching soccer, chess competitions, playing Dungeon and Dragons, car shows, reading history, traveling, music, coaching executives, teaching, volunteering, researching cures for cancer, engineering, writing novels, etc.

Professor Vallerand’s research concludes that there are 2 sides of passion:  Harmonious and Obsessive. Notice the differences…

Harmonious Passion                                                                 Obsessive Passion

Strong desire to engage in the activity that remains under the person’s control Strong desire to engage in the activity that eventually comes to control the person
The person can choose when to and when not to engage in the activity Person can’t help him or herself…passion must run its course.
In harmony with the person’s other activities and life contexts Creates conflict with the person’s other activities
Leads to positive emotional experiences Leads to negative emotional consequences and to rigid persistence


2. For many people, meaningful work and passion are happily united.  

When the passion is harmonious, meaningful work is just a part, although important part of a meaningful life. It’s easy to envision well-being happening as the freedom to enjoy a variety of activities and interests in a variety of contexts are available while also engaged in meaningful work.

Healthy limits are respected so that time is made to meet your partner for dinner or accompany your kid to her first day at college. You enjoy time for exercising and stop for a chat with the neighbor to ask about their latest vacation.

As a result, psychological health is maintained with overall happiness and abilities to cope with challenges are strengthened. That’s well-being.

And from what I’m told, activities enjoyed outside of work, like playing Dungeons and Dragons actually increases the motivation to perform on the job. Always a winning combination.


3. When the passion is obsessive, meaningful work will eventually suffer. Vulnerabilities to job idolization, workaholism, career tunnel vision, exploitation and plain ole burnout are real and can court disaster for well-being.

Let’s take a look at the vulnerabilities both Bryan Dik PhD etal and Professor Vallerand discuss in their respective research…

Job IdolizationWhen work becomes like a “god” status with a greater importance than any other life role, that’s obsessive passion.

Workaholism-This is a state where work becomes less about feeling good and more about avoiding bad feelings you get from not doing it.

There’s a restlessness and sometimes feelings of guilt along with unpleasant, sometimes snappy interactions with others. Dr.Dik provides a checklist for the risk of workaholism:

  • Do you have low self-esteem?
  • Do you have a high need for achievement?
  • Did you grow up in a family that was unstable or had a history of addiction to work?
  • Do you work in an environment where workaholism is rewarded?

(Here’s something to note…Employers tend to love workaholics and the unusually long hours can be paid well and, at the same time, workers are open to being exploited because of their dedication to the work and often not compensated.)

  • Do you work in a highly competitive work environment? Are you more confident in work than other areas of your life?  

What have you noticed about job idolization or workaholism for yourself or others?

Are you feeling some discomfort? Good! Explore more because it’s a window into your approach to work. Finally…

Career Tunnel Vision-This is a situation where feedback from respected others is ignored due to the person’s fixed thinking and inflexible goals about a particular career desired. There’s a rigid persistence happening.

For example, someone who is determined to become a professional musician and is not willing to accept the discouragement by trusted mentors could possibly be in that tunnel. Yes, occasionally, the person goes on to become famous, e.g. Bob Dylan or basketball star, Michael Jordan.

The point is that becoming famous despite negative feedback regarding talent by trusted critics isn’t common, no matter the individual’s passion. That’s the hard truth.


4. What does a positive, proactive approach to these vulnerabilities influenced by obsessive passion look like? Here are some ideas…

  • Celebrate your awareness and willingness to explore options which promote a healthier you. Grab your sparkling water. Let’s toast!
  • Enjoy your passion. I wholeheartedly concur with Dr. Vallerand’s  admonition to bring more attention to other areas of life rather than abandon what has traits of obsessive passion altogether.
  • Remember, it’s a process of creating a harmonious relationship among activities and interests. Respect your preference or the others’ preference about changes needed and the timing for change. Critical to keep in mind is that it’s NOT the activity of passion that is the issue. It’s HOW the passion is allowed to show up in life.
  • Be diligent about accepting feedback from others. It’s not a matter of agreeing with everything you hear, however, listening is required.
  • Maintain perspective. Remember, we are always learning and evolving.
  • Go for a deeper understanding of the utility of allowing obsessive passion to rule in your life. That is, be courageous and examine how it helps you avoid important areas of your life. Perhaps you’re ready to face the issues now. If needed, talk with a trusted friend or professional.
  • Grow the aspects of harmonious passion. Use them as guidelines for creating healthy boundaries. Discuss them with significant others.

The takeaway is…

Meaningful work with all its inherent passions can also become costly to our well-being.

Our willingness to recognize the signs and symptoms leading to decreased job satisfaction, burnout and risks to interpersonal relationships only enhance the joy and fulfillment possible in our life.

Meaningful Work in Progress…Finding Purpose, Joy and Fulfillment in Ordinary Ways…an ongoing process of continual self-examination of how passion is being used and making brave moves to achieve well-being.

Meaningful Work..Happy, Healthy, Prosperous Life.  Harmoniously together.

Be brave. Put a little well-being into your approach to meaningful work today. You deserve your own kindness.