People often ask the classic question: "What keeps you up at night?" Though the question itself is a little corny, the notion behind it is interesting and points to a dark set of issues. It's pessimistic. It presumes our work (or personal issues) is so all consuming that it overrides our ability to sleep.
The connotation is we're dealing with such weighty issues that they torment us in our dreams and become our nightmares. The fear of failure and disaster wakes us from our deep slumber with clammy hands and sweaty brows as we gasp for air.
That's a crappy way to live.
But we live that way all the time, and hyperfocusing on that type of question sets a tone for how we think about and approach our work and personal lives. That approach isn't sustainable. It's unhealthy (and trust me, after my heart attack last year, I pay a lot more attention to the unhealthy impacts of stress on my physical well-being). You have to ask yourself: Do you really want to go through life focusing on things that scare you and keep you up at night? I certainly don't.
I used to. I've now, however, seen the light. We need to ask ourselves a fundamentally different question. A question that is diametrically opposed to understanding the concerns that haunt the small hours. And if you ask yourself this question, I'm betting your entire outlook will change.
The question we should be asking is quite simple.
What gets you out of bed every day?
The question focuses on inspiration and positivity. It's asking us to look at the things in which we find joy and satisfaction. It gets us to explore the good parts of our lives and the exhilarating components of our work.
And isn't that much more satisfying to do? Change your lens on the world from being kept up at night to wanting to get up in the morning.
Think about your job. Think about your life more broadly. What are the things you look forward to every day?
If you’re having a hard time articulating what gets you out of bed every day, don't worry. It’s probably just that you haven't thought about that question before.
Find some quiet time where you can think. Consider your work for the past year. Write down the times you were most excited. Document the days you were most satisfied with. Don't think about their attributes yet--just jot down those reminders of those great days.
After you've captured maybe 10 or 15 days you felt were great, think about what made them great.
Note the type of work you were doing. List the people you were working with. Define which parts of the day were exciting, fulfilling, and interesting. Do so for every day on that list.
Now look for themes. Are your most satisfying days the ones where you worked with a particular set or type of people? Do they have a common challenge you faced? Was it a specific kind of work you were doing?
I'll venture to guess all these great days have a few things in common. Once you've found those common themes, you’ll have a better sense for what gets you out of bed every day. Try to clearly define that motivation. "I love projects where I have to overcome a huge challenge" or "I enjoy working with people who are struggling and helping them succeed" or "I take pride in delivering distinctive and high-quality products."
Whatever it is, what these great days have in common is what is truly driving your daily motivation. Once you've identified it, you can more easily seek out work that is linked to those satisfying characteristics.
For me, I love teaching and helping other people build their skills. I'm also most satisfied with work in which I can drive the outcome and have control over the end product. Luckily I figured that out about 10 years ago and embarked upon my current journey of running this leadership training firm. I couldn’t be happier.
So what is it for you? What gets you out of bed every day? Stop worrying so much. Get some sleep. Once you've answered this question, you'll need your rest every night so you can hurl yourself headlong into the work you love to do the next day.