Re-Discover Joy at Work

Julie Jones
Recently, I could go back in time. My husband and I sold our home last fall, where we lived for 25 years, raised our family, and shared many life events. Letting go has been hard, and I have too many photos and scrapbooks sharing our stories. But, as I sorted through the pictures from when my kids were small, I noticed their faces -- when they lit up as they explored a creek, mastered their pogo stick, or celebrated July 4th watching fireworks. Their expressions showed pure joy, anticipation, possibility, and wonder.

When I looked at the photos, I was immediately taken back to the day of the picture, and I can still feel their energy and creativity. I remember the afternoon they turned their playset into a pirate ship with little more than their imagination. But I did notice some of the uninhibited joy faded from their faces in later photos.

Doesn’t the same thing happen at work? Do you remember the first day of a new job? You are so excited about the possibility, but stuff happens, and the luster fades. And over time, work may become an obligation instead of an opportunity. Your fuel tank may be empty, and you wonder how others find joy or fulfillment in life and work.

Is your career in need of a tune up?

If so, you’re not alone. Consider the career changes driven by the pandemic and the so-called Great Resignation when it was estimated that more than 40 million people quit their jobs. Of course, not everyone had a choice, but, during this time, people made decisions about how they work and what is important to them.

Richard Bolles, in his book, What Color is Your Parachute? Your Guide to a Lifetime of Meaningful Work and Career Success includes many planning exercises to guide career development or shifts. One of them includes developing your expertise and enthusiasm matrix. Enthusiasm is on the X axis, and expertise is on the Y axis yielding four quadrants: high enthusiasm, high expertise; high enthusiasm, low expertise; low enthusiasm, low expertise; and low enthusiasm, high expertise.
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When I completed the exercise, I found that some skills I honed over 25 years with high expertise weren’t necessarily ones I looked forward to using as much anymore. How many of your current job roles or activities fall into the lower enthusiasm quadrant? It is also easy to be swayed by the latest skill, certification, or digital badge as something you need to accomplish or add to your resume. But is this skill something you love to do?  

Drill down and get specific with your current job roles and functions and consider these questions: In your job (or other pursuits):

  • What activities do you love to do?
  • What gives you energy?
  • When do you operate at your best?
  • What brings you joy?
  • What holds you back from joy?
  • What sucks your energy?

When I considered the high enthusiasm quadrants, I identified skills and activities that gave me energy, fueled my work tank, or I made time for in my busy schedule. I was excited by the high enthusiasm and low expertise quadrant. Learning can jump-start curiosity, possibility, and joy. Once I realized my hidden interest in visual design as a communication tool, I signed up for two technology design classes at a local community college. I participated in a few additional online learning activities as well. I WAS a beginner, and learning was sometimes challenging. But I had fun pivoting to a new interest. Change is good.

What skills or activities give you energy, fuel your work tank, or do you make time for? Are there skills you want to develop to grow your expertise in these high-enthusiasm activities? 


Organizations hire for expertise in the role -- the top half of the graph. But are there other high enthusiasm skills or activities you could add to your work functions, or would your leader be open to providing you the opportunity to develop?

Many skills complement other primary skills, such as visual design in learning or empathy in leadership. Leaders who learn more about each person’s expertise/enthusiasm matrix, strengths, motivations, and desires begin to craft a culture of meaning and joy at work. And, in the process, help others realize their potential.


Plan A:  Volunteer in an organization where you can use or develop these skills. Be selective in finding the right fit for you.

Plan B:  Explore additional career options or consider a career shift:  

  • Complete job shadows and interview others who have these jobs
  • Identify career planning priorities - there are a variety of books and tools available to guide this process
  • Online searches - job postings and job descriptions paying close attention to the roles and duties
  • Take a side job in an area of interest to learn more and gain experience
  • Is this something that still interests you?
  • Join a new professional association you are interested in -- Talk with others; what advice do they have?
  • Create a personal advisory board of mentors or others who know you well. How might you use their skills to help you navigate a career shift?
  • Take classes or online courses in high enthusiasm, low expertise areas. Can these become complementary skills for you?  

The enthusiasm/expertise matrix helped me identify when I’m at my best -- when I’m in flow, and an activity consumes me. For me, joy and flow are connected. For over 35 years, I have kept a picture from my first job on my desk as a reminder of the excitement I felt for my first dietetics job. I see joy, wonder, and possibility in the photo as I considered my new career.  

I believe that people can have a few careers -- it’s liberating to consider some alternate paths and potentially a new place or role that provides joy or meaning. My career shift has extended my learning, provides me with new opportunities to make a difference, and helps me work with a fuller tank.  

What can you do today to help rediscover joy at work? Small steps and positive mind shifts can make a meaningful difference.

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Additional Career Planning Resources:

  • Bolles, Richard. What Color is Your Parachute? 2022 edition. A Practical Manual for Job Hunters and Career Changers. Ten Speed Press, 2021.  
  • Burnett, Bill, Evans, Dave. Designing Your Life. How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life. Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.  
  • Burnett, Bill, Evans, Dave. Designing Your Work Life. How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work. Alfred A. Knopf, 2020.  
  • Feiler, Bruce. Life is in the Transitions. Mastering Change at any Age. Penguin Press, 2020.