I came up with a crazy idea this morning. For the next seven days I will do a slightly extreme experiment and do only what I love to do. Anything that I feel like I must do out of a spirit of “obligation”, I will refrain from doing. My going-in hypothesis is that it will make me more productive, more creative, and more fulfilled.  I am also hoping I’ll be more fun to be around. My goal with this experiment is to come up with some useful principles that can help us get more fully engaged in the work that we do.

My fears are I might have some disgruntled relatives and friends whose expectations I will not have met, and lots of laundry piled up. Another fear is I might get lazy, fat and happy. And yes, I do have a fear that this “Seven-day pass to do exactly what I love” may extend beyond seven days if I’m enjoying it too much.

The idea for the experiment germinated in some of the work I have been doing on employee engagement and transformational leadership. The idea is simple. When we love what we do and the people that we work with, it creates great engagement for ourselves and others. Transformational leaders lead from a place of loving the mission, loving the people who are involved in the work, and loving the work to be done. When we work from this spirit of love rather than a place of indifference, great transformation, creativity and innovation can happen. The “doing” or action may be the same, but the spirit that it comes from makes all the difference in the outcomes.

Key Findings

Wow, I’ve been overwhelmed by all the wishes of good luck on this experiment. Who knew you guys were actually reading my blog posts? So read on for findings of the first few days:

Day #1 – Tuesday

1)      There are some obligations you just have to keep – Beyond death and taxes, one “obligation” I got confronted with today was a traffic cop. Apparently in my inspired state of driving while listening to my favorite music and enjoying all the blooms around the Emory area, I was speeding at 50 mph in a 35 mph zone. The good news is that he let me go with a “warning”. I like to think it was my inspired state of mind, but I did stay in the speed limit the rest of the day just in case.

2)      While doing, I paid more attention to my state of being – Just by setting up this experiment for myself, I found myself paying more attention to how I was being throughout the day. How inspired was I at various points? Mid-way through eating my morning omelet I noticed how much I was actually enjoying it. While doing my client coaching sessions I realized how much I love what I do.

3)      There is a “No-inspiration No-Obligation” zone– There are some activities we love and others we do out of obligation. And then there are just activities. These include e-mail, flossing etc. Not quite sure what to do with this. Should we try to be inspired through these activities? Is there such a thing as inspiration overload? Your comments are welcome.

4)      Caution: The Experiment is Contagious – As I told colleagues about the experiment during the day, some were rolling their eyes and others said they would try it themselves. I encourage anyone who would like to, to try the experiment. Legal disclaimer: Individual results may vary, keep out of the reach of children (they already somehow know how to do what inspires them). If you decide to join the experiment, please share your findings.

5)      What I Didn’t Do – One of my clients asked me to list all the things I didn’t do because they were “obligatory”. I think she just wants to hold me accountable to the experiment (payback time for her for all the times I’ve held her accountable)! So here’s the list. I didn’t return 2 phone calls I didn’t feel inspired to return (I’m giving myself a 48 hour time period to get inspired or face the consequences). I didn’t do the workout machines that I absolutely hate at the gym and usually grit my teeth and do anyway. That felt good. The good news is that so far this is not too consequential. But then, we are just at Day 1.

Day #2 – Wednesday

I love all the challenges and questions I am getting online and offline. I didn’t realize that making myself the lab rat would be such good entertainment, so glad to be of service. Here are findings from Day 2:

1)      Dilemma – I got confronted by something interesting today. A large company asked me to submit comments on their Master Services Agreement for new business. I know why lawyers get paid lots of money. They do what no one (at least not me) wants to do which is wade through 30 pages of legal language that no one understands except lawyers. Wading through contract is OBLIGATION at its best for me. The dilemma is to either put the company off for 7 days until my experiment is through (they need the response in 48 hours) or to lose a potentially large piece of business.  Any quick ideas folks?

2)      Insights About What Inspires Me – It’s Not what I thought. All the experimental focus on inspiration has me noticing what inspires me and I have a few surprises. I got an “out-of-the blue” note from a large company interested in engaging me for some work. My response was “nice surprise” rather than thrilled elation. On the other hand, I was totally inspired by a mentoring conversation I had with a woman who has started up an innovative company in the software space. She may or may not be a future client and certainly the value of money earned would be a lot less than that with the larger company. What I realized about what inspires me is not the outcome (i.e. potential money earned) but rather the work (I get excited about helping people shift their perspective). Not quite sure if this is good news or bad.

3)      Challenge from A Colleague – Luis from Mexico challenged me to think about what inspires me and add that to my day. I hadn’t thought about that. So here’s what I added to my day that is totally inspirational. I decided to write for my upcoming book on authentic personal branding. Writing has always been inspirational for me (as long as it’s what I want to write about). Powerpoint presentations do not count.

4)      What I Didn’t Do – Work on my taxes (which I am supposed to be working on). I didn’t respond to e-mails that I didn’t feel inspired to respond to. I felt a bit guilty, but I am hoping this experiment will somehow help me get over guilt by Day 7.

Day #3 – Thursday

1)      The Dilemma Solved: Queen of the Reframe – I discovered a great solution to my Legal Contract problem from Day 2. Since it felt like obligation, AND I didn’t want to lose the potentially large size of business, I decided to reframe working on the contract. I thought about all the people I could potentially help if I got the piece of business, how much fun I would have working with them. Wait. Is that cheating or just good business practice? Either way, I felt much better about doing the contract when I was not gritting my teeth through it.

2)      Taxes, Ugh! – I realized that I could have timed my experiment a bit more carefully – after taxes are due. No amount of reframing makes it inspiring to pay taxes, let alone slog through the various documents my accountant has sent me. An interesting insight though is that I’m really glad I have an accountant who (presumably) is inspired by all this detailed paperwork. Mental note to myself. Look for people who are inspired to do all the stuff you’re not inspired to do. And then delegate joyously to them!

3)      What I Didn’t Do – Work on my taxes. Still haven’t returned some e-mails. The curious thing is that the world has not ended because I have not returned the e-mails and I still have all my fingers and toes. We’ll see how long this lasts.

Day #4 – Friday

1)      The Inspiration Backlash – As I was walking at 7:25 am in the morning from the parking lot at Emory to my meetings, I felt this incredible “happiness burden”. I had spent some part of the last few days trying very hard to be inspired and happy and I was feeling rather crabby and somewhat resentful about it. I realized that inspiration cannot be forced or willed. Rather it happens when you let go of any expectation. So I took a deep breath and just let go.

2)      Creative Juices Flowing – I was incredibly inspired by a couple of my coaching conversations today. The clients had real issues that they were facing and as I practiced more of just letting go of any expectation of having answers for them, I noticed that this allowed them to come up with their own best answers. Letting go also got the creative juices flowing for me. I have ideas for three blog posts about real issues faced by leaders today based on these conversations. Sounds like letting go is a good thing.

3)      More in Flow – I had a few unexpected changes to conference call times today. Normally, this would have irritated me to no end. In my more inspired state, I just decided to flow with it. Could it be that being inspired lets you be more in flow?

4)      What inspired me – I had a couple of conversations with friends that left me deeply inspired. My friend Becky spoke with me with such generosity as we brainstormed women I should interview for my book. My goal with the book is to impact one million lives and her heartfelt words of support made me feel like my dream had already come true.  The conversation with Cynthia was similar. Both offered their support and help without any expectations. It made me realize how powerful we each are in our impact on others as long as we are coming from a place of generosity. This is giving me an idea for another seven day experiment (said with a slight glint in the eye!)

5)      What I didn’t do – You guessed it! Taxes. I also caught myself mid-sentence sending out a rather curt e-mail response. I took a deep breath. I erased the e-mail. I decided to wait 10 minutes until I was calmer. Then, I sent the e-mail when I could come from a place of greater authenticity (correction: greater generosity – my feelings of curtness prior were fairly authentic!).

Day #5 – Saturday

1)      Wasting time on Pinterest – Have you all checked out Pinterest? I am hooked. I “pin” all my favorite images and wasted an hour Saturday morning just filling out my Pinterest boards (favorite books, people I admire, favorite quotes, places I want to go). I was feeling a little guilty until I came across a quote by John Lennon: “Time you enjoyed wasting was not wasted”.  Of course I pinned it! You can check out my Pinterest profile on http://pinterest.com/hennainam/

2)      Living Life On the Edge – All this experimentation on doing only what you love can be heady stuff, so Saturday I decided to just live life a little bit more dangerously. I decided to get red nail polish on my fingernails! You may not think this is a big deal…but it’s been at least 20 years since I did that. Usually I go neutral because it’s more professional. But in this week of living dangerously I decided to just do what I love. At the salon I asked Thuy, the Vietnamese lady doing my manicure, if she enjoyed her job. Her face lit up: “I love my job! I love my customer. I make them pretty. That make me happy!” How about that for loving what you do? Seems to me she’s part of the 29% of people in America who are fully engaged in their jobs.

3)      New Experiences – In the first few days I had mostly stuck with what I loved to do. So Saturday, I tried some things that I normally don’t like to do (cleaning out my closet) to see if I could get myself to love it. It actually worked. And not just the satisfaction of having a more organized closet, but the actual process of cleaning it out.  I didn’t need to have some grand purpose. I just needed to focus on the satisfaction of doing the work without all the mind chatter of all the other things I really wanted to do. A new learning!

Day #6 – Sunday

1)      A Surprise at Zumba – I had a particularly fun zumba dance class on Sunday afternoon. So after class, encouraged by my nail salon experience of Saturday, I asked my zumba instructor “Do you enjoy teaching zumba?” I was expecting a speech about life purpose and empowering women to love their bodies (I love it when I catch myself projecting!). She said “It’s okay. Sometimes it just feels like a lot of work”. Zumba? Work? It’s supposed to be a party! She admitted that sometimes she just had to “put her happy face on” for the class. Obligation, ugh!

Maybe I’m just living in my “7-day Happy Bubble”, but that comment just made me feel sad. As a society we expect not to enjoy our work. Work and play are assumed to be opposites: “All work, no play makes Jack a dull boy”. What if work felt like play? What if working from a place of obligation became unacceptable, sort of like drinking and driving? Not enjoying our work diminishes our well-being, and does kill the spirit of feeling alive inside of us. Watch out! From now on, I’m getting myself a police badge and handing out tickets for not loving our work!

2)      Take the Challenge – Several people e-mailed me and said they were going to follow the experiment. Don’t just follow it. Do it! Try it for yourself. So far as of Day 6 I still have all my 10 fingers and 10 toes. My friend Beth actually posted it on her Facebook and her company’s Facebook page. I’ll bet you’ll learn a lot from the experience. And if you decide to join, do share your experiences by commenting on the blog.

Day #7 – Monday

1)      Doing What You Love vs. Loving What You Do – Some of my clients today questioned me about my rather extreme attitude about loving what we do. They pushed back. “Sometimes”, a client said, “you just have to do things out of obligation. For example you may not necessarily enjoy doing power point presentations but they have to be done”. This example really hit a home run with me (I think my client had read my post from Day #2!).  She had a point!

2)      Man’s Search For Meaning – To address my client’s question I pulled out Viktor Frankl’s famous book about his experiences at a Nazi concentration camp (admittedly the example is extreme relative to having to do power points).  His book has always inspired me. If a man like Victor Frankl could survive a concentration camp when others much physically stronger and fitter did not, I wanted to see what wisdom could be plucked about surviving certain workplace circumstances that we experience as toxic. He said “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves…Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”. If we cannot change what we must do, can we change our attitude about it?

So my challenge to us is to make a choice. For any task to be done, do we want to fulfill that task from a place of resentment that saps our energy, or a place of joy? Surely our greater personal power lies in our ability to choose to love what it is that we do.

My next challenge to myself…to love doing my taxes!

Results from the Experiment

What started out as an experiment in only doing what I love to do, taught me some interesting lessons that I could choose to love what I was doing. We as human beings have incredible capacity to choose how we engage in what we are doing… as long as we are willing to have the courage to give up our old paradigms of what we love and what we don’t, who we love and who we don’t.

The experiment taught me:

1)      How to pay more attention to what inspires me.

2)      How to pay attention to what inspires others and then let them do it.

3)      When I loved what I was doing and let go of an expectation of a specific outcome, I experienced creativity and flow.

4)      When I was inspired I experienced others in a more positive way, and was able to be more open and generous to them.

5)      It was much easier to do what I loved, but it’s also possible to love what I was doing

6)      I am loving this 7-day experiment idea, especially all the comments and challenges, so stay tuned for the next 7-day experiment.