Ten Action Steps to Seize Your Work Life from the Jaws of Mediocrity

After publishing my last article, I kinda had a moment where I wondered if I wasn’t just being all preachy and ineffective.  Here I am telling people what they should or shouldn’t do, yet providing no tangible action steps towards implementing real change in their life.

Friends at an orphanage in Kathmandu share a moment during playtime.

What if a reader struggling with a major change in pursuing their passions read that article and agreed with it, but thought, well now what?

That doesn’t really help, does it?

(A word of caution- this is a long one!  But things that can alter your path in life deserve lots of words! Get your coffee and your big-girl/boy pants on now and get jiggy with it! You may want to print this one out and use it as a reference.)

So, I pondered for a bit on some tangible actions one could take towards seizing their life back from the jaws of mediocrity and injecting a little passion into their work day.


Listen to your body. Your body- while connected to your mind- can act autonomously as the best indication that change is in order.  The body reacts to external factors in our lives with an eerie precision.  Learn to listen to that intuition and when your body rebels through physical ailments- something major in your life has usually gone awry.

Last year, I decided to stay in a town I didn’t particularly like all that much and lived with a roommate that, at the time, was a friend- but I knew he had crazy in him.  Almost immediately upon moving in, I could see red flags- but I just shrugged them off and justified them through a little mind manipulation.  But my body couldn’t lie.  I broke out in hives.  I was a giant itch-fest for the entire month and a half I lived there.  Even my dog was itchy (and no, they weren’t bed bugs or fleas).  As soon as I left- my skin went back to normal.  Read here for more stories about listening to your gut.

Point is, your instinct will override your analytical mind when it knows you are in danger.  Listen to your body and adjust accordingly.


Assess your feelings in each work situation. How do you feel at certain moments throughout the day?  Do a spot check as you go through your work day and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my stress level as I’m executing this work task? Is this a tangible stress (like if I nick that person’s artery while I’m slicing them open they are gonna die?) Or is it a self-inflicted stress (did my boss just raise his eye brow at me because I didn’t get that memo to him on time or does he have indigestion?)
  • What am I doing with my time right now? Am I  doing meaningful work that betters my company or am I just consuming time since I have to sit at this desk for 6 more hours and have already completed my work for the day?
  • Do I receive positive vibes and interactions from my co-workers or did that succubus in the next cubicle just extract the last once happy juju from my person?
  • Did I leap out of bed happy to tackle my work day or did I drag my reluctant ass out of bed and daydream that I’m Kate Winslet and my Leonardo DiCaprio is waiting for me at the office so I could get motivated.
  • Am I naturally energized by my work in this moment or am I connected to a Starbucks IV to get through my 8 hour daily commitment? (This may be a little dicey- even entrepreneurs and those loving their work may consume mad amounts of caffeine- I’m guilty of this one!)

You get the idea.

If it’s safe to do so (i.e.- no one will be snooping around and bust you with a journal about your co-workers/job duties) keep a journal and write down your reactions to these questions throughout the day. On Friday, instead of having that happy hour drink to blow off steam from your week- go to your local coffee shop, have something warm and fuzzy that takes you to your happy place and read through your work week. Write about how you felt about your week, what you can improve upon for next week and how these assessments may be different if you were working in a different field or for yourself.

Be bold and daydream!

A "Starbucks" in Kathmandu, Nepal. Actually a hamburger shop. From my Fabulous Affordable Art collection!


Identify your passions.  Do they encompass any part of your present work day? There may be this one thing in your job that makes your heart race, pumps your adrenaline and makes you feel truly alive.  It may be why you still have this job.  Identify what this task is and WHY it lights a fire under your ass. What is the at the heart of the task?

Now that you’ve identified this passion and its source- how can you replicate it? Is this something that you can somehow change your current job duties to encompass more of this passion?  If not- what other professions use this same skill set?  Can you start your own business using this specific passion skill?

Make a list of all the possibilities.  Don’t worry about  the how or making a living with it- just open that mind of yours and let the possibilities run wild.  Dream.

The view from my hotel window and my temporary "office" in the Himalayans in Nepal, 2006.


Make a dreams list. Building on step three- make your dreams list.  It can be anything!  Clear your mind, remove all constraints and outside judgments (yes, you’ll need to remove the inner judgmental gnomes for this one) and just let the creativity run wild.

What would you do if money were no object?  What would  your workday look like if you were pursuing your passion. Make a list of all the possible things you would do or had planned on doing before life got in the way.

Imagine your ideal workday- and write it out.  Close your eyes, see yourself in that art studio or scaling that rock-face or sitting in your fabulous home office writing your best seller and write it all down.  Every minute of that perfect day- put the details down on paper.

Frolic with your ideas, play in the happy place and actually see yourself doing these actions- being this person.  This activity is best performed on the Friday evening after your “coffee shop assessment session” or the following Saturday.  Make time for yourself- get a sitter if you have to- and devote that Saturday morning to this activity.

This is also a great time to introduce a vision board or a visual diary.  Find images of the person you see yourself becoming through your passions and the things that will enter your life in the process, cut them out and paste them in a journal, sketchbook or on a large board you hang next to your bed.


Write down your worst case scenario. Now, you’ve done the visioning, the daydreaming, the assessments of your present situation and the hopes for your future self.  Review those notes from the first 5 steps.  See yourself as the person living their passion.  Now, visualize the worst case scenario for getting there.  What’s the worst that could possibly happen, short of death.

You lose all your money launching your new business.  What does that look like?  Will someone who loves you and believes in you be there to give you a hand, a bed or food? I imagine almost all of us have at least one soul in our life who is our “Person”.  That one dear being who completes you and would give you the last life jacket if the ship was sinking.  And you would take a bullet for that person if the situation arose.

We all have a "Person". Find yours and keep them close! From the Fabulous Affordable Art Collection.

Is there a 401K lurking in the background- just in case?

You fall ill in the pursuit of your dreams and can’t work at all.  Is there someone to help take care of your children?  If something awful happened to you, will your Person look after your child or take care of your dog?

If your business takes an extra 12 months to build a profit, are you prepared to do what it takes to keep food on the table?  Will you wait tables at night or paint houses on the weekend to keep following that dream?

This is where the true passion reveals itself. I’d like to say that the path to following your passions is an easy one- easier than the job you’re in now.  Sorry, it’s not.  This path is difficult and it will take all of your creativity, sanity, passion and resolve to make it happen. You think you work a lot now- wait till YOU are your boss.  But, the benefits outweigh the costs here.

To live your dreams- while it’s not always pretty- is an amazing thing to behold. To know that you chased those dreams down- with passion and flare and relentless stubbornness- regardless of the outcome.  That’s truly living.

Your children will remember how your chased those dreams.  They’ll see that love and passion put towards something you believe in- and they’ll follow in your footsteps.  They’ll also see the silent resignation in your eyes if you turn your back on your passion and keep working for a paycheck instead of living for a passion.


Find your champions. Find the people who believe in you and your work.  These people are your champions.  Your champions can be family, dear friends or total strangers.

These are the people who will shower you with support and praise and truly believe in your journey. They will use a gentle hand when offering constructive criticism and your champions will be there to hold you up when you’re swinging from the end of your rope thinking “what the f*ck am I doing?”

You need them.  And in return, they will be inspired by watching you walk down your path and they may embark on their own journey.


Visualize your passion. We’ve touched on this already, but I’m gonna reiterate it here- it’s non-negotiable.  You have to possess a solid vision of yourself embodying the passion you seek.

Write it out- often.  Know exactly what this person looks like- this future you.  Not just in your work day, but the whole you.  See yourself in five years.  Where are you?  What are you working on?  What achievements have you secured in your passion work? Do you have a family yet- and how are they fitting into this picture?  What does your home look like?   Can you finally afford that dream home you envisioned that reflects your core beliefs and your passions?  See this person when you wake up each morning and visit this person again as you fall asleep.

This affirmation of what is to come will become a self-fulfilling prophecy for  you once you see it enough.  This tool is my strongest one. Because there are moments of doubt- and they are plenty.  Times where even I contemplate getting a “job” and a steady income- yea, the inner gnomes take over and justify a paycheck- not pretty.  But my vision is so solid of who I am becoming and what my life will look like when I get there that I keep walking down my path towards that vision.  And there are moments when time flies by and have to remind myself that I am the person I envisioned 5 years ago.  I am that person- and I am still working towards the person I will become.  But I already see it- so to me- it already exists.


Slap a dollar sign on that puppy! Yep- we’re gonna talk about money for a second.  I struggle with this- always have and probably always will.  Placing a dollar sign on my  passion just makes my feel slimy and I know that feeling is wrong, but I can’t help it.  Because if you can’t make a living with your passion, you won’t be able to sustain yourself during the hard times and you will not be able to reach your ultimate goals.

How much do you want to make?  What’s your dollar amount? Don’t think of how you’re going to make the money- yet- just think of your dollar amount.  Be bold, be realistic and be specific.  Write down that number.  It becomes one of your top goals and will be the starting point for applying dollars to your services.  But, that’s jumping ahead of ourselves.  We’ll tackle that a little later.  Just know your number.


Let go. This might be one of the hardest parts.  You’ve done the work to this point.  You’ve visualized, you’ve dreamed, you’ve assessed your current situation and you have given a vision to your worst fears.  Now, you have to just let go.  You have to leap.  Stand on the edge of your cliff, look down into the abyss (remember- you already know the worst that can happen- and it’s not going to kill you) and just leap.

Gail Blanke, a wonderful author about letting go of emotions, clutter and embracing change talks about this in a podcast on The First 30 Days .  (If you haven’t checked it out yet- the podcasts are priceless for starting- and maintaining- this journey).  She references trapeze artists as a metaphor for change.  For there’s a moment where the trapeze artist has to let go of his current swing and fly in order to reach the goal of the next swing.  Perfect! This podcast is not optional, bookmark it and come back to it.


Go forth and Crush It! Yep- I made a Gary V. reference right there.  Go get his book if you haven’t already or the audio version (I have both).  You have to literally crush it!  You need to eat, sleep and breathe your passion. Find your balance (or not- there’s a school of thought- which I tend to support- that when you’re pursuing your passion, life-balance is overrated, just know your priorities) and plow forward with insane determination. Gary Vaynerchuk’s website is not optional either- its filled with free videos and keynotes and contains so much fire its insane.

You are a machine of passion. You will stop at nothing to realize your dreams.  Sleep- overrated.  Social life- isn’t that why you have Twitter?  Weekends- time for catching up and getting ahead.  Vacations- unnecessary.  You won’t need to vacate your life when you’re chasing that passion.  (But do take time to enjoy the freedom you’ve created and work from a tropical island for a month- or longer- whenever the mood strikes you!)

You’ll find that you’re life will morph into this fabulous symphony where you can go to a beautiful location and work or play when needed. You’ll bounce from passion work, to play, to life and back to passion work.  And it truly ceases to become work after a while.  I still call it work when I’m around friends and family, because that allows them to visualize something tangible, but I don’t consider it work.  I consider it a gift. There are definitely moments (particularly in client based freelance projects) where I am working- going cross-eyed reading HTML or sweating my ass off in a photo shoot.  But a little voice steps out of my head in that moment, looks at what I’m doing from a distance and says, “F*ck yea.  That’s what I’m talking about.”

One of my most vivid "hell yea, this is what I'm busting my ass for" moments. On a grant funded documentary shoot in the mountains of Nepal, I stayed in the kitchen of Esita's home, crouched in the dark corner on her dirt floor and waited, for a long time, for her to walk into that spot of light in her entry way. All my years of work flashed through my brain in this moment and I was truly alive. Nepal 2006- from my art collection.

And those little moments of self-realization that your actually living your dream- not wishing you were doing something else are what fuels this journey. Among many other motivating factors, those moments where you realize you’re doing it, you are making it happen are what the journey towards your passion work are all about.

Go.  Now.  Dream.  Plan.  Take a deep breathe and leap.  Now.