When Work is Not Enough

It is fortunate when a job combines with passion. The odds of building a fulfilling career increase by consciously analyzing why work brings joy then pursuing a deliberate path. But what do you do when the joy to work quotient drops?


What do you do for fun?

About two years ago, I had a business dinner with an accomplished executive who I had met recently. Kim asked me a seemingly simple question, “What do you do for fun?” At the time, that question was quite complicated because I was actively, perhaps desperately, searching for fun outside of work. After an awkward pause, I responded, “I’m learning to paint.” I now view that conversation as a defining moment.

"I was actively, perhaps desperately, searching for fun outside of work. After an awkward pause, I responded, “I’m learning to paint.”

Matching Motivation and Goals

My motivation comes from learning, accomplishing audacious goals and contributing to noble causes. As a marketing executive, I thrive on switching between the analytical and creative aspects the craft. I never thought of myself as being artistic but often wondered if/how I could develop my right brain.

I decided to learn photography. I bought a digital camera, read books to learn about light and composition and studied professional photographers’ work to see how they applied theory to their art. I experimented over time and eventually managed to capture some pretty good shots. At least I liked them. It is satisfying to learn a new skill. Plus, the pursuit of that great shot is really fun.

Maybe it was a natural progression from photography to painting. A big hurdle was to overcome the fear that stuff would look like a 12-year old made it in art class. In other words, fear of failure. My first experiments were awful, but not bad enough to abandon the project. I watched PBS in the middle of the night and YouTube to learn about brush strokes and color blending techniques. I decided to step back and try a baby step: to simply copy artwork and apply the YouTube lessons.



It (kind of) worked. I painted a series of suns from the Sunday Morning show on CBS. This is the very first one. I painted on paper to make the size of the project manageable. It’s not great, but not awful either.



Learning from the sun experiments, I was emboldened to try music-themed, abstract-ish paintings on canvas. Music is meaningful since it has been a passion cultivated over a lifetime. I got my first guitar at age 7. This is my Martin.


Raise the Bar

I experimented with a more realistic style using photos I took with an iPad during a business trip. This is a shot at dawn from the 24th floor of the hotel of the cathedral on the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. My grandparents lived down the street and attended church there. We went to the Franklin Institute (in the background) when we were kids and waded in that fountain.


Go Big

My most ambitious projects to date, I am experimenting with landscapes. This one is the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado. The most significant lesson learned with this one is that it is absolutely OK if the painting does not look exactly like the photograph. The sky was awesome that morning. I may never be able to capture that with brushes, but I will keep trying.

Bringing It All Together

  • Seek passion and joy in your work.
  • Maintain balance between work and life.
  • Do not let fear of failure keep you from trying new things.

About the Author

Carrie Mulherin is CEO of Focus Marketing, offering consulting services in planning, market research, commercial execution and training to growing companies.

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