The Benefits of Well-Placed Idealism


I recently read a job announcement for a well-known local nonprofit organization that included the standard position description, responsibilities, skills, and personal attributes required. But it also included something atypical for a job description: the announcement listed that the candidate must possess the qualities of “passion, idealism, integrity, positive attitude, mission-driven, and self-directed.”  Wow – what an awesome set of required qualities to include on a job description!

As govies, we are so often entrenched in bureaucratic tape, rules, and regulations, and we may find that the tendency to “go negative” is easier the longer we are in government work. Because of this, I was so pleasantly surprised and encouraged to see idealism listed as a necessary qualification for this job, and I think we can learn a lot from this nonprofit’s job announcement about the importance of well-placed idealism in government and nonprofit work.

What is well-placed idealism? The dictionary defines idealism as “the attitude of a person who believes that it is possible to live according to very high standards of behavior and honesty.” Well-placed idealism is not naiveté or a happy-go-lucky, Pollyanna-like attitude, but it is a driven, purposeful and passionate desire for your work and your role in the organization as a whole. Well-placed idealism is mission-driven, big-picture focused, and able to relate the tasks you do to the bigger picture and goals. It is choosing to be positive and realistic.  Moreover, the benefits of well-placed idealism are numerous, including helping you keep perspective for your work and really enjoying what you do.

What are some signs that you may be slipping into cynicism and need well-placed idealism in your work life? Ask yourself these questions from a Forbes article to see if you need to inject some idealism into your professional life:

  • Do I have high levels of stress or anxiety?
  • Do I have a lack of engagement and focus?
  • Do I have increased cynicism and resentment?
  • Do I have distracted eating? (Read about the importance of taking lunch breaks here!)
  • Am I continuously not getting enough sleep?
  • Do I have low energy and/or exhaustion?
  • Do I feel like I never have enough time for anything?
  • Do I have excessive worrying and self-criticism?
  • Am I experiencing physical illness?
  • Are my feelings numb?
  • Am I becoming inefficient?
  • Am I forgetting to take breaks/vacation/rest from work?
  • Am I neglecting exercise and/or taking care of my body?

If you completed the above self-reflection about cynicism and/or you realized you may need to be more idealistic in your job, here is an exercise to help you incorporate well-place idealism in your work:

  • Do I know the mission of my organization?
  • Do I know how my role fulfills the mission and vision of the organization? If not, who can I speak with about this? What can I do to better understand my piece of the puzzle?
  • Do I know the strategic plan for my organization for the next year? The next five years?
  • Do I know the vision of my supervisor or department head?
  • Do I believe in my role? Am I passionate about it? (Searching for passion in your job? Read here for tips on how to find your passion, and read here about the importance of being passionate about your work).

Understanding the mission, vision, and purpose of your organization and then determining exactly where you fit into that mission is vital to becoming an energized, driven, and loyal employee who can use well-placed idealism to meet and exceed your job’s expectations.  To learn more about being mission-driven, read an excellent book by Peter Drucker entitled “Managing the Nonprofit Organization.

In the comments below, please share some tips on how you:

1) Incorporate idealism into your work life and profession

2) Continue to use well-placed idealism in your work, despite setbacks/pushback/regulations

3) Recognize the signs of cynicism in your work life and get back on track to positive, mission-focused idealistic thinking

Christina Smith is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Metz Hairig

great article. Does any of your colleagues seek you out for advice, ? Did that type of activity increase since people became aware of your v. helpful larticles?… You are a gem in your organization…Keep your articles coming…