How to figure out what makes you come alive at work (review of Sparked by Jonathan Fields)

Planning to join the Great Resignation and jump ship?

Park those plans until you’ve righted your own ship first. You may find that you only need to tweak your job rather than change employers.

It’s good advice I could’ve used at the start of my career

I’ve changed jobs five times over the past 28 years, with three of those moves happening in my first decade after graduating from the Harvard of the North. Lucky for me and my family, every move to a new employer’s panned out and been a great experience (my bosses and colleagues may have a slightly different take).

But I may have stuck with one employer longer if I’d known earlier what kind of work makes me come alive and what wears me out and trips me up.

Jonathan Fields knows. According to the Good Life Project founder and author of Sparked, I’m a Sage. That’s one of 10 Sparketypes that Fields has identified based on insider-intel from half-a-million individuals and organizations plus 25 million data points.

“For sages, illumination is your call,” says Fields. “You live to share insights, ideas, knowledge and experiences with others in a way that leaves them in some way better, wiser, and more equipped to experience life differently – and maybe sparks something in them that makes them want to learn more.”

Along with sages, there are Mavens who live to learn. Makers create and bring ideas to life. Scientists figure things out. Essentialists create order from chaos. Performers turn moments into magic. Warriors gather and lead people. Advisors coach, mentor and help others grow. Advocates serve as champions for others, amplifying their voices. And Nurturers listen, care and help others in personal, hands-on ways.

A free online assessment at will identify your primary and secondary Sparketypes and your anti-Sparketype. For the record, I’m a sage and maven and definitely not a warrior.

“For most people, discovering your Sparketype is like meeting your true self,” says Fields. “There is an immediate, intuitive knowing – an undeniable truth that explains so many past choices and outcomes. It empowers you to not only understand who you are and why you do what you do, but also how you contribute to the world on a very different, more intentional, and fulfilling level.”

Fields starts and ends his book with a warning. Don’t blow everything up once you know your Sparketype. He calls this the premature nuclear career option.

“There can be a strong tendency to convince yourself that the pain and disruption and financial upheaval of walking away is nothing in comparison to the existential angst of unfulfilled potential you currently feel,” says Fields.

“But you know what else is real? The very painful cost of dynamiting your current reality, the emotional groundlessness it can lead to, the fissures it often creates in your relationships, the relentless stress it can foster; the and the devastating effect it can have on your emotional and physical health as you realize your next thing isn’t dropping into your lap with quite the speed or ease you’d hope.”

Instead of blowing up your career or jumping ship to pretty much do the same job somewhere else for a bit more money, rethink the job you’re already doing. “Ask what might happen if you stayed where you were, but did the work needed to reimagine and realign your current job, position or role to allow you to more fully express your Sparketype.”

Your boss and colleagues would appreciate the change in your mood and productivity and you’d likely get assigned more of the work that makes you come alive and perform at a higher level.  

Maybe you’ll still jump ship but you’ll leave with a much better sense of the work you should be doing.

“You’ll do it from a place of not only far great conviction, but also embodied self-knowledge and the sense of alignment and radiance that often generates a level of possibility not available when your exit is more ‘cut and run’ than ‘I did the work’.”

If you’ve spent the pandemic dreaming of a new job or career change, Fields can help you figure out what to do next. Jumping ship isn’t your only option and it shouldn’t be your first move.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Review: Larry Smith’s No Fear, No Excuses – What You Need to Do to Have a Great Career

no fear

This review first ran in the May 9 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

No Fear, No Excuses: What You Need to Do to Have a Great Career

By Larry Smith



There’s a binder in our basement that proves my wife picked the right career.

The binder is full of stories that my wife wrote back in elementary school.

She was a kid who loved to write and express opinions.

My wife took her passion and built a great career in journalism. While she’s collected a bookcase full of awards, my wife most values the notes and letters from the victims and families who’ve been given a voice through her stories.

So how about you?

Are you passionate about what you do for a living?

Or did you settle for a job that’s merely interesting?

“The grown-up world is where talent goes to die,” says Larry Smith, an adjunct associate professor and career counsellor at the University of Waterloo and author of No Fears, No Excuses: What You Need to Do to Have a Great Career. Smith’s Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career TED Talk has been watched nearly five million times.

“The rules are clear: do what you are told and you get paid; work to live on the weekend and dread Monday; look forward to retirement and hope you do not end up dreading that as well; expect that pleasure or satisfaction in the work is an uncommon bonus.”

Smith challenges us to break those rules. Follow your passion and create a great career that delivers a lifetime of satisfying work, makes the world a better place, earns you a dependable and adequate income and brings personal freedom.

Passion makes us exceptional. “Passion brings an intensity of focus that effort, discipline and persistence cannot match,” says Smith. “With passion, you have the wind at your back.”

The absence of passion makes us replaceable cogs. We’re reduced to chasing and clinging to  a dwindling number of good jobs while competing against a crowd that has the same education, credentials, experience, skills and resume.

Pursuing your passion takes courage. It’s easier to make excuses.

We don’t want to make a fool of ourselves.

We can’t resist the pay and perks of today’s hot jobs and ignore how fast these jobs turn cold thanks to competition and technology.

We tell ourselves to soldier on and live for weekends and vacations.

We fool ourselves into believing that mastering a skill is more important than pursuing our passion.

We hold out hope that we’ll eventually learn to love our job.

We don’t want to disappoint our family and their white collar dreams.

We sacrifice our passion to be a great parent and partner and pretend that it’s impossible to also have a great career.

But Smith says our biggest fear should be failing to achieve the highest use of our talent.

Not sure what you’re most passionate about? Smith offers proven strategies for sorting through your interests, finding your passion and then custom-building a great career.

Along with freshly minted grads and mid-career professionals, Smith’s book should be required reading for parents. Every kid has a talent. What we tell our kids influences whether they pursue their passion or bury it.

“When your child is using his talent to its fullest, he is most likely to be both happy and successful,” says Smith.  Telling our kids to quit dreaming, be practical and have a back-up plan that pays the bills is lousy advice.

“Since we are protective of our children, why would we send them on a blood-sucking and soul-destroying path?”

We don’t have a binder of stories written by our daughter. Instead, we have photos of our daughter dancing. She’s been dancing for more than a decade. She doesn’t dance to win competitions and bring home giant trophies. She dances because it brings her joy.

For the last two years, our teenager has spent her entire Saturdays volunteering with her dance teacher. She’s never complained and we’ve never once had to drag out of bed .

Maybe our daughter will want to turn her passion into a career. If that’s her dream, my wife will speak from experience and tell her to go for it without fear or excuses.

That career and life advice will be the best gift we give our daughter.

@jayrobb has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and serves as director of Communications for Mohawk College.