The Essence of Enthusiasm

Not one time in my life experience have I completed an interview that my enthusiasm was not mentioned.  As a baby social worker, I loved this! This meant I brought a fresh perspective and excitement to the table; I saw it as strength. Recently, when someone refers to my enthusiasm it has made me curious about how seriously they take me. It is often mentioned with a coy smile or giggle, like the word enthusiasm could be replaced with naivety as if what they truly wanted to say is “just wait until you actually have a glimpse into the real world.” Regardless of my actual level of exposure to the harsh realities of the world, people will continue to draw assumptions and develop their personal opinions.

I recently attended a meeting where the lack of enthusiasm in the room was palpable and painted on (almost) every face at the table. What a bummer of an hour? Trying to put myself in their shoes, I thought well perhaps they are confused, distracted, stressed, or feeling like this hour is a waste of their time. But I could not help but continue to think about the reality that their inability to engage with eagerness would guarantee that they would continue to be confused, distracted, and certainly make meetings like this a waste of their time. This also had me curious about what it would take for someone to serve as a catalyst for change in meetings like this or in the broader spectrum of culture shifts or organizational change. My brain was rapidly firing with….enthusiasm about enthusiasm.

But prior to developing a plan to harness and spread enthusiasm like wildfire the world over, I wanted to learn more about the word enthusiasm. What are the roots of this word and how does the word make people feel?  How do people respond to enthusiasm? What makes people enthusiastic? Does enthusiasm fade?

First…I found connection between children and enthusiasm. Enthusiasm and innocent positivity seemed synonymous to people. In searching “enthusiastic characters in fiction” the first result read “characters who are overly optimistic.”  From the get go, my search demonstrated that enthusiasm is linked to silliness or irrationality.  I found reference to Tigger from Winnie the Pooh who is as annoying to other characters in the Hundred Acre Wood as he is enthusiastic. Goofy was also deemed enthusiastic.  I love these characters, but I am not sure that I find them to be inspiring.

So then I began to dig into the history of the word. Earl Nightingale says, ““The word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek word “entheos” which means the God within. And the happiest, most interesting people are those who have found the secret of maintaining their enthusiasm, that God within.” Ok, this is more what I was trying to find. Passion, faith, excitement; perhaps unexplained at times, but not silly. God within is certainly more inspiring.

The definition of enthusiasm is intense and eager enjoyment, interest, or approval. Synonyms for enthusiasm include eagerness, warmth, fervor, zeal, ardor, passion, and devotion. The antonym for enthusiasm: indifference.

When I think about fictional characters that I believe depict enthusiasm, I think of Bunga from The Lion Guard. He is small in stature, but brave, confident, fierce, and funny. He is enthusiastic about life and about protecting his land. What he lacks in size he makes up for with grit and enthusiasm.  But he also can crack a joke, sing a song, and make sure everyone is having fun.

So why is enthusiasm in a professional setting so “refreshing.” Why isn’t it the norm? Why aren’t more folks enthusiastic about the work that keeps them away from their families all day every day? Why do you need a third cup of coffee before you can tolerate someone who is passionate or comes to work with fervor?  Why do you dread Monday morning? Why is enthusiasm linked to a childlike mindset?  Why is enthusiasm linked to innocence?

Maybe it is because we have become habitually out of touch with our true, inner selves. Have we gotten so caught up in the ideas of success and status that we take ourselves too seriously? We are focused on titles, recognition, money, tasks, and material possessions that we have lost sight of what it means to be truly fulfilled. I know the days that seem hard to muster the energy and focus to get through are days when I feel distracted by fears of failure or preoccupied with financial stress. When I feel genuinely excited about an opportunity for connection or to make an impact…I get a rush of energy. I am filled with passion and purpose. I am enthusiastic.  Enthusiasm is light, airy, and energizing. It feels good to be fueled by the essence of enthusiasm.

Back to the original question: How can we harness enthusiasm or create culture shifts where enthusiasm is the norm rather than an outlier state of mind? Now let’s be honest, folks have to buy into the process of creating an enthusiastic culture. But assuming there is buy in, I believe these concepts could create some positive change.

  1. Mindfulness – Without being in touch with your true, inner self, how can you know what will fuel your spirit? What is your calling? What ignites passion in you? What is your soul hungry for? Implementing a mindfulness practice into your day to day life can help you achieve increased enlightenment. Personally, my practice has become very spiritual. My prayer time and mindfulness practice are intertwined. Mindfulness helps to remove the distractions of expectations, insecurity, and stress from my mind and allows me to be still and more in touch with what I value. My ability to be enthusiastic is dependent on my values being protected and engaged in the work I do and the activities I involve myself in. For ideas on how to begin to implement a mindfulness practice, check out my Daily Dose of Mindfulness post.
  2. Trust – Taking ourselves too seriously is a defense mechanism. For people to have the comfort and faith to allow their inner selves to be shown there must be a level of trust. If you have been vulnerable in the past and have regretted this vulnerability either due to disappointment, betrayal, or being made fun of it might be a struggle to allow your true self to be shown. Because I believe enthusiasm is wrapped up in our values, passions, and dreams…I believe that it is vulnerable to wear your enthusiasm on your sleeve. If your excitement is not well received you may develop the need to be guarded. Creating organizational change based on the concept of building trust can be quite the undertaking, a great read to give some ideas about how to make this happen is The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.  However, that doesn’t mean that individuals cannot do their part to serve as a catalyst for change in day to day activities.  Trust yourself and your instincts. If you have enthusiasm about a meeting, connection, or opportunity share it! Enthusiasm is contagious and your willingness to be vulnerable may be the inspiration for others to peel back their protective layers of status and power. This may not always be true, but the right people will be lit up by your passion…be on the lookout for people who perk up when you are enthusiastic rather than shy away or roll their eyes. Their hesitations say more about their insecurities than your potential.  A brief thought on encouraging enthusiasm in your children…LISTEN. When they are tugging on your shirt tail with excitement to tell you something, try your best to pause for a moment and HEAR them. You can be the catalyst that encourages your kids to listen to their inner voice and act on their passions. I know this can be a challenge when you have limited time and limitless responsibilities, but model being still for them.
  3. Turn Towards the Light – I use this phrase often in my counseling practice in many different contexts. I use it to explain cognitive behavioral therapy and changing your negative thought processes. Turn away from the negative thoughts that weigh you down, make a choice to engage in positive and rational thought processes. I also use this phrase when I talk about toxic relationships. What relationships feel heavy, dark, and foreboding? Choose to surround yourself with people who inspire you and reinforce a positive self-image. I try to focus on the concept of choice in the way we feel, think, and behave. We can actively create scenarios that are more uplifting, positive, healthier, etc. Or we can actively choose or passively exist in situations that drag us down, deplete us, or leave us feeling empty. The idea that enthusiasm is something we can actively choose makes perfect sense to me. We can make the choice to implement practices and activities that light us up. We can engage in experiences that keep us excited about life, work, and our families. We can decide to honor our true selves, our set of values, and our dreams. An article from the Technical University of Munich discusses the concept of phototropism:

The growth of plants toward light is particularly important at the beginning of their lifecycle. Many seeds germinate in the soil and get their nutrition in the dark from their limited reserves of starch and lipids. Reaching for the surface, the seedlings rapidly grow upwards against the gravitational pull, which provides an initial clue for orientation. With the help of highly sensitive light-sensing proteins, they find the shortest route to the sunlight – and are even able to bend in the direction of the light source.  “Even mature plants bend toward the strongest light. They do this by elongating the cells of the stem on the side that is farthest from the light. This type of light-oriented growth is called phototropism,” explains Prof. Claus Schwechheimer from the Chair of Plant Systems Biology at the Technische Universität München (TUM).

Plants actively grow in a manner that increased access to life-giving sunlight! If we find the moments that provide that life-giving light, we should actively create increased access to these opportunities. Maybe children are more commonly associated with enthusiasm because they haven’t been tempered by disappointment and expectations. Children are still in tune with their inner selves and naturally turn towards the light.  I hope that each day I have at least one moment that ignites childlike excitement, passion, and enthusiasm in my soul. We should all be so lucky.

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Peace, love, and laughter,

Megan

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