Jonathan Fields is the host of one of the top-ranked podcasts in the world, Good Life Project®, and is also the founder of a series of companies focused on human potential. He currently leads Spark Endeavors, where he developed the Sparketype® Assessment, a tool tapped by over 500,000 individuals and organizations to identify, embrace, and cultivate work that makes people come alive, and help leaders unlock purpose, engagement, and potential.
Below, Jonathan shares 5 key insights from his new book, Sparked: Discover Your Unique Imprint for Work That Makes You Come Alive. Listen to the audio version—read by Jonathan himself—in the Next Big Idea App.
1. We all have a unique imprint for work that makes us come alive.
When your work is aligned with your Sparketype—whether it’s the thing you get paid to do, your primary role, or simply the activity you choose to devote yourself to—you come alive. In fact, the more you express this inner impulse in your work, the more likely you are to feel energized and excited, lost in flow, filled with meaning, accessing your fuller potential, and fueled by purpose. My Sparketype is the Maker; my primary impulse for effort is to make ideas manifest. I’ve been that way since I was a kid. My folks used to drive me to the town dump on Sunday mornings, where I’d load up the back of the Chevy Blazer with old bike parts, then duct-tape them together to create my own special Frankenbikes.
This same impulse, over the years, has fueled me to invest stunning amounts of time and effort into everything from painting to home renovation, building companies, brands, immersive experiences, media, books, and beyond. The through line is the opportunity to create something from nothing. I’m fortunate to have figured out how to get paid for enough of it to sustain myself. But the truth is, my greatest reward, the reason I work so hard at it, is because of the simple way it makes me feel: alive.
“It’s not that you don’t ‘like’ it—it’s that it literally feels like it’s warring with something inside you, even if, from the outside looking in, it’s really not so hard.”
2. We all have a unique imprint for work that empties us out—your AntiSparketype.
When you do the work of your AntiSparketype, whether as a required part of your job, endeavor, or role, it takes inordinately more energy than it objectively should. It leaves you emptier than you’d expect, and requires both the greatest external motivation and the most recovery. It’s not that you don’t “like” it—it’s that it literally feels like it’s warring with something inside you, even if, from the outside looking in, it’s really not so hard. You can invest in becoming competent, even highly skilled at this work, and that will help offset the intrinsic depletion with the feeling of growth and accomplishment. It will help you get the work done faster, more efficiently, and with less effort. Still, it will likely never become a truly fulfilling or enlivening experience for you; it’ll just become more manageable, less emptying.
All of us have to do some of this work, some of the time, whether it’s a part of our job requirement, or tethered to the execution of a broader value. My AntiSparketype is the Essentialist, which is all about creating order, clarity, and utility from chaos and disorder. As a serial bootstrapped entrepreneur, I’ve had to learn how to get good at this, especially in the early days when I didn’t have the resources to delegate. Knowing your AntiSparketype doesn’t release you from having to do the work of it, but it allows you a certain sense of both acceptance and forgiveness about the way it makes you feel. It also helps you know when to delegate, and allow time for self-care and recovery.
3. The feeling of being Sparked by work has five key elements.
When we talk about work that makes you come alive, we’re talking about the confluence of five distinct feelings:
- Meaningfulness: The feeling that what you’re doing genuinely matters.
- Flow: The state often described as being utterly absorbed or time-fugued, accessing a reservoir of potential, creativity, and efficiency that leaves you feeling amazing.
- Excitement and energy: Even if objectively hard, work that takes a lot of effort still gives you back energy, and leaves you excited to wake up and do more of it.
- Full expression: The feeling that nothing is being stifled, held back, or denied; your uniqueness, sense of taste, skills, potential, and lens are being brought to bear.
- Purpose: The dual feeling of having both an immediate sense of purpose (like you’re working toward something that matters) and a larger sense of purpose in life.
Being Sparked is when your work intrinsically generates these five sub-states. In early data, we are seeing strong correlations between doing the work of your Sparketype and markers for all five elements.
“Knowing your AntiSparketype doesn’t release you from having to do the work of it, but it allows you a certain sense of both acceptance and forgiveness about the way it makes you feel.”
4. Motivation becomes an issue when your work misaligns with your Sparketype.
We’ve spent decades researching motivation. How do we inspire people to invest energy in a way that allows them to access their best selves and perform consistently at the edge of their capabilities? Carrots and sticks remain popular—the classic incentive for hitting benchmarks, or punishment for missing goals—despite their many flaws. Daniel Pink, in his revealing book Drive, invited us all to look beyond the surface layer to find something more intrinsic as a source of motivation. Exactly what that might be has been a source of continued exploration, without a lot of agreement or clarity. Which is part of the reason so many leaders, teams, and organizations keep defaulting back to old-school, often ineffective methodologies, then wondering why performance perpetually lags.
What I’d suggest is that we don’t have a motivation problem—we have a misalignment problem. So many people have found themselves doing work that is fundamentally misaligned with the work of their Sparketype. Rather than waking up excited to do more of what they’re innately called toward, and secretly marveling at the fact they’re getting paid to do something they’d do simply because of the way it makes them feel, they wake up wondering how to get through it as fast as possible, so they can let that deeper impulse—their Sparketype—out elsewhere.
The problem worsens when someone’s work requires them to spend a significant amount of time not just doing things that don’t fall within the scope of their Sparketype, but also fall squarely within the scope of their AntiSparketype. When that happens, it’s nearly impossible to figure out any system of external reward that will allow people to rise to their best selves for even short moments. The solution is to invest in individual growth, and cultivate self-awareness, so that each person can better understand the essential nature of work that fills and empties them, regardless of skill or competence. Then, help them find ways to better align what they do with those intrinsic impulses. At that point, motivation emerges as an organic side effect of Sparketype-aligned action.
“The true, existential epicenter of burnout is a profound misalignment between the essential nature of work that fills people up, the work that innately empties them, and the work they’re doing.”
5. Burnout is more existential than it is circumstantial.
We act like the pandemic is the source of burnout. Sure, it’s made things worse—it has extended business hours, blurred lines between home and work, and layered on a backdrop of family logistics, physical and emotional peril, and fear. Those circumstances have all exacerbated the problem. They’re the lighter fluid, but they’re not the log. The deeper issue, the dried pine that lies at the center of the burnout fire, has been in the stove smoldering for decades already.
The true, existential epicenter of burnout is a profound misalignment between the essential nature of work that fills people up, the work that innately empties them, and the work they’re doing. I will never, in my life, burn out on eating NYC pizza or dark chocolate. Nor will I burn out hiking in gorgeous mountains, loving people I cannot get enough of, or making physical objects with my hands for no other reason than the ability to satisfy my unquenchable impulse to create.
But take the immersive, generative, ever-novel act of creation out of my daily experience of effort as a Maker, and I will wither on the vine. I don’t need to be doing it 15 hours a day, six days a week, living and working in the same place, or constantly tethered to my device to feel the burnout—it’ll happen in half that time, or even a quarter. Because the real problem lies in a fundamental mismatch between the thing I’m being tasked to do and the innate impulse for effort that energizes, inspires, and nourishes me with meaning, purpose, and flow.
To listen to the audio version read by Jonathan Fields, download the Next Big Idea App today: