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The Great Resignation of Engagement

5 lessons we can learn from The Boss.

Key points

  • Allow your passion to evolve with you.
  • Don’t go through life—grow through life.
  • Show up in life as you are.
Source: cookie_studio/Freepik

“Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.”

–Comedian George Carlin

If in doubt that we’ve become less engaged at work, consider a recent Gallup survey of almost 15,000 U.S. employees that found that, after a decade of increased engagement, it has fallen to 32 percent of employees. Whereas pre-pandemic 2019 was an all-time high of the ratio of 2.7 engaged workers for every disengaged employee, after two years of remote work in 2022, this ratio plummeted to 1.9.

I’ve been stumped by this question for at least the past year. A few weeks ago, I found an answer in the unlikeliest of places: at Circo Massimo in Rome. This answer doesn’t come from the boss in your organization or another. It comes from The Boss—Bruce Springsteen—who my wife and I saw, along with 60,000 other people, at his recent concert near our home in Italy.

Here are five lessons I learned from The Boss that I’ve already started applying to become more engaged in my own work and life. I hope you find them useful in your own:

1. Allow your passion to evolve with you. What stood out for me the most at Circo Massimo is that Springsteen is 73 years old and still has his passion. When he played his chart-topping hits—his most well-known album was 1984’s “Born in the USA,” and he released his other most popular albums in the preceding decade, such as “Born to Run” (1975)—such as early in the concert when he played “No Surrender” and “Backstreets,” the crowd went crazy. You could tell that almost everyone loved these songs because they sang along and knew all of the words.

Source: jacob-bentzinger / Unsplash
Allow your passion to evolve with you.
Source: jacob-bentzinger / Unsplash

Yet, for most of the first two hours, he played more recent songs from his vast catalog, from the past 15 years when the popularity of his albums could not really stand up to the massive response to his earlier work, and not that many people at the concert seemed to be familiar with them. But he played these songs anyway, and it dawned on me that this is why he is still passionate after 58 years of playing rock ‘n' roll.

Consider how tired Springsteen must be of playing his earlier songs at concerts over, and over, and over again. He understandably wants to play what he is passionate about now, which is his more recent productions.

2. Don’t go through life—grow through life. “Have you ever seen someone play for three hours like this, without a break?”

I asked my wife this as we were driving home from the concert. “He didn’t even go to the bathroom.”

“No, never,” my wife replied. “Even Fher from Maná takes a break once in a while.” (My wife, who is from Mexico, and I have seen Maná three times, in Mexico and the United States.)

Springsteen is a real role model for how to sustain your passion by not doing the same thing repeatedly for decades, but by finding ways to evolve with—not in spite of—your passion.

3. Show up as you are. Springsteen did a prelude to his song “Last Man Standing” in which he talked about George Theiss, who was dating his sister and invited him to audition for his band. Bruce went out, at 15 years old, and ended up playing with the Castiles for three years.

Mohamed Nohassi/Unsplash
Source: Mohamed Nohassi/Unsplash

Springsteen was at the deathbed of Theiss about seven years ago, and soon after realized that he was the last person still alive from his first band. If we want to still be standing as we continue into older age, we can take a note from Bruce Springsteen and take the time to reflect on what we’ve been put on this planet to do and how we need to let it evolve.

4. Persistence doesn’t mean insistence. Being persistent doesn’t mean insisting on one way of doing things. It means maintaining your core passion but adapting it as you go along. Springsteen’s most recent album contained cover songs of soul music. Creating a soul cover album was a new challenge for him, which may not sell as many albums as some of his others, but that’s what keeps him going.

Source: Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez / Unsplash
Source: Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez / Unsplash

Some of his other recent endeavors—writing a book and doing a podcast with Obama, developing a one-man poetic autobiographical show on Broadway—were also undoubtedly challenges that stretched his creative acumen. Whatever he’s doing, he seems to have a knack for finding ways for his passion to resonate with the changing times: He’s the first artist in the history of the world to release a top-five album across six consecutive decades.

5. Create a new season. Like The Boss, we all need a new season in life. When you were younger it was all set up for you—next semester, football season, summer camp, school clubs, new courses, school trips, the prom, a study year abroad—there was always something around the corner to look forward to.

Source: Aziz Acharki / Unsplash
We all need to preserve both change amidst order and order amidst change.
Source: Aziz Acharki / Unsplash

Now it’s up to you to either mix it up and try something new or fall prey to office-drone syndrome, which post-pandemic for many has become even worse because it’s now Zoom-at-home syndrome. If you don’t learn how to create a new season, one season will start to blend into the next and, before you know it, you won’t know why, but you just won’t care anymore.

Like Springsteen, we all need to preserve both change amidst order and order amidst change. It’s precisely this balance of change (when your life feels too antiseptic and routine) and order (when you are feeling diffuse and need to find your center) that will fuel your motivation and fill your life with meaning.

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