Discovering Your Passion at Work


Bettina M. Gordon, (c) photo by Nathalie Schueller

Discovering your Passion at Work

Maybe it’s the new year or my advancing age or simply my curiosity, but I am asking myself hard pressed questions lately. Why am I feeling so unfulfilled and dissatisfied in my work? What’s missing in my life? Should I start a whole new career? I yearn for something – but for what exactly?…… And more importantly, how can I get it?

By Bettina M. Gordon

A previous version of this interview was published in the German business magazine Fonds Exklusiv. 

As I am struggling with these questions, I put my journalistic skills to work and researched experts who might have answers to my predicament. As my top choice, I requested an interview with Peter Matthies, founder of the Conscious Business Institute, because this man has personally experienced what I, and many of my friends and acquaintances seem to be going through right now.

Before founding the Conscious Business Institute, Peter was a Principal for one of the world’s leading Private Equity and Venture Capital firms, Apax Partners & Co, and for b-business partners, a $ 1 billion pan-European VC fund. Peter and his team invested hundreds of millions of Dollars into start-ups, when he made a stunning discovery: ”Many of the leaders of these companies brought their body and mind to work, but not their passion and drive. Many were only 50% engaged at best. Something was fundamentally wrong.” The next epiphany came when Peter himself realized that he had followed the wrong model of success. Nine years ago he left his job, his relationship, even his home country Germany behind to start a totally new life in the US. Or so he thought.

Peter Matthies, Founder of the Conscious Business Institute

When Peter and I met on Skype for our interview, I found a man who was surprisingly open about his trials and tribulations during the years he needed to turn himself from a venture capitalist into a much sought after leadership advisor. He now works with individuals, fast growing start-ups and large corporations like BMW and Siemens. In a nutshell, Peter Matthies helps people and teams find fulfillment and success in their profession (see video below on his TEDtalk).

Bettina Gordon: Peter, I feel somehow dissatisfied with my job and I don’t know how to shift that. Sure, there is external success but that does not make me internally happy. What’s wrong here?

Peter Matthies: The model of success in our world is fundamentally flawed. The manner in which it was instilled in us and what success in our world means – get a good education, look for a high-paying job, build or buy yourself a big house, drive a fancy car, then at some point have a wife and children and you will be happy – works only in rare cases. Just take a look around. How many of us who have lived according to these principles are actually happy and fulfilled? Maybe this model works for 5 – 10% of people and  the other 90% struggle with money,  time or  both.

Countless studies support that a yearly income of up to $70,000 makes a significant difference in the happiness of an individual. That kind of happiness, however, is more closely related to the fulfillment of basic needs than with a career. For those who have covered their basic needs, it doesn’t make substantially more difference whether they earn well above $70,000 or not. We are all searching for a deeper gratification than the material, even if we still appear to be pursuing success and a career.

Bettina: Have I been pursuing the wrong dream? And what’s a more gratifying way to live?

If you considered the wrong dream as “Work hard and you will make something of yourself and be somebody”? Yes. In this formula for success there is no room for fulfillment, happiness and satisfaction. If we strive for success, then it is important to ask ourselves time and again: What exactly am I searching for? Do I still believe that once I have money, happiness will be waiting for me? In my opinion there has to be a shift to another model here.

“The “Essence-Based Success Model“ is about becoming aware of the feeling states we are pursuing, and not about the things we think we have to own or become in order to ultimately feel successful.” 

We call it an “Essence-Based Success Model“. It’s about becoming aware of the feeling states we are pursuing, and not about the things we think we have to own or become in order to ultimately feel that way. Most of us long for joy,  creativity, freedom, gratification, etc. and think that we will ultimately get it if we achieve success on a material level. These feeling states – I call them “Essences“ –  are ultimately our deeper values – it is what gets us out of bed in the morning. That’s what’s fulfilling for us.

Bettina: What if some of us cannot integrate our “essences” into our Corporate America jobs? Is quitting the job the only solution? The thought of going out on your own and losing steady income is scary!

I often ask my clients what they would do if they had 100 million dollars in the bank and the liberty to take three or four years of vacation. What would they do with their lives after ample vacation and with a great deal of money in their accounts? The majority of people  don’t know. Others would get involved with social projects or start a business with social or environmental aspects. But to give up a well-paying position to work for little money in a nonprofit organization or to start a company with a tight budget, that alone doesn’t make anyone happy either.

When I begin working with clients, for instance, I do not recommend that clients give up their job. It’s not about the job here. If you quit today, then you will soon find out that you always “bring yourself along“, and in a few months you will be as happy or unhappy as you are today. We have a tendency to re-create similar situations in our lives. I myself was really happy for a half a year after my move from Munich to California. Soon after, however, I had the same stress and time pressure that I had before, because – I had again created a similar environment. My unconscious state of mind was: work especially hard and build something impressive in order to then become somebody.

Bettina: So throwing away your job is not the solution?

No. It all comes down to the ancient proverb from the Oracle of Delphi: Know thyself. It’s about listening to your inner self and questioning why we have this desire and  need to change something. What can we do in our current position to change ourselves? We use specific approaches and methods to give our clients feedback and clarity, and show them without any value judgment, who they really are and who their company is. What are the qualities of every individual and what can he or she do to live authentically? What is the Emotional System that drives you, and which is holding you back from being where you would like to be?

You help your clients to lead more effectively within the framework of their business and in the process help them find a deeper satisfaction for their role as a leader?

“When I begin working with clients, for instance, I do not recommend that clients give up their job. It all comes down to the ancient proverb from the Oracle of Delphi: Know thyself.”

Right. I know exactly how a lot of my clients feel because I have had similar experiences. I needed ten years to find out who I really am and what my disposition, my essence, is. I am a person who wants to accomplish something and earn good money. I didn’t found the Conscious Business Institute to retire, but rather to make something meaningful and to make a difference in the world. We have developed approaches that can help every management team work together more effectively and understand the Emotional Mental System that steers each of us.

As previously mentioned, companies, like people, have “essences“too. We help companies to find the essence – the true values and drivers – of their business. Values and mission statements are often found inscribed on a marble plaque which is nailed up somewhere and no longer relevant. No one really lives according to these values. But, what inspires entrepreneurs and their staff? What drives them out of bed in the morning? It is the values, paired with the mission of the business, that have to be coherent and should be lived daily. It sounds simple, but it is more challenging than you think.

Bettina: What is the Emotional Mental System (EMS) that you spoke about earlier?

The EMS is a reflection of our thoughts, old patterns of belief, perspectives and behaviors that are ingrained in us. Our Emotional Mental System is like a blueprint that determines whether we struggle and suffer, or whether we are successful and experience a sense of flow. Where our system is dysfunctional, we feel that we are struggling to a certain degree in our jobs or in our lives. Where the system is operating optimally, we are “in the flow“, as it is so wonderfully called in America. The breakdowns are mostly connected to fear. Fear of losing a job, of too little income, etc.

When people come together to launch a new entity, a business, then this business gets its own EMS. And this system is in principle a reflection of the EMS of the managing team, including its strengths and its weaknesses. And here is the really interesting part: every persistent problem of a business – whether you are unable to attract new customers, have trust problems in the team, or no investors can be found – is directly related to the EMS.  There is a dysfunction in the EMS that causes exactly this specific problem. Usually, these dysfunctions are in the so-called “blind spot“of the manager. It requires, therefore, an outside perspective to generate real change. But as soon as management becomes aware and responsible for their own contribution to the system, then lasting change can be achieved. Businesses self-adjust and it is astonishing to observe this transformation.


Challenged at work? What bothers you the most? Please leave a comment below or send me an email to bettina at so I can address specific challenges in future posts. YOUR INPUT IS IMMENSELY VALUABLE AND TRULY APPRECIATED!

Peter Matthies next workshop for entrepreneurs and people in business will take place in New York City on April 19th. You can send an email to if you’d like to receive the details as soon as they become available.

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Category: Awesome Biz & Life Interviews, Featured

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Explorer. Journalist. Trainer. Happy Camper (a trained skill). I LOVE hearing from my readers/viewers, so make my day and leave a comment or drop me a note at bettina (@ )!!

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