Passion versus Purpose: Why purpose will guide you to your best work every time.


Why is it that some people are able to stick through difficult jobs, and others aren’t able to stay focused on the most basic of work? This is something I’m intimately aware of – I’ve been able to dig into thorny problems and come out with interesting information and solutions, but at the same time there are days where I can’t stare straight for the 20 minutes it will take to finish a simple task I have to do. I have wondered if being passionate about my work would change how I show up. If I was passionate about engineering, and the designs we did, would I be happier as an engineer?

Your Heart is an Empty Room, Fundamentals

From all the research I’ve done I’ve come to realize that passion is not the answer.

Passion – Any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate

Passion is an emotion. Emotions can be a strong motivator, but they change. Emotions are created by a complex mix of your environment, your physical and mental health, and your circumstances. If you feel depressed, no matter how good your environment and circumstances are, you will not feel passionate about anything. Likewise, even if you are in good physical and mental health, if you are in a negative work environment, and are dealing with difficult circumstances, it will be hard for you to feel passionate about what you are doing. What was the last thing you felt passionate about? What made you connect with it? Do you still feel the same passion for it now?

To me, the biggest key in sticking through something difficult is purpose. Seth Godin wrote a great book about this topic, called The Dip. In it, he suggests that if you do work that is important it is also difficult and will have a point where you need to ask if you should quit. You will experience a moment where things aren’t moving forward, and it seems you are putting your energy into it, and no matter what you try you cannot see progress. Perhaps you’re designing a product, you’ve completed the initial development and are ready to start prototyping and testing – only to find that you’ve made some wrong estimates and guesses. At that point in a design, if you don’t truly care about what the product, you’re likely to abandon the effort. I’ve seen it happen. The cost of restarting to correct the wrong assumptions isn’t worth it if no one cares. As an employee, perhaps, you’re in a difficult phase, such as design proving, and you just keep finding more faults and problems in the product. It’s easy to become discouraged when you feel like your job is to simultaneously prove there is nothing wrong, while finding lots of things wrong that are the result of someone else’s error – so you have to do double the work because someone else didn’t care. I’ve been there. So how does someone fight through these moments where the easy answer is to quit?

What is your purpose? What do you want to stand for? What do you want others to say about you?

If you can answer those questions for yourself, it’s a lot easier to wrestle through difficult circumstances and work. Thinking of the interview I shared with Benjamin Heath on Tuesday – he stuck out his law job for several years with the exclusive goal to pay off his loans. He had a purpose. He could see why he was doing the work he didn’t want to be doing – because it was allowing him to move towards becoming the person he wanted to be. Can you say the same thing about your job? Is it helping you move towards being the person you want to be? If you are only at your job for the pay cheque, with no end or purpose in sight, I would guess it will make life meaningless for you. On the other hand, if you are earning that income to allow you to do something that does serve your bigger purpose, then that truth helps you see why you show up every day even if you don’t like your work.

I think helping people connect with their deeper purpose is likely the most important thing that companies need to consider as their primary value proposition. It’s not just millennials who want work that is meaningful and fulfilling. My parents’ generation found their purpose in providing for their family. I’m not saying that was a bad ambition, but it’s become possible that people can now do that while serving something bigger in their life. If you feel stuck, frustrated, or just burned out at your job – ask yourself: am I serving my deeper purpose in life?

If you start looking there, you might find a deeper truth that will guide you through the most challenging situations you have yet to face, whether that’s just changing your work, or changing your career.

A coach is a great resource to help you do this inner work. They have the tools to keep you on track, and the experience to help you see through your own blocks and saboteurs that may be making things worse. You can do it all on your own – there are plenty of great books and resources available, but I do believe 100% that having someone who connects with you and helps you focus and reveal yourself is the best step in finding what meaningful work will look like to you.

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