I’ve been giving a lot of thought these days to these loaded words: passion and purpose. For some, the words invoke inspiring imagery and motivation — a sense of connecting their work to a higher good. For others, the words cause frustration, possibly anger as they see passion and purpose as nothing more than pipe dream ideals that aren’t practical, and worse, are a distraction and a waste of time and energy. Paying a mortgage, making a car payment and saving for college/retirement aren’t always achievable when you spend your days making ceramics. Oh, and then there’s health insurance. Life is expensive.

When we try to connect to our “passion”, we usually brainstorm through the question: “If money were no object, how would I spend my time.” To this we often answer that we’d pursue our hobbies (insert ceramics). We’d be more thoughtful in how we’d spend our days. We’d travel more, catch up with friends and family, and find ways to entertain ourselves in low stress environments.

But what if instead the question were: “If I HAD to bring in a paycheck, but I could do anything I wanted to do, what would I do?”  With this reframing of the question, we can begin to tap into the most personally meaningful way of spending our time. Maybe, we’re even tapping into connecting to our purpose.

I define purpose as having a North Star. Purpose, to me, is the concept of believing that the choices we make mater in keeping us on a path to achieving what we want in this life. Vague goals yield vague results. Some of us believe that we incarnate with a bucket of special traits and we’re here on a mission to accomplish something specific. Even if you’re not bought into that spiritual trip, you likely still have a humanist view with an overarching goal for your life.

Defining our purpose feels hard to access, narcissistic to think about, but understanding why we exist and what we are here to do truly helps us back out the plan into managing our life. For me, I know my purpose encompasses the themes of helping people be more intentional about what they want to manifest in the world: maybe that’s a new job, a clearer communication habit, committing to their own writing habit. I achieve my purpose by guiding people through decision making processes using my natural brainstorming talents. I’m about creating community with like-minded people. I’m about reminding everyone to live with intention.

So then what is passion? According to dictionary.com, most of the references refer to lust, desire, effusive energy that sometimes leads to violence. No wonder we’re not comfortable using the word passion when it comes to work. If the word is used in a sexual or highly emotionally charged sense, that’s certainly not something for the workplace. We don’t have the right word for passion as it relates to career.

So I’ll define it this way: passion is an energy surge that comes and goes through different projects and at different times of your day/your year/your career. It’s being in the state of flow where everything is working exactly as it should, and the hours are flying, and you’re in sync with the energy of the universe. Passion is the excitement that stems from energetic alignment.

Purpose should be the driver in your job search. To this I direct you to Simon Sinek and his concept of Start with Why. Being able to answer why you do what you do will make you a stronger candidate in any interview process.

In my coaching practice, a consistent theme I observe is the need for people to know that their work matters. People want to be aligned with a company that does good in the world. They want to know that the work they are doing is helping society, the environment, a greater good than their bank account.

Can you define your purpose separate from the passion that sometimes accompanies it?

I’d like to leave you with my favorite poem, To Have Succeeded by Ralph Waldo Emerson. I had this hanging in my college dorm. It resonates as deeply now as it did nearly 30 years ago.

To Have Succeeded

To laugh often and love much:
To win respect of intelligent people
And the affection of children;
To earn the approbation of honest critics
And endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To give one’s self;
To leave the world a little better,
Whether by a healthy child,
A garden patch,
Or redeemed social condition;

To have played and laughed with enthusiasm
And sung with exultation;
To know even one life has breathed easier
Because you have lived…
This is to have succeeded.

To leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or redeemed social condition. This is what it all boils down to. How are you leaving the world a little better? How is your career, your job, your volunteer efforts moving you in that direction? And if you’re feeling like it’s time to course-correct, could this be at the heart of what’s bothering you?


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