October 20, 2017 • 7 minute read • by Saeed
“The lion is most handsome when he is looking for food.”
~ Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (Persian: جلالالدین محمد رومی)
The internet guru industrial complex is replete with this dangerous piece of advice: Follow Your Passion.
We can credit this piece of modern wisdom to the late great Steve Jobs and his iconic 2005 commencement speech that spawned it. That speech has racked up 30 million views on YouTube – a clear indication of its popularity. 20 years earlier, mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell was also advocating for the same general formula for success when he said: Follow Your Bliss.
The irony is that when you study Jobs’ life you realize that he himself did not follow his passion. He stumbled into it.
The Problem With Passion
There are numerous other problems with the passion formula.
The most obvious one is that Follow Your Passion presupposes a pre-existing passion you can discover and then follow.
A second problem is that passion is regarded as a singular pursuit. But you may have several or many passions. This excludes all us multipotentialites out there.
It’s also dangerous advice for the nearly 50% of the global workforce who is frustrated, unhappy and unfulfilled. How many of us have ever considered quitting your job to pursue our passion?
I want to extinguish this curse from the lexicon of motivational speakers and bloggers everywhere. Short of that goal being met, I’d like to distinguish between passion and purpose.
Passion Vs. Purpose
Passion is a pink unicorn.
Purpose, on the other hand, is a more meaningful pursuit.
Because while you may have many passions, you only have one purpose.
So, how do you distinguish between passion and purpose?
Passion is defined as “a strong and barely controllable emotion.” This is hardly a stable or useful metric to base your pursuits on. Whether that’s life, career, or the broad, ambiguous, and definition-less concept of “success.”
On the other hand, purpose is defined as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.”
If passion is something you follow, then purpose is something that drives you.
Your purpose is your ‘Why’ behind it all. It is the deep reason for your existence.
In his great book, “Ego is the Enemy,” Ryan Holiday warns us against passion. Passion, he says, is form over function, where purpose is function.
Purpose doesn’t cower in the face of failure.
Purpose isn’t sensitive to criticism or rejection.
Purpose doesn’t quit if things don’t go according to plan.
Passion on the other hand is fickle. It loses interest. It accepts defeat more readily. It is vulnerable to the judgment of others.
Passion does not have direction or reason. Purpose is single-minded.
Passion is for the amateurs. Purpose is for pros.
Let me put it like this: If you wanted to start a fire, you’d grab some logs and matches. To build a proper foundation of wood (purpose) for your flame (passion) you’d put tinder and smaller kindling at the bottom and larger fuel logs on the top. You will find that if your wood foundation isn’t right (your purpose), the fire will keep going out. You can toss in another match and keep stoking the flames (your passion) but your passion will keep burning out until you establish the right foundation. You get the idea. The two go hand-in-hand.
Finding Your Purpose
Instead of chasing the pink passion unicorn, I suggest people focus on finding a purpose—finding ways to leverage your passion and skills to fill a need in the world. Filling a need means providing value to others. Filling a need can run the gamut from creating useful iPhone apps to solving the world’s biggest social impact challenges such as poverty, education, health care, and climate change.
One exercise I’ve recommended to my coaching clients is to pretend they’re writing their own obituary – as if they’re telling the “greatest hits” version of their personal story: their values, their accomplishments and so on. To do this exercise, ask yourself:
- Why am I alive today?
- What do I want to accomplish with my life?
- Who will remember me when I pass from this world?
- What will I be most remembered for?
Brainstorm a bunch of stuff. Don’t be afraid to write down as many things as come to mind. Next, eliminate the unnecessary. What could you subtract from your list and still feel like “you” in your life? Finally, as you review your shortened list, see what’s glaring back at you? What refuses to be quiet? What’s the ONE thing you would do with your life if nothing could stop you? Your purpose is what is screaming at you from inside to be manifested.
As a final bit of checks and balances, ask yourself: Am I chasing this because I am proud and excited by this work? Or do I simply want to be impressive and well received by the world?
Do The Work
Once you’ve been able to identify your purpose, go at it with full force. Find it, grow it, and share it with the world. Triple down on the skills that actualize that purpose. Become the expert. Become the pro.
There is no secret formula to success. All there is to do is to systematically over a period of time (10,000 hours) build up a rare and valuable skill and then use that skill to take control of your working life and shift it into directions that resonate with who you are.
So go out there, practice, do and keep on doing until your skills and purpose are aligned and in harmony.
Stop worrying about finding your passion and–instead–actually do the things that excite you and make you feel alive. Your purpose will one day eclipse your passion.
One Final Word
Realism and detachment are necessary. You have to be objective about how good you are, where you’re going and even detached from the outcome at times. You’ll never find out if you’re thrown off by the frustrations and setbacks that passion creates. If you don’t see the results soon enough, you may become flummoxed and give up.
People who are working hard to fill a need and solve the biggest problems are often compensated in the biggest ways, not just in financial terms, but also in terms of human satisfaction. Filling a need shifts the focus from you to others. It shifts the conversation from what you like to do (having a passion or hobby) to how you can be a valuable contributor in helping society fills its needs (having a purpose). This paradigm shift moves the frame of reference from the self to how we can help others. People become less self-absorbed and ironically, more likely to be genuinely happy.
Don’t you sometimes find that you’re happiest when you don’t think too much about how to become happy?
The good news is that there are a lot of big needs in this world to fill. Each of us has the unique skills to fill some subsets of these biggest needs.
How will you change the world?
I can’t wait to see.
©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.
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