Find or create a job that you’re passionate about. That way it never feels like work!
This could be some of the worst advice on how to plan your life.
Have you stumbled upon a blog or article that cites something along the lines of following your passion(s)?
Perhaps it was a Facebook meme that encouraged you to follow your dreams. Or, maybe a friend who recently experienced some success in her online business. Wherever the source, chasing your dreams is starting to sound cliche. More importantly, it may just end up being bad advice.
Look up any successful person, see if they are quoted as claiming passion to be the fuel with which they launched their million dollar idea(s). Odds are, passion is up there on the list. It’s becoming so commonplace that many are leaving solid careers to set about finding their passion.
I get it. The idea is so enchanting. It’s a romantic ideal we’ve been led to believe to be true. How good would it feel to quit the nine-to-five in favor of starting your own business? At first, probably invigorating. But then what? What happens when you need groceries? Or, your mortgage payment is due? The reality sinks in and this whole “do what you’re passionate about” business seems childish.
Why is this an either-or scenario in your mind? Why does it have to be either chasing your dreams or sacrificing them for the stable, soul-sucking career? Isn’t there a third choice?
Turns out there is a third choice. And that choice is backed by research. Not by pop-bloggers encouraging you to sell the farm and eat, pray, love. You don’t have to be a lifeless body showing up to the office Monday through Friday. Nor quit your job and become a travel blogger.
There is a middle road. And passion, as it turns out, really isn’t as important as you think it is!
If not passion, then what?
Turns out purpose will bring about far more love for your job than passion ever could. Let’s start by defining both so you know what I’m talking about:
Passion: any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, such as love or hate. (1)
Passion in life (or at work) is boundless energy. It’s days filled with excitement and enthusiasm. Passion does not have to be loud and exuberant. It can be an inner sense of satisfaction or contentment as well.
Purpose: the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc. (2)
A purpose in life (or at work) is about contributing to something greater than yourself. Often, it’s towards something that benefits others.
Morten Hansen describes the difference between passion and purpose eloquently:
Purpose and passion are not the same.
Passion is “do what you love”.
Purpose is “do what contributes”.
Purpose asks, “What can I give the world?”
Passion asks, “What can the world give me?”
But before you go pushing passion into the wastebasket. It’s important to acknowledge its importance. Passion may not be as important as purpose, but when you combine the two, it makes for even greater results.
It’s not an either or – passion or purpose. It’s about passion and purpose. But remember, purpose needs to come first.
Where do you find a job full of purpose (and passion)?
You don’t have to quit your job and start working for a non-profit. You don’t have to perform life-saving surgeries or build houses/schools in developing countries either. Instead, meaningful or purposeful work is found in nearly every industry. (3) Having purpose at work is less about the job you have and more about your perspective of your role within the company.
In a survey of nearly five thousand participants, Morten Hansen found that 28% of those working in the construction industry had a great deal of purpose in their careers. Why? Many of the construction workers felt that their jobs helped contribute to society. Construction work was about creating something larger than themselves.
If you can create a similar feeling at your own job, you’re going to have a great deal of purpose in your work. Instead of hunting for the perfect role, instead, turn your journey inwards.
How can you develop a purpose greater than yourself in your current role?
You need to focus less on the role itself and instead shift your focus to purposeful activities within the role.
Purpose at work
In his book, Great At Work, Morten Hansen describes three distinct ways of increasing the amount of purpose you have at work. The below steps are best thought of as an ascension up a ladder or pyramid. To begin creating more meaning or purpose at work, start with the first step. Once you feel you’ve achieved success here, move on to the next step.
1. Contribute value
- How can you re-imagine your job as a way of creating value for others?
- It may be value to the company itself, to your customers/clients, or maybe even the environment.
- If you’re not producing value to someone else, you’re not going to experience meaning or purpose. The catch here is that the value you add to another cannot come at someone else’s expense. You’ll experience a sense of purpose only when the work you do produces value to someone else and ensures that no harm is done to another.
2. Craft personal meaning
- The second step in the pyramid is how you feel about your work. Again, this is not about the job itself but about your own feelings in relation to the job.
- One study found that janitors at a hospital had a great deal of meaning and purpose in their jobs. (4) The janitors viewed their role as taking care of patients. They reframed their role to create personal meaning.
- One way to create more personal meaning in your career is to identify moments in each day that were meaningful. One of the hospital janitors engaged with patients and tried to bring about a smile from each of them. Doing so brought more meaning to his job.
- I recommend recording these moments of purpose on paper so you can start to identify patterns. This will help you to recognize a larger or overarching theme of purpose that occurs in your job.
3. Seek a strong social mission
- As far as purpose goes, this is the top of the ladder.
- How strongly do you agree with the following statement:
- “My work makes a strong contribution to society, beyond making money.“
- To craft more meaning and purpose at work, seek assignments that contribute socially. How can your position help to give back to your:
Combining purpose and passion
It’s more important to have a purpose than a passion for your work. Avoid following your passion(s) at the exclusion of everything else. This advice is not likely to bring about a successful career.
Instead, seek first to identify and/or create purpose in your work. If you create purpose in your career, it’s likely that you’ll start to feel more passionate about your job. Morten Hasen describes this as matching passion with your purpose. Remember, purpose comes first!
Instead of looking for a new job or career to bring about meaning in your life, identify the roles you are already doing that contribute value. Remember this is the first rung on the ladder.
Once you’re comfortable on this rung, what sort of creativity, social interactions, or learnings can you start to add to your position? Try to align these new learnings with something you’re passionate about. This is how you begin your move up the ladder. First purpose, then passion.
Now, I want to hear from you!
How have your brought more meaning/purpose to your work?
Also published on Medium.