Have you ever wondered what the difference is between passion and purpose or if, in fact, there even is a difference? Maybe you’ve wondered if your personal passion or purpose should also serve as your professional purpose. If so, the following info about how to find your purpose was written with you in mind.
In this post, I cover three critical topics:
- the difference between passion and purpose
- addressing competing purposes, and
- professional purpose
Passions are ideas or activities we care deeply about. They typically provide clues to purpose. What were the things you loved to do as a child? Did you sign up for every sport? Did you and your friends ride your bicycles around and explore your neighborhood? Perhaps you were passionate about playing a musical instrument, drawing or reading. Or maybe you were the kid who painted and sold rocks, had a lemonade stand and was always thinking of new ways to make money. Think about those childhood or early adolescent activities that you enjoyed doing over and over again. Then, write down the three you most enjoyed.
For the second list, think about the passions you carried with you into adulthood. They may look the same but often they take on a different dimension. For example, the kid who rode bikes with friends every day now takes vacations that focus on biking through different cities, states or countries. The child who loved playing classical music on the piano now holds season tickets to the orchestra.
Sometimes you discover different passions as an adult. Buying a house may lead to a passion for gardening. Becoming a parent may inspire a passion for child psychology. Make a second list of the things you’re passionate about now.
Now, compare those two lists, and look for as many commonalities as you can find between them. Is there something in the first list that seems to hint at a passion that emerged later in life? In reverse, is there something about a later passion that you can tie back to something from childhood? Maybe a love of gardening was seeded when you helped your mom or dad in the family garden. Taking note of these patterns will help you discover the clues that your childhood activities provided about the passions you would grow to embrace.
For me, I was an avid reader as a young girl. By nine, I was writing poetry and stories. In high school, I knew I wanted to be a writer and in college, I earned a degree in journalism. It’s obvious that my passion for writing grew from my love of reading stories as a child. But also, as someone who helps clients create social and environmental impact, I also remember the excitement of going to a city council meeting with my father when I was eight-years-old. Instead of being bored, I felt excited about the ideas for improving the city. Ask yourself, where is that storyline for you?
These exercises can help us understand our purpose. Oftentimes our purpose started taking root in our childhood. It’s a thread we can trace from now to then.
Next, think about what’s really important in your life right now. Maybe it’s maintaining close friendships, or working out every day or being an exceptional parent. And before you think, “Aren’t these things important to everybody?” know that I’m talking about a commitment you believe is essential to who you are. Purpose is a reason for being. That’s why only so many purposes can be pursued at one time.
Competing purposes force us to make hard decisions. Perhaps you’ve always been the friend who got the old group back together but now you’ve just launched a business or you have a new baby or you’re caring for a parent or spouse. And what you may have believed for years to be one of your reasons for being has to be released, even if only temporarily, to make room for something new. It’s a painful but often necessary lesson on purpose.
From childhood, I knew I wanted to write, but I also knew that I wanted to be a mom. From the time I was old enough to babysit, I could see myself having children, but I knew these two purposes would someday have to co-exist. Until a certain point in my adulthood, I sought jobs that I could be “all in” on. I wasn’t quite ready to have children yet, but I could plan for that time by earning and saving money to buy a house with my husband and support our future family. Though I was married soon after graduating from college, I didn’t have my first daughter until after I’d been working for more than four years. After I gave birth to her, I tried to find ways to prioritize motherhood without giving up on my career. This was before flextime and remote options were available. In the end, I left a job I loved and moved to freelancing and then job-sharing. This is an example of how two purposes can co-exist, but inevitably, one needs to take the lead. It’s rare that two or more purposes will line up perfectly so you can dedicate equal time and effort to all. It may happen on occasion, but that is the exception rather than the rule.
Some childhood passions inspire purposes that become professions. For example, many journalists write about the things they loved as a child. A former athlete becomes a sportswriter. An artist becomes a critic. But many people struggle to find careers that align with their purpose. Others find they’ve worked for two, 10 or even 20 years in a job that seems meaningless. If you’re someone who is struggling to use your skills in a way that aligns with your purpose, here are a few more exercises.
- Think about your professional purpose as it pertains to a unique gift that you have. How do you discover that gift? Ask yourself, “What things do people ask me for advice about?” or “What do people ask me to help them with?” Maybe their specific questions tend to be different, but are there any common themes? Perhaps people ask you about your fashion style or how you attract clients who become friends. People may be curious about how you structure your time because you are successfully running two different businesses or a business plus a family. Consider what people seek your wisdom about and make note of that. If it can be tied to a passion/purpose you’ve identified, then it could be a driving force of your business.
- Think about what really upsets you. Many people find their purpose in seeking to change something that they believe to be dangerous, wasteful or unjust.
- Imagine your future self. Envision what your life looks like 10 years from now. What have you achieved? Are you still working or are you retired? If you’re working, what are you doing for work? What does your life look like? Wherever it is that you envision yourself in 20 years, I want you to tell the story of what led you there. Begin with when you were younger with varied passions, and then move onto what your purpose or purposes were as you grew older, making the tie from those childhood passions to your purposes as an adult and what you studied or gravitated toward because of that. Then, connect the person you became to the person you wish to be. What is the connection between your passions and purposes and dreams about the future? What patterns are emerging for you?
Sometimes, a purpose or passion is more suitable as a hobby than as a paid profession. There are many people who love to draw, but not everyone has the skills to be a professional artist, a critic or an art teacher. One person might take out their pencils from time to time to remember their love of drawing while another might devote hours a week and take classes to continue to improve. For the former person, drawing is most likely a passion; for the second, a purpose.
Then there are those who choose to keep a passion or purpose personal. A friend of mine introduced me to my husband because she thought we’d make a good match. We were one of three couples she matched in one year who married within one year of meeting. Everyone told her she should be a professional matchmaker, but she had no interest. Another friend is a great baker. She’s baked since childhood. She breathes baking but has never entertained the idea of opening a bakery.
Think about the passions you want to incorporate into your life and decide whether those are better suited as personal purposes, professional purposes, or hobbies. If it’s something to which you are willing to fully commit but it won’t be tied to making a living, that’s a personal purpose. If you’re dedicated to building a career around it, that’s a professional purpose. If it’s something you only wish to do for fun and you aren’t willing to make it a top priority, that’s most likely a passion and best suited as a hobby.
It’s possible to have many passions, a few personal purposes and a professional purpose. And any of these may change in small or big ways throughout your life. This exploration is all about you.
If you’re an entrepreneur, I will leave you with this thought. These exercises are very different from the ones I use to help you discover and define the purpose of your business. Because your business has one purpose, one reason for being. It’s your north star and we know there’s only one of those. It’s what guides you and your decisions as a business owner. It shapes your company values and inspires your vision. Your mission may change. Your products or services may change but your business purpose never changes.
But that, of course, is another story…