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Change your life (for good) with more purpose and passion

July 14, 2022 - 18 min read

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The definition of passion

What is purpose?

The difference between passion and purpose

When true purpose meets passion

Bringing it all home

What do you want to be doing? Where do you see yourself? What’s your passion?  

These simple questions have the power to strike fear into college students and job seekers everywhere. In reality, plenty of people well into their careers still find these questions confounding. We fear these questions because we don’t have an answer. And, they seem important. 

You might be unhappy or restless in your current role. You know you need change. Yet, just thinking about “purpose and passion” can be paralyzing. It’s no stretch to say that someone asking about your purpose and passion at the wrong moment is enough to bring on a wave of existential crisis. 

On the one hand, you need to pay your bills and keep some forward movement in your career. On the other, you feel the weight of the years ahead, personal fulfillment, and doing something that matters. You could be years into your career, still trying to find your “thing.” 

In your quest for clarity, you might have come across inspirational writings from the likes of Morten Hansen, Oprah, Jay Shetty, or your favorite social media entrepreneur. They all offer different versions of the same advice: find your passion, find your purpose.

Unfortunately, these quotes generally make us feel more pressure to have an amazing purpose or passion for our lives. They don’t tend to be helpful in actually figuring out our own purpose and passion.

Many people conflate these two concepts. And, while they’re related, they are different. Exploring them can put you on a path to a more fulfilling life.

Let’s compare purpose versus passion to learn how knowing both help you be your most authentic self.

The definition of passion

You’re probably familiar with the concept of passion. It’s something that gets you excited. You feel strongly about it. You find yourself talking (or arguing) about it, reading about it, working on it, thinking about it, even though no one is making you. 

People who know their passion and make time to pursue it might seem more confident, more optimistic, or more grounded. 

Passion isn’t an absolute positive — being passionate can feel all-consuming. We get wrapped up in our passions, and that can detract from work or home responsibilities. At the same time, doing something you’re passionate about feels good. You experience a state of flow.

Time flies and the work doesn’t feel effortful. It may manifest as joy or happiness. It gives you energy. You can feel it in your bones. 

You can have more than one passion. For years you might chase baking the best loaf of bread. Then, one day, you might discover that you love music and composition. Passions evolve with you as you learn more about them and actively engage with them.

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What is my passion?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What activities bring me joy and satisfaction in my personal life? In my professional life?

  • What do I want to learn more about, no matter how much I learn?

  • What makes me lose track of time or become fully engaged in trying to figure out?
  • What would I do if money wasn’t an issue?

  • What am I great at?

  • What do I get excited about?

These questions can give you clues about your true passions. Yet, it’s easy to confuse interests or hobbies with passions. It’s also easy to confuse strengths with passions.

For example, when I switched careers several years ago, I chose work that tapped into my passion for writing and thinking.

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The unexpected downside was that once writing became my full-time gig, I was using a strength but lost my energy and enthusiasm for writing fiction.

Why is passion important?

If you’re wondering why you need passion in the first place, remember this: It's part of the meaning of life. Passion is key to your self-motivation. Tapping into your passions will motivate you to keep learning, develop new skills, and stay excited.

Your passions also tend to engage your curiosity and willingness to connect with others in a time when uncertainty in the world might make you feel more fearful or isolated.

And because of this, passions are critical to your mental health and overall well-being. 

Doing work without passion can lead to lower job satisfaction and put you at risk for burnout at work. Unfortunately, research from Deloitte has found most people aren’t passionate their work. That doesn’t mean you should give up hope, but while you try to figure out what moves you at work, you can also benefit from pursuing a passion off the clock.

You might even benefit from having a job that’s separate from your passion to avoid burning out your passion

Your passion can also keep you grounded. Things that keep your mind aligned with your body and soul will improve your whole life.

The problem with passion

We sometimes approach passion as if it is a force of nature — it either is or isn’t. You can’t decide to love traveling — you either do or don’t. Or so the thinking goes. So, exhorted by self-help gurus to “find our passion,” we stand around waiting for lightening to strike. 

The reality is more complicated. And useful.

Some people do have strong passions and develop them early in life. But for most of us, passion develops as we learn more about something we didn’t know about before. So, if you’re feeling like a failure because you don’t have a passion, start exploring and doing. 

That’s why it’s important to try new things and believe in your ability to find what works for you. You can find passion in unexpected places.

Not all passions make for good full-time pursuits. Many people try to turn a passion they already have into their work. That’s why there are so many wine and foodie entrepreneurs and so many Etsy shops. 

That’s one path. But when it comes to making career and life changes, another path to passion is to try to find the aspects of your work, in your current job or a new one, that truly engage your curiosity and interest.

The more you actively work with the questions and challenges that move you, the more likely that you’ll discover work that you feel passionate about.

What is purpose?

A purpose is the “why” behind your actions. It’s the reason you get up in the morning, the thing you strive for every day. It’s something external to you — it’s how you contribute to the world.

This definition of “purpose” might seem grandiose. But don’t worry. You might be happy volunteering at a soup kitchen, cutting people’s hair, or helping families with their accounting. Your passion might be designing new software or doing cancer research. These are all ways of helping people and finding your purpose of life. 

Here are some example purposes to inspire you:

  • Bringing people together 
  • Helping people feel good about themselves
  • Soothing people’s pain
  • Bringing people joy
  • Supporting people’s goals
  • Teaching people new skills

As you can see, these all focus on serving others — and that benefits you in return. But you can execute them in many different ways. To “bring people together,” you could be an event planner or run a restaurant. “Teaching people new skills” could mean being an elementary school teacher or becoming a life coach.

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Are purpose and vision the same thing?

While your purpose and vision are both crucial to finding your meaning in life, they aren’t quite the same. Your purpose, as we said, is why you do what you do — and it aligns with your vision of what you want your life to be.

A vision doesn’t lead you to an answer like your purpose or your passion does, but it shows you what you hope to achieve. 

Once you know what your purpose in life is, you can create a vision for how you want to live. If you have a vision of what you want your life to look like, you can find your purpose by reflecting on why you want that life.

Discover your purpose

A purpose is essential to leading a fulfilling and successful life. As you search for your calling, ask yourself:

  • Why do I have the skills I have?
  • Why do I have this talent?
  • What strengths can I uniquely bring to a challenge that no one else can?
  • Why am I good at this and not other things?
  • Why do I care about these issues more than others? Why does it matter that this type of issue is addressed?

These questions can help you focus on the things you care about. It’s useful, too, to spend time revisiting your core values to get more clarity on the type of work and opportunities that will be meaningful to you.

Finding a sense of purpose can be difficult. At BetterUp, we help you understand yourself as a Whole Person to discover your purpose and passions and make sustainable changes in your career and your life.

The difference between passion and purpose

It’s clear that purpose and passion can be deeply interconnected. Let’s look at the key differences between passion versus purpose:

1. Passion is for you, purpose is for others

When you find a passion, it’s something you enjoy. It brings you inner peace and happiness. Purpose, on the other hand, is about the long-term goal. It blends what you love with why you’re doing it. For many, this relates to what you can do for others.

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Being socially connected is important, and sharing your passion with your community is even better. Think: what do you have to offer the world, and why does the world need it?

2. Purpose is why you do something; passion is what you do

Passions are about emotions and activities, while purpose is about reasoning. Purpose can also drive your emotions and frame how you respond to situations.

3. You can have multiple passions, but only one purpose

Passions may be short-term or long-term — they can be abandoned, discovered, and rediscovered throughout your life. The purpose is the North star in your decision-making and rooted in your values.

4. You can find them in any order

You might have taken up an activity and felt passionate about it for a week, only to abandon it. If it sticks around, you know it’s a true passion. But if you have a purpose, you’ll probably feel it shifting from one passion to the next — because you’re always working towards a larger goal.

When true purpose meets passion

You might have wondered: what is the best passion in life? But this is a personal question. Everyone has different tastes in food, music, and movies. Everyone walks their own path and has different motivations.

But, as a rule of thumb, worry less about what your passion is and whether or not you have one. Instead, get excited about the process of discovery. The best case is when you discover passions that help you fulfill your purpose. Let’s look at some examples to see how this can work:

Example 1: Your purpose in life is to bring people together and encourage connection. You’re also passionate about cooking food. You might think the obvious way to combine the two is by becoming a chef and opening a restaurant in your community.

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But thinking creatively, there are many other possibilities. You could work in a soup kitchen or with a food bank or a food-security non-profit. You might teach etiquette and cooking classes to young people. You might plan fundraising dinners or manage events in a college or a senior center. 

Example 2: Your purpose is helping people feel good about themselves, and you love talking to people about their problems and offering solutions. You could become a therapist to combine these.

Example 3: Your purpose is sharing knowledge, and your passion is writing. You can become a journalist, professor, or blogger to share your knowledge with many people.

How to connect your purpose to your passion

If you’re not sure of how to connect your purpose to your passion, consider these tips:

  1. Review your journey so far. No matter your life stage, think about what passions you’ve had, and currently have, and whether they share any qualities. You might notice a theme emerge that points you to your purpose. Maybe you learned something from a team member that entirely changed your view of your workplace.
  2. Seek better alignment. After identifying your purpose, take stock of your favorite activities. Are they aligned? If not, you can build new habits that help you find passions that will help you accomplish what you want. This process of discovery can take time, but it’s worth it.
  3. Open yourself up to opportunities. You might be spending too much time involved in activities that don’t reflect your purpose at all. For example, if your job is unfulfilling, it might be time to expand your networks on LinkedIn, develop new skills, and apply to other industries that align with your passions.
  4. Use the skills you have. If you’re already passionate about something, how can you apply it to your purpose? It doesn’t have to be in your workplace, either. Maybe you can create a book club in your community to share your love of reading with others. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to live a meaningful life.

Bringing it all home

Aligning your passions and purpose can seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to be intimidating. Now that you understand how purpose versus passion affects your life, you can bring them together in a meaningful way with a little hard work.

Living your life with greater purpose, passion, and clarity isn’t a one-and-done event. It’s the journey of a lifetime, your lifetime. We can help point you in the right direction and guide you each step of the way.

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Published July 14, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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