Why Passion Isn’t Enough: The Case for Purpose, Perseverance and Proactivity

Uncategorized Apr 23, 2021

A recent Entrepreneur's Handbook article, quoted researchers from Harvard who tossed cold water on the idea that we need to be passionate about what we do in order to be successful.

As passion is part of my business title (POP stands for the Power of Passion, and Purpose and Personality), this caught my attention.

Poo-pooing passion is not new. Lots of commentators believe that passion is not just over-rated, but over-weighted.

Alan Trapulionis, the author of the article, defines both passion and purpose in this way:

“Passion is when you’re excited to see a new episode of your favourite show.

Passion is when you’re getting goosebumps listening to a song.

Passion is when you’re doing things for the sake of doing them.

Purpose is the opposite of that.

Purpose is when you’re *not* eating that box of doughnuts because you want to look good after the pandemic is over.

Purpose is when you’re so anxious you’re going to be sick, but you still get on that decisive video call.

Purpose is when you’re doing things you sincerely hate — because you have a good reason to.”

What do you think of his definition?

I don't entirely agree with it.

I’ve talked about how when you feel compelled to do things, you’re tapping into your strengths. I think that feeling of compulsion is also a clue to what you’re passionate about too. And I believe that when you combine your strengths, passions and your values, you find your purpose.

So, do you have to be passionate about your job? 

The answer is ‘no’. And yes, I understand why you might be surprised by my answer.

To live a fulfilling life, I believe it’s important to make sure you do things that make you happy, that bring you joy. That doesn’t mean  just passive things like listening to music or watching your favourite TV show, as Trapulionis suggests. You need to actively, proactively, pursue things that fulfil you. 

For me, that’s writing. I write for fun and for a variety of news outlets. To be honest, I earn probably less than a thousand dollars a year from it. Clearly, I do it because writing is my passion. It fulfils me. In fact, I’m now paying to learn how to write in a more literary style, pursuing a Master of Creative Writing at Massey University. I love it, despite how challenging it can sometimes be. 

I also write for a living, helping people craft cover letters and LinkedIn profiles, or even scripts for job interviews and sales conversations. What I learn from writing for fun improves the writing I do for work. I can’t say I’m passionate about crafting emails in the way that I am about writing creative essays. But it’s drawing on the same strength. It also fuels one of my core values: helping people learn how to value what they have to offer and lead lives full of passion and purpose. This is where my strength/passion/value overlap comes in. 

When I mentor clients looking to re-engage with their careers, or find new jobs, I encourage them to look for any area of that strength/passion/value overlap. No job can match all of them. However, if you can find one area of strong overlap, you’re doing well.

I think this is what the author meant to point out when he cited a researcher who suggested seeking ”work that gives you a sense of purpose not [necessarily] joy”. Indeed, that researcher, Jon M. Jachimowicz, discovered that the people he studied quit projects after nine months if they took jobs just for joy.

The focus of the article is really about what makes you successful. It's about earning a pay check. You get a pay check for doing the parts of your job you don’t love. Otherwise, you’d likely work for far less! That's what I call pursuing a “passion project”. (Like my writing).

The author also warns that studies suggest: “People who believe that passion is “found” and not “developed” are less likely to explore new topics and areas, which is a crucial trait of successful entrepreneurs”.

One of my favourite anonymous quotes is: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself”. I’ve discovered, through my own life and through working with clients, that you can both find and develop passion. My passion for writing was clear from the time I was a little kid. Other people have to live several decades before they discover what lights them up inside. But yes, you do have to build on and develop your passion...extend it into areas of opportunity in order to be successful pursuing it. 

And in order to be successful, the article suggests, you need more than just passion. I agree with this as I know from experience that “passion combined with perseverance and grit is a good predictor of job performance”. That's what took me to a top 10 market in the news. I worked every holiday, and every job in the newsroom in order to get there. 

As for the idea that “passion fades over time”, I’ve noticed that can happen when our values shift, according to what stage we’ve reached in life. For example, I was far less passionate about being a TV News journalist when my boys started school because I rarely got to see my family during the work week. I also didn’t like the direction that TV News seemed to be headed at that time. 

So I pivoted.

Telling stories remains my passion and is central to my current work. Now, I tell client stories. And write my own stories just for fun.

At the end of Trapulionis' article, there’s a great reference to  the German word for passion: "Leidenschaft", which the author points out "literally translates to ‘the ability to hardship’.”

It does require hard graft at times to grow that passion into something you’ll be successful doing. Hopefully it doesn’t feel too much like work if you love it. But sometimes it can. That’s just life. 

To those whose priority is to make a living above all else (and I've been there), I always advise to “do something each day that brings you joy”. This doesn’t have to be expensive. Or time-consuming. It can mean listening to a podcast on a topic that you are passionate about while you do the dishes. The point is to remind yourself to be proactive about finding ways to keep your passion alive.

Because when you lose connection to your passion entirely, you lose your sense of purpose. 

 (Photo courtesy: Randalyn Hill at Unsplash.com)







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