From The






From The


Purpose Over Passion

We are inundated with messages to “follow our passion” all the time. And if you don’t have one, you better find one. I can’t tell you how many of my friends won’t hold down a job because their entry-level position isn’t their “calling”. To be fair, I’m one to talk. One of my core values in life is meaningful work. What this means for me is that I want my job to have significance and purpose in the world – it’s important for me to know that I’ve made a difference. With a definition like that, most of my work history would not be considered “meaningful”.

I’ve worked in restaurants since I was in high school and the most common question I was asked by customers was, “What do you want to do with your life?” I know everyone reading this has been asked that question at least once! While I could always provide an answer that was satisfying, it made me feel as if I shouldn’t be happy with where I was currently in life, as if I had a long way to go, as if waiting tables wasn’t enough. Why not?

I stumbled across this diagram on Pinterest and I don’t know who originally drafted it, but I think they were really onto something:

What this model shows us is that passion is not synonymous with purpose. It reduces passion to something that you love and are good at – two pursuits that, alone, feel selfish and privileged. Our purpose, on the other hand, asks us to also meet the needs of the world while being practical. So, sure, waiting tables might not have been my “passion” but I was certainly able to find purpose in that work. I liked the people I worked with, I enjoyed making guests happy, I was good at my job, and it gave me the stability I needed to get through school.   

So, where does meaningful work really come from? We (myself included) have these assumptions that it has to come from the organization itself, that it must be a part of the design, the culture, and the impact. What we neglect to recognize is that meaningful work can also come from us, as individuals- we have the power to bring our own sense of purpose to whatever work it is that we are doing. And we should!

I read this provocative article that challenges the all-too-common advice of “Just find your passion”. Two Stanford professors argue that this dreamy mindset encourages us to give up on interests or fields that “feel like work”. Through their research, they affirm that our passions aren’t “found” they are developed.

It may seem like a small change in language but it’s truly significant in its meaning and impact. If we spend our lives trying to find our passion, then we are guaranteed to spend a lot of our time disappointed and dissatisfied until we miraculously stumble upon our inspiration (if we do at all). But, if we can develop our passions, that means that we can grow with them, that they are allowed to change, that they can and should align with the things we are good at, the things the world needs, and things we can get paid for. And in all of these ways, we fulfill our purpose. Then, meaningful work becomes less of a wild and aimless discovery and more of a process of building skills, networks, interests, and talents over time. More importantly, it illustrates that this happens by living our lives and taking advantage of opportunities that come our way.

With that in mind, here is some “unconventional” advice on how to live a life of purpose:

  • Be assured that there is no one thing that you are “supposed” to do
  • All of us are multipotentialites – meaning we will have many interests, talents, and abilities through our lives
  • Don’t turn down opportunities because you are waiting for the “one”
  • Remember that any job, no matter how much you love it, still takes work
  • Stop asking people what they want to be and start asking who they want to be   
  • Minimize the influence of others expectations, and/or check your own assumptions of their expectations
  • Use the Venn Diagram to evaluate your present – do you have balance and alignment? If not, what intentional choices can you make to change that?
  • Redefine success for yourself. Create a personal vision statement that can help remind you of the big picture.

While “find your passion” is intended to motivate, the pressure we put on ourselves to find that passion is often paralyzing. And what a sad thing, that in the search for something meant to inspire us, we become so haunted by the idea. But, if we can move away from this static concept of passion and instead towards a more flexible and complex pursuit of purpose then we may actually lead fulfilling presents instead of just hoping for promising futures.

*Leadership Lesson*

This TedTalk is incredible – here are some of my favorite quotes to discuss:

“Passion is not a plan, it’s a feeling and feelings change”

“You don’t create your life first and then live it. You create it by living it”

“Success fueled passion, more than passion fueled success”

“Passion is not a job, a sport, or a hobby. It is the full force of your attention and energy that you give to whatever is right in front of you”

“If you are so busy looking for this passion, you could miss opportunities that change your life”

*Meet the Author*

Caelan Cooney is another Millennial who wants ‘to make an impact’, a self-proclaimed movie critic, avid explorer, lifelong learner, and Chapman University graduate.