By Andy Gold
“Great minds have purposes, others have wishes” – Washington Irving
It is often said that you should pursue your passion in life, and success will come to you. Is this good advice, or are we better off telling people to seek their purpose? Is there really much of a difference between passion and purpose? Webster’s dictionary defines passion as “a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something”, and purpose as “the reason why something is done or used: the aim or intention of something”. For me, passion is what you desire to do, and purpose is the delivery mode for why you do what you do.
When conducting a simple Google search with the phrase “ Is passion important in a career”, this query generated nearly 90 million results. Two varying perspectives on this issue come from Alan Watts, famed philosopher and educator, and Marc Cuban, self made billionaire, entrepreneur, owner of the Dallas mavericks, and shark on the TV show Shark Tank. Watts delivered a talk four decades ago, in which he posited the following questions. What do you desire in life? What would you like to do if money were no object? There are countless websites and video adaptations of this talk, and his lecture has conjured up many disparate responses. On the one hand, people think, how unrealistic was Watts to dream of a world where money is not an issue for people. Others hear the Watts talk and are inspired to think about their true desires in life. I suspect that after listening to this talk, no matter what your feelings about the topic, you will at some point begin to think about these questions. On the other side of the fence is Cuban, who wrote on his blog in 2012:
“I hear it all the time from people. “I’m passionate about it.” “I’m not going to quit, it’s my passion”. I hear it as advice to students and others “Follow your passion”. “Follow Your Passion” is easily the worst advice you could ever give or get. Why? Because everyone is passionate about something. We are born with it. Think about all the things you have been passionate about in your life. Think about all those passions that you considered making a career out of. Why were you not able to make a career or business out of any of those passions? If you have been successful, what was the key to the success? Was it the passion or the effort you put in to your job or company? If you really want to know where you destiny lies, look at where you apply your time…….. Don’t follow your passions, follow your effort”
Finding your purpose is not easy
As I have reflected on the views of Watts and Cuban, it struck me that both are on the same track, but looking at things through different lenses. What they both appear to be speaking about is discovering the crossroad between what your passion(s) in life might be, and how to share those ambitions with others. Purpose is the mechanism that allows us to execute our passion so we may realize a business or societal impact that we desire. Put another way, purpose (the intersection) is a distribution channel for one’s passion(s) in life. Effort (time), as Cuban pointed out will nudge us in the direction of our purpose, and it is through that process that success can best be attained.
In his book titled Start with Why, Simon Sinek framed the golden circle to explain the importance for leaders to start with, and explain why they do what they do, and work outward from the center of the circle (the why), toward how, and what. Sinek pointed out that most people could easily tell you what they do, and how they do it. These are either the passions in people’s lives, or where we spend a disproportionate amount of our time, typically what we do for a living. What separates exceptional leaders from the pack, according to Sinek, is being able to start with why. While I do not consider myself to be an exceptional leader, I do think I know why I do what I do. I think my purpose, my why, is to help make the world a better place. For example, although I am a dad, and passionate about it, being a father is not my purpose in life. However, being a good father (my passion) enables me to accomplish my purpose. I am confident that my two son’s, now young adults, have not only already made the world a better place, but will continue to do so throughout their lives. It just so happens that I am also an entrepreneur and educator, which further allow me to have a positive societal impact.
Confusing passion and purpose is problematic
I believe that many people are unhappy in their lives because they have either 1) lost connectivity with their true purpose, 2) have yet to discover what their purpose is, 3) lack professional passion because they are mired in a job they dislike, or are experiencing some combination of the three. As we increasingly engage with work we dislike (working longer hours than ever before), largely due to economic circumstances, and also allocate time to raising our children, we begin to lose ourselves in our careers and family, we begin to think that those prominent roles in our lives are our passion, and our purpose. When we confuse our passions with purpose, we drift. This is why Watts’s talk and the questions he raised are fun to think about. It allows us to dream, to imagine what our true purpose and desire in life might be. Having passion for what we do is certainly important, and should not be underrated. However, passion is a double-edged sword.
One can be passionate about something that can ultimately connect them with their purpose in life, and great things can happen. I call this achievable passion. Entrepreneurs that have attained success understand that having passion is good, but is not enough, it will never be enough. While passion keeps you going, you need more than that to navigate the challenging waters of entrepreneurship. Passion provides fuel that drives and nudges us in the general direction of our life purpose. However, passion can only get you so far in life. For example, I might be passionate about singing, but I am never going to win the popular television show(s) The Voice or American Idol.
Are you a passion or purpose maximizer?
Because passion is more common, and there is greater supply of it, people attach less value to it. Purpose on the other hand is far scarcer in life, and as a result is worth much more. One of the questions you should be asking yourself is; am I a purpose, or passion maximizer? Cuban, provided some insight to this question. How you spend your time is one way to answer this question. Do you spend a lot of time talking and thinking about what you are passionate about? Or, do you spend a lot of your time thinking about why you do what you do? As Sinek pointed out, in business as in life, the individuals that are able to articulate their purpose, their why, are more able to lead, and as such, achieve greater success in executing their passion.
Telling someone the importance of pursuing passion, on the surface sounds like sage and worthwhile advice, but is it? Passions are very important in life, but purpose is essential. A dispassionate person is still able to function in life, albeit in a miserable way. A person with no purpose ceases to exist at all.