What Comes First: Passion or Purpose?

Should I pursue what pays well or what I’m passionate about? Where do I see myself in ten years? How do I create a career out of doing what I love?

These three questions have the power to strike fear in people of all stages in life. We fear these questions because we don’t have an answer. You might be unhappy or feeling stuck—like you’re unable to advance in your current role. On one hand, you need to pay your bills and take steps forward in your career to support your family. On the other hand, you feel the weight of the years ahead, personal fulfillment, and doing something that matters. Ultimately, you’re scared to look back on your life and have regrets.

Zack Ballinger, a motivational speaker and author, covers the topic of career development and finding your passion in a TED Talk I recently came across: “I talked to a college student the other day who wanted to be a dentist. I asked him, ‘Why do you want to be a dentist?’ He said, ‘because my parents want me to be a dentist, but I don’t really want to be.’ Then I talked to an older lady who had been working at the same job for twenty years, punching a time clock, and dreading Monday. These people are what I call Work Life Zombies. They haven’t discovered their true passion and purpose in life. And what that simply means is that you find your strengths, your abilities, your innate gifts, and you take those, you work on those, you harvest them, and you turn that into a career.”

The line between passion and purpose often gets blurred. Most people use these terms interchangeably. In reality, your passion and purpose are two very different things—when combined, however, they create something worthwhile. Passion is about emotional fulfillment, i.e. “do what you love.” Purpose is the “why” behind what we do, i.e. “what can I contribute to others?” The key is when you find a way to align your purpose and your passion.

If you’re passionate about the contributions you make to the world, that’s when you’re most dedicated. Most commencement speakers at college graduations stand up on the podium to say: follow your passion. Do what you love and the rest will fall into place. The reason why this advice is too narrow is because passion is all about you. It’s a selfish pursuit that’s driven by emotion. If your career is driven solely by passion, you’re only asking the world what it can give you in return. Passion is only one component. On the opposite end, we have purpose. Purpose asks, “what contributions can you give to the world, and what can you provide for others?” What Ballinger and many other career consultants suggest is to find your purpose before pursuing your passion. Do what contributes and find out what you’re uniquely qualified to do for others. Once you figure out what gives you purpose, find something you’re passionate about that satisfies that purpose. Now you’re combining the two.

Working in public relations, there’s a never-ending supply of new challenges to be solved, projects to start, and technologies to utilize. No workday is the same. There are also so many opportunities for creative thinking, writing, and developing relationships. It’s exciting to brainstorm ideas then see those ideas come to life. These are just a few things PR professionals love about what they do, i.e. the passion. The contribution to the world, however, is different. A large portion of PR is serving the needs of clients and building a sense of community by connecting different industries and audiences. This is the “why,” i.e. the purpose.

Discovering what your purpose is in a career path is something many people struggle with, especially when just starting off. Hone in on what makes you unique and start there. Everyone has a purpose, it’s just a matter of discovering what that is.

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at Oct 19, 2022

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