“Follow your passion” is oft-repeated advice for individuals trying to find a career that will lead them to senses of thriving and fulfillment. While the recommendation at face value seems prudent, what’s missing are a unified understanding of what actually comprises a passion, an appreciation for the connection between purpose, passion and performance, and an understanding of how passion gets expressed in a unique and individual way.
Too often, passion is looked upon as equivalent to a loved hobby, a favored pastime or a sport that one finds consuming, but it is so much more. Rather than thinking of passion as an enjoyable activity, understand it as the outward expression of the deeper purpose that drives you. It’s the manifestation of purpose into actionable form.
I have described in previous articles 10 distinct passion archetypes that exist in everyone. Understanding your three drivers is essential to appreciating the nuances of your purpose and how it informs your navigation of career and personal situations in search of an outlet for the passions that purpose births.
In short, the advice to pursue your passion is equivalent to being encouraged to express your purpose. The two are intimately intertwined like the strands of the DNA double helix. The value of appreciating this connection cannot be overstated as you navigate your career and encounter forks in the road.
Purpose, passion and performance
Purpose, the substrate from which your passions are created, is an important factor in your success at work, a fact that is true even if you don’t feel that you can accurately describe your purpose at this moment. To better understand it, look to the things that have captured your imagination or curiosity. Think back to the qualities of assignments that you’ve found most fulfilling.
What are the common threads that you see? What passions were you exhibiting at those times? Using your passions as a compass to better understand your purpose allows you to leverage them for future success.
Doing so is important because research shows that purpose is what allows us to exhibit perseverance or grit — the willingness to move forward despite difficulties or setbacks, the determination to commit ourselves to a goal. When we are firmly operating within the zone of our purpose, the passions we express are the visible demonstration of our deepest beliefs about the role we are meant to play in the world.
Collectively, purpose and passion provide the fuel we need to pursue our goals, professional and personal, even when the path to achieving them isn’t easy.
The relationship between perseverance and success was highlighted in “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” by Angela Duckworth. Since the book was published, a meta-analysis of numerous studies has shown that professional success is linked to perseverance (a set of behaviors that is motivated by purpose) and influenced by the degree to which passions have an outlet As shown in the graph below, as perseverance and passion outlets increase, the level of our job performance rises in response.
These data suggest that ongoing success at work in part depends upon your ability to identify and apply passions and experience a connection between your purpose and your job role, factors that spark the perseverance necessary for optimal performance.
How passion gets expressed
Will people with the same passions express them in the same way? Not necessarily. Passions emanate from purpose, but purpose itself can take many forms, so two people with the same passion archetypes may exhibit those passions quite differently.
It is best to think of the demonstration of passions as a continuum, with varying degrees of emphasis based on a person’s purpose. Consider for example Jason and Natalie, two people I’ve worked with recently who have the same passion archetypes of Builder, Transformer and Teacher. They each demonstrate their passions uniquely, as influenced by their individual purpose.
Jason’s feels strongly that his deep underlying purpose is to gather knowledge and help shape the world by sharing knowledge with others. As a consequence, the primary archetype he exhibits and feels aligned with is his Teacher passion. In essence, Teacher is the driver for Jason’s expression of purpose, while Builder and Transformer play a supportive role.
Though Jason enjoys projects that allow him to build or change systems or structures, he is most excited about fostering knowledge transfer and learning through what he builds or transforms. Jason describes his Teacher passion as the one “driving the bus,” while his Builder and Transformer “help direct the traffic.”
Natalie, by comparison, is fueled by goal achievement. The more challenging the goal, the more exciting she finds the pursuit of it, and those goals are not limited to a particular category or functional specialty. For Natalie, having the autonomy to pursue goals and is like being a kid with the keys to a candy store, as she resonates most closely with her Builder passion archetype.
Through that passion, Natalie easily envisions how to make her goals a reality and relentlessly works to remove obstacles standing between her and success. Once she has achieved a goal, the Transformer in Natalie allows her to remain engaged with it and seek ways to perfect what she has built. Yet, Natalie uses her Teacher passion to help others learn what they need to master in order to contribute to achieving the goal.
Unlike Jason, for Natalie, learning is a tool to be used to achieve goals, rather than the end goal itself.
Regardless of your profession or job level, identifying a connection between your work and your purpose allows you to redefine what it means to be in the role you’re in. It empowers you to recast your view of work and see it as a playground for expressing your passions as you pursue goals. Leveraging the connection between purpose and passion transforms work from a job you are paid to accomplish into a lifestyle you are privileged to lead.
Alaina Love is CEO of Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (McGraw-Hill). She is a recovering HR executive, a global speaker and leadership expert, and passionate about everything having to do with, well … passion. Her passion archetypes are Builder, Transformer and Healer. You can learn more about how to grow leaders, build passionate teams and leverage passion to create great customer outcomes here.
When she’s not working with her Fortune 500 client base, Love is busy writing her next book, “Passionality, The Art and Science of Finding Your Passion and Living Your Bliss,” which explores the alignment of personality, purpose and passion, and the science of how it contributes to our well being. Follow Love on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or her blog.