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Don't follow your passion. Find your purpose.

July 20, 2021

Now isn't that a strange question? Take either one of these and tell someone "follow your passion" or "follow your purpose" and they both sound like good ideas, and also kind of the same thing. But they are not.Why are we interrupting your holiday with this? Because somewhere, someone in our network is reading this and struggling with change. Working in a job that is unfulfilling, putting up with an environment that is out of alignment with your personal values, and just generally aware that there is more out there. Is it too late? How do you make the leap? But what about the mortgage?This article is not going to answer those questions, because you already know the answers anyway, but what we do want to do is to take a look at these two concepts, often talked about in education, and what they might mean for your life.

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Find your passion, but don't follow it

First hit on Google takes us to Oxford Languages, which gives us the following definition for passion: "strong and barely controllable emotion." We have heard educators say for years that we have to help young people uncover their passion in life, which sounds great, but when we start telling them to follow it, things can get messy.Why? Because of the dictionary definition. Following something that is barely controllable is a recipe for disaster, but the bit that concerns us more is that it is, after all, an emotional state. Emotions change, ebb and flow. They are temporary states which we experience and which can provoke strong reactions. When we say things "in the heat of the moment", they are things we often regret, and that is because we were held captive by a strong emotional state. Making decisions in this mode does not always lead to desired outcomes.Since 1990, the term "follow your passion" has increased almost tenfold in use. It appears on pithy tees shirts, tea towels, wall art and seems to send people into a dreamy state with glazed eyes as they wait for that magical moment. This is it! I found it! The trouble with that is, that it has made its way off the tee shirts and into classrooms, where workshops and seminars are held on finding that most elusive of joys.And that's it. Passion is not just elusive, but transitory. What you are passionate about changes. We may be passionate about playing a sport or creating collages, but that can change. We are often passionate about things that relate to our experience in life so far, so while we may have encountered something and developed a passion for it, this does not mean it is the thing we should follow throughout life.Research by Carole Dweck, who you might know from her work on the growth mindset, suggests that passions can be developed, and built over time. The idea that they are just in there, lingering and longing to be discovered and let down from their Rapunzelian tower, is just not supported by neuroscience.Passion is amazing. passion makes us feel alive, and passion connects us to the present moment with the joy of being. But passion alone does not cut it. Rather than turn to a tee short slogan for life advice, let's check in with the Buddhists, who know a thing or two about this stuff."An unreflective mind is a poor roof. Passion, like the rain, floods the house. But if the roof is strong, there is shelter." Gautama BuddhaThat roof is purpose.

Purpose and Ikigai

Sorry, did we throw another new term in there? We were just overcome with passion and not thinking straight. Purpose and Ikigai are essentially the same thing, but Ikigai has a structure around it that really helps us to understand what it is and how we might recognize it. Essentially, it is a Japanese concept that encapsulates your direction, or purpose in life.Ikigai is frequently misunderstood in western industrialized nations, where people often come to the wrong conclusion that one of thegoalsĀ of our life direction is making money. As The Ikigai Tribe coaches tell us, "the concept is closer to self-actualization with an understanding that the sum of small joys in everyday life results in a more fulfilling life as a whole". Nonetheless, if we understand that making money is not a goal, but is essentially a natural byproduct of doing something you love, the westernized Venn representation is still useful. Have a look:

find your purpose

Interesting, isn't it`? We see here how passion sits, and how it could just as easily be something you adore, but which nobody else needs and nobody else will pay you for. That's fine for the trustafarians but for the rest of us, it won't pay the mortgage.The Stoics take it pretty far when they say that passion is suffering, but we take the point. Passion on its own is just not enough. Purpose is what drives you, and sees you through the setbacks, building resilience around something enduring while passion gutters out and rekindles anew on different fuel. Passion is about the I, the ego, whereas purpose is about something bigger than ourselves.And here's the thing. Passion can be built around purpose. When you develop an understanding of what your life is for, and what you want to dedicate it to, the passion to follow it can be constructed in new and florid networks of neural fire, which will burn bright through whatever life throws at you. The point is, that the magic happens when purpose and passion work together.

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Finding your purpose

Ok here goes. Look, purpose isn't sexy compared to passion, so let's just get that out of the way first. Passion isform where purpose isfunction. See? Distinctly unsexy. the stoics would approve.But function implies a process, and that means purpose can be built. Leave passion alone for the dreamers, for regret does produce beautiful poetry so at least something comes from it. PurposecanĀ strike you one day like a bolt from the blue, but that is exceedingly rare. The wandering mendicant who finds purpose at the edge of deprivation after days wandering in the desert is a tale that stands out for a reason- it is an exception to the rule.Building purpose means deliberately investing what you do with a sense of meaning, for a start. If you work in a bar, you can be grumpy and impatient, or you can smile, ask after the health and happiness of your customers, and build a sense of purpose from service to others. That may blossom into other things, but you never know until you try. Seriously, instead of waiting for meaning to strike you, try to find it first in what you already do.The next thing to understand is that purpose is not one thing. You can have many purposes in life, for they are simply things from which your life derives meaning. Helping others, inspiring young people, whatever it is, it can be pluralistic.So go build them. Try new things, speak to new people, get outside the routine of your current life and broaden out to take new routes, even if those deviations are small. Look for meaning, regardless of what others might think, because purpose is personal. What do you have to give, and what does the world need? Stripping back the layers of your activities and actions to find where the joy and sense of alignment is, and then building on that.And reflect, always. Nothing burdens the conscious mind like routine. Moving from one task to the next as a recruitment agent can feel automatic, but reflecting on the fact that you are helping young people find their future pathways to become the best versions of themselves....that will put your heart in the job, and maybe a bit of passion too.

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