Finding your purpose, aka why am I here and what am I meant to do in this life is a perplexing question, especially if you’re not sure how to use your talents and skills. These days the answer most frequently given is “follow your passion”. But what does that really mean and how does one do that? Can you follow your passion and pay the bills? As a career changer and tax paying citizen, I have some experience on this subject and have guided a few people on their journeys of career choices.

Whether you are a newly minted university grad or a mid stream working adult you face many of the same dilemmas. You are likely carrying debt and you would prefer not to return home to live in your parent’s basement.

Where does passion fit with purpose?

Let’s take a moment and consider what passion really means, because I think if we are going to keep getting buffeted by this term, it’s best if we are all on the same page. And frankly, I’m not even sure it’s a term worthy of being used in the context of our work lives. The definition of passion is a “powerful or compelling emotion or feeling.” That’s strong language and a little daunting if we are trying to choose our “perfect” career. Powerful? Compelling? Hmmm.

Instead of passion, perhaps interest. There are some things that we have a greater ability to do than others and often, when we engage in those things, we find the time goes by quickly. In creative terms, this is known as flow. When I am really engaged I lose track of time, “awaken” to feeling hungry and realize that lunch was a few hours ago. That’s what I think many people are searching for. Being in the zone of doing what they love.

When we are working and engaged in what interests us, then work is quite enjoyable. If we are not and consistently not, work becomes, well, work.

Interests are the stepping stones of purpose

Our satisfaction and enjoyment of our careers increases if we start with our interests, but they aren’t always perfectly laid out. In fact, we may find ourselves trying out different jobs, each using only a portion of our interests. Since few of us finish our work lives where we started, it is helpful to think of each interest as part of the discovery process. Stepping stones if you will.  The better we understand which skills and interests energize us, the more informed our choices of which to pursue. No job will allow us to only use the skills we most enjoy. But, when they are more heavily balanced in that direction, we will find our working lives much happier.

As a side note, sometimes opportunities exist within your workplace to offer those skills to a project, team member or committee. That way you get to know more people, be seen in a different light and open new possibilities for yourself.

Values and vision in creating purpose

The push for the purpose and passion message can be stressful because it’s almost the same as the one about finding your soulmate. The idea that your perfect one awaits you, out there, you just have to find them. But what if there are several soulmates? Or several right careers and your job is to find out which one suits you now?

When we are considering our purpose, we are desperately (sometimes) trying to put together all our “passions” and tie a lovely bow around them. Then say – ah ha! Here’s my purpose. I don’t think it is that simple, nor should it be.

If you are trying to create a life of meaning I recommend that you start by setting out your values.

What if, instead of purpose or passion, you chose a vision of what your life might look like? That method frees you up to consider what is important to you, another way of saying values. Then, construct a vision around those values. This is likely to bring you round to your interests.

Excluding values from the plan is a bit like building a house without windows. How will you interact with the world if you’ve given yourself no way to see either out to it, or into yourself?

It’s possible that you may have considered the values conversation a religious one, but it’s not. Integral to deciding how to build our lives, they are guidelines. What will we will say yes or no to. They help us craft our behaviours,  the people we want around us, and the activities we seek out. They really are the decision-making bedrock.

The emotion of decisions guiding you on your path of purpose

Remember, this isn’t a personality test. Values are how you choose to be in the world, your guiding principles.  Not your friend’s, or your partner’s or your career idol. Yours. It’s where the phrase – “to thine own self be true” comes from. Values, baby, values.

If you need some help in defining those, here is a link to a list of values by James Clear, a blogger I follow. Having any trouble figuring out which ones to choose? Think about recent decisions you have made and see which of these values match up. This is the place to put emotion. Which decisions created a sense of happiness, of pride and of self-fulfillment?

I know it is perplexing when you are deciding what is next, and if you find yourself looking for someone who has been there, more than a time or two, feel free to reach out to me via the contact form. I offer a quick and free! 20-minute consult if you need someone to hash things out with.

Here’s to you and your journey of values, vision and ultimately your purpose. No doubt there will be some passion in there too, but that’s another conversation.

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