May 11, 2011

Don’t Follow Your Passions

“Follow your passions” is common advice. It’s become so common, it’s hackneyed.

Down on your luck? Follow your passions, it will show you the way. Hate your job? Follow your passions, and do the job you love. What should you do next? Well obviously, follow your passions.

Sounds pretty sane, but what does “follow your passions” really mean. It’s one thing to tell someone whose made it and money is no object to them to follow their passions. But for everyone else, it’s poor advice.

It’s not about your passions. It’s about your purpose.

Let passion energize you

Tim Sanders, author of Love is a Killer App and more recently Today We Are Rich, caught my attention with his comments on purpose and passion in a podcast with Mitch Joel. He railed against people following their passions, and said it was misdirected because passions are self-centered.

Tim describes passion as your energy. He told Mitch, “Passion is very self-oriented. It is an energy. It is an enthusiasm. It is a passing of time.” He then went further by saying, “As we grow up into our adult life, we’ll never be mature until we learn to follow a purpose instead of following passion.”

Bold comments, but very true. It’s hard to stay motivated, progress and achieve something when you are chasing a self-centered idea. A company can never be wildly successful and achieve greatness if it simply exists for profit. Just look at the fate of Enron, WorldCom, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers – companies that put their self-interests above all others.

Rather than following your passion, let your passion energize you. When you are passionate about what you’re doing, it makes all the difference in the world. Passion will give you the motivation and energy to stick to your purpose through thick and thin.

Strive for something bigger than yourself

When you think of incredible brands, brands you admire and brands that stand out in their categories, they all have one thing in common: they are far greater than simply the products and services they sell. They have an extra quality that enables them to push the envelope, innovate and bring exceptional value to their customers. That extra quality is their purpose. They have a purpose beyond simply making a profit, or chasing self-centered notion like being a “market leader.”

Tim suggests, “Purpose is a mission that is driven towards something greater than yourself.” That’s an elegant way of describing purpose. It’s not about you. It’s about everyone else, and the impact you can have on them and with them.

Purpose insulates you

The greatest value of pursuing a purpose greater than yourself is it insulates you and your team from negativity. Passions are personal, but purpose is not.

When you follow your passions, you know it’s all about you. So it’s hard not to take criticism and competition personally. When you see someone else following the same passion and they’re kicking your butt, it’s hard to stem the tide of self-doubt and resentment.

Purpose on the other hand doesn’t face that problem. When you work for something greater than yourself, you don’t doubt yourself. You don’t worry that someone else might be succeeding or kicking your butt. You care about the purpose. You care about what you can bring to others, and how you can achieve your purpose. That focus is incredibly powerful.

The next time you catch yourself saying, “Just follow your passions,” stop. Instead ask, “What’s your purpose? What are you striving for?”

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