Pick Purpose Over Passion

Written by | @stickybranding

Following your passions is terrible advice
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I asked a job seeker, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He replied, “Passionate!”

I did everything in my power not to laugh out loud.

Passion is overrated. You don’t find it. You earn it, nurture it, and grow into it. But for some reason people are being told to “follow their passions.” It’s terrible advice!

I’ve been interviewing to hire a marketing manager for Sticky Branding, and kissing the proverbial frogs to find my prince. I found her: her name is Sarah.

It’s been a while since I hired for myself, and I found the process fascinating. Again and again I heard candidates talk about their desire to be passionate about their work. Sadly, it wasn’t a positive story.

One candidate started out with a strong career. After graduating university, he joined a national retailer and achieved some real, tangible accomplishments. But then he quit. “I wasn’t passionate about the job,” he said. He then remained unemployed for the next two years.

He didn’t have a good answer when I pressed him on what he did for two years of unemployment. He basically did nothing in search of his passions.

If this was a one-off incident I wouldn’t think anything of it, but I interviewed three candidates all with very similar stories. They worked for a minute, didn’t like it, quit, and waited for their passions to arrive.

Maybe I am getting old, but their stories got under my skin. Who sits at home waiting to get passionate?

Tim Sanders, author of Love Is a Killer App, describes passion as energy. He explains, “Passion is very self-oriented. It is an energy. It is an enthusiasm. It is a passing of time.” He then states, “As we grow up into our adult life, we’ll never be mature until we learn to follow a purpose instead of following passion.”

That’s the disconnect. It’s not about your passions. It’s about your purpose.

As leaders, we are the creators of purpose. It is part of your brand. In defining a strategy for your business and brand, you are defining a purpose for you and your team.

For instance, answering “What do you want?” with the three positioning questions will lead you to your brand’s purpose:

  • What do you want?
  • Where do you play?
  • How do you win?
  • How do you want to be known?

A strong brand can help fill that void people feel with “lack of passion.” Your brand’s purpose can substitute a personal one. It gives them something to work towards that’s greater than themselves.

Purpose provides people the fortitude to do hard work. They can do stuff they’re not passionate about, because they have a higher calling. And that purpose will also help them discover their passions.

Angela Duckworth writes in Grit, “What most of us think when we think of passion is a sudden, all-at-once discovery… But a first encounter with what might eventually lead to a lifelong passion is exactly that—just the opening scene in a much longer, less dramatic narrative.”

This distinction between purpose and passion is important for leaders. You nurture passion from your people, not by standing up cheering and trying to get them to drink the corporate kool-aid. You unleash their passions with purpose, and helping them discover what they do is valued and really matters.

As much as this is about strategy and branding, it’s also about how you manage and lead. Your people need to understand that the work they’re doing matters. Are you giving them that understanding and connection so they can give you their very best too?