Creating Purpose: Shifting the Conversation from YOU to OTHERS

“Follow your passion”

Often times it is something small and idle that triggers the big questions. Today I felt the world bombed me with these three words to inevitably get me to think.

How many of you have ever considered quitting your job to pursue your passion? Especially when you are miserable at work?

Every now and then, one gets the feeling of being in a role and an environment that are not a good fit. It is easy then to get tempted to believe that if you just quit and follow your passion, you will be happy.

Problem is then for many, that you actually don’t know whether what you think is your passion is just a hobby or it could be a real career.

Personally, as I don’t have children, or something larger than myself that I can dedicate my time to, the idea to stop working all together and not have a career at all (or at least a solid project to follow through) makes me feel guilty for my very existence. Looking back, I am glad I didn’t just quit the miserable job. Instead, I worked on a transition plan and focused on finding a purpose where my passion and skills could be put to use to help fill a need in this world.

No clapping yet. I think I am getting close to something but as most in my generation, I am still trying to figure it out. My level of generosity and maturity is nowhere close to where others’ is.

It’s not about Passion, it is about Purpose

People are often mistaken in the belief that in order to be happy, they need to pursue their “passion.” This belief is further reinforced by our millennial generation entering the workforce today , who proselytize to pursue our passion (I oftentimes consider myself a millennial although truth to be told I think I might be squeezed between them and whatever was there before).

There also seems to be a clear distinction between what constitute “non-passionate” careers—businessmen, lawyers, bankers—and “passionate” careers—teachers, writers, artists. And here we can go again to the discussion of Gender, being a woman in a “non-passionate” career path, or being a man in a “passionate” career can get tricky, not only in the workplace but also in the general societal perception someone not in the norm gets.

As young or as old as you want to consider me to be, I have learned I can safely laugh at any of these prejudices even if I sometimes confirm them.

I believe this type of thinking is flawed because time and again, it has been shown that in order to be happy, both men and women need to have a purpose in life. There is a difference between having a purpose and a passion or hobby as I am lately coming to conclude in great detail. For example, just because someone likes writing, it does not necessarily mean he/she will make a successful career as a published author.

Instead of confusing passion, hobby and career, I suggest people focus on finding a purpose—finding ways to leverage your passion and skills to fill a need in the world. Notice that I chose my words carefully—fill a need, not solve a problem (!). Filling a need means working towards something that is useful for others, which may or may not solve their problems in the strictest sense.

For example, Facebook fills people’s need to be connected and entertained, which makes them happy, even though it may or may not solve their problems and bring them or not some others. Finding a solution to climate change fills a need for others and solves one of the world’s biggest problems. Thus, filling a need can run the gamut from creating useful apps for the iPhone to solving the world’s biggest problems such as poverty, education, health care, climate change, sustainability, et cetera.

Looking at the Best Reward and Getting It

Something important I learnt from 8 years working in the professional non for profit sector (AIESEC) is that people who are working hard to fill a need and solve the biggest problems are often compensated in the biggest ways, not just in financial terms, but also in terms of human satisfaction.

Filling a need shifts the focus from you to others. It shifts the conversation from what you like to do (having a passion or hobby) to how you can be a valuable contributor in helping society fills its needs (having a purpose). This paradigm shift in thinking is quite empowering as it shifts the frame of reference from the self to how we can help others. People become less self-absorbed and ironically, more likely to be genuinely happy. Don’t you sometimes find that you’re happiest when you don’t think too much about how to become happy?

The good news is that there are a lot of big needs in this world to fill. Each of us has the unique skills to fill some subsets of these biggest needs. Which ones resonate with you?

In my personal opinion (considering that I am usually as life confused as the next one) there are a few things you can do to try to figure this out:

1- Broaden your horizon and network with others who may be working to fill a need and solve big problems.

2- Look to fill a need or solve problems with which you can personally identify.

3- Develop emotional maturity to realize that the world does not revolve around you.

We don’t find true happiness by focusing on ourselves, but we do by connecting with and helping others.

True happiness comes from the intersection of doing what we love, what we’re good at, and what the world needs. The easiest is to focus on the first, try to combine it with the second and most importantly, the last.


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Filed under Health, Leadership, Personal Discovery

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