Passion Vs. Purpose — One Will Get You A Lot Closer To Where You Want To Be


I was sitting for drinks at a small cocktail bar in New York City with my boss in the communications department at the startup I was interning at. My internship had ended, and I was heading back to Austin, Texas.

This was almost a year ago and I was decently naive, impressionable, and full of “zest.” Something I could feel, and the word had even been used as a way to describe me on a few occasions. I thought this was a good trait. I thought this would get me closer to my goals, to success. I wanted to be successful.

I looked up to the CEO of the company — the great work and vision he was able to express — and even the long hours he put in to see his vision through seemed like something admirable. Something I should replicate.

I was fascinated with Conor McGregor — how this mixed martial artist was able to turn his visions and ideas into reality. How he seemingly geared his mind, thoughts and thinking patterns towards success.

“How do you define success?,” my boss shot back at me from the other side of the table. “What does that even mean?” he asked.

I didn’t have a good answer. I still don’t have a good answer. But, let’s figure it out.

Are You Chasing Passion Or Purpose?

I have a lot of young friends, aspiring musicians, writers, businessmen, and others across different fields. I’ve heard a lot of them speak of success as if it’s a destination on a map. Somewhere that can be found and conquered, like we’re walking to New York City from California, simply a matter of getting there, versus the question of why we’re going anyway, and why on Earth we decided walking was the best form of transportation.

Are we just being passionate about these dreams, aspirations, and ideas of success that we’ve mapped out for ourselves? Or are we chasing purpose? Hopefully the latter. Passion is defined as “a strong and barely controllable emotion.” This doesn’t sound like a stable or useful metric to base our pursuits on. Whether that’s life, career, or “success.”

On the other hand, purpose is defined as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.” This is a lot more concrete, a better launching pad.

In Ryan Holiday’s book, “Ego is the Enemy,” he warns against passion. Passion is for the amateurs he says, and continues with, “passion is seen in those who can tell you in great detail who they intend to become and what their success will be like.” Though they haven’t gotten there, and might not even be on the right track.

Ouch. That’s a rude awakening. Not the nicest of reality checks. How many of our peers have you heard that have already mapped out what future success will be achieved and what it will look like?

Holiday continues to say that passion is form over function, where purpose is function. “It’d be far better if you were intimidated by what lies ahead — humbled by its magnitude and determined to see it through regardless,” he says. Holiday’s take essentially says that passion does not have direction or reason, where purpose does.

Zeal can be ambitious, but delusional. Naive and unaware of the reality of our own skills sets, or the time, effort, even the process or road to get to the broad and ambiguous goals we set out for. Or in this case, the broad, ambiguous, and definition-less concept of “success” that many of us strive to accomplish.

Purpose isn’t flustered by a failure, or sensitive to the criticism of our peers or superiors. Purpose does not stop if our results don’t go according to plan during the first fifteen tries. Purpose doesn’t stop if we mapped out this exact role for ourselves and then fail to obtain it.

Passion stops. Passion loses interest and is defeated.

What is really driving you? What is the real motivation and where do you want it to take you? Are chasing this because you are proud and excited by this work? Or do you simply want to be impressive and well received by the world?

Realism and detachment are necessary. You have to be objective about how good you are, where you’re going and even detached from the outcome at times, because if you don’t see the results soon enough, you don’t want to be flustered by that.

So, Now What?

Yeah, it’s hard. I get it. I’ve been there. Oh wait, I’m literally there right now. And this isn’t meant as a knock on anyone, but more a reminder to all of us, and especially to myself.

We’re young. The world is full of possibilities. And it seems (sometimes is) limitless. Our idols, thought-leaders, world renowned business owners, artists, creatives, and cultural icons, are all visible and present to us on social media. They’re one click away. With this sort of access, it almost seems like we can be what they are and what they’ve accomplished just as easily.

And maybe we can. Maybe you do have what it takes to be the best singer-songwriter in your city. Maybe your art will make it into galleries across the globe. Maybe your new app is the next global disruptor. And I do hope that all of the people I know achieve these goals and dreams.

But you’ll never find out if you’re thrown off by the frustrations and setbacks that passion creates. The journey is long. The road is arduous and difficult. Some never make it. Some get there and lose it all and have to rebuild. And some get there, and it looks completely different than the path they had tried to carve.

But, before you embark on this journey, make sure you know where you’re going and why. Know that you’re running a race towards a finish line that you want, not the finish line that you think others expect, or what will make them impressed. And run that race with purpose, because it’s what you’re meant to do and good at. Not because you have a fleeting passion.

Everyone wants to be successful. Everyone defines it differently. Don’t be clouded by the definitions of others.

Find your true north and stick to that.

Find purpose over passion. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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