Sunday, July 18, 2010

From Passion to Purpose?

One of the more disconcerting aspects of this jobless economic recovery is the disappearance of jobs that just won’t return. The vanishing jobs are, in large part, what keeps our unemployment numbers consistently high; there simply aren’t enough jobs to go around. Moreover, most experts agree that it will take a Herculean effort to create jobs to replace those that have been lost.

In an effort to get a handle on this issue, I’ve been re-reading a terrific book by Geoff Bellman: Your Signature Path: Gaining New Perspectives on Life and Work (you can preview the book here). Bellman wrote this book in the mid-90s, but it is a timeless piece on how to reframe what you see and act on it. I’ve been trying to find a resource for clients who, in transition, are looking for more meaning in their work. Bellman’s book may just fit the bill.

Bellman’s premise can be summed up in this quote: “We don’t always need new skills to be successful; we often just need a new perspective.” His book provides a number of relatively simple exercises to gain, and act on, our new perspectives.

Bellman notes that many of us seek purpose through our work; which dovetails nicely with Dan Pink’s Motivation 3.0, where engagement produces mastery – becoming better at something that matters. Bellman’s ideas also jibe with Simon Sinek’s admonition to “start with why;” to begin with your motivation and purpose as the basis for what you do and how you do it. Like Sinek, Bellman notes that we’re most comfortable talking about our practice – the “Whats” and the “Hows.” However, “the focus on practice can lead us away from our purpose. Our methods can lead us away from our meaning.” The “Whys” drive us toward discovering our higher purpose; they speak to our motivation, our passion.

Bellman goes on to address the intersection of passion and work, which he notes, are seldom considered together. He mentions that while the world of work is more demanding and less secure, people are hopeful about work as a path to life meaning (and this was 1996). He offers some additional exercises to assist in linking passion to work, entitled “Romancing the Grindstone.”

So how does Bellman’s book help retrieve those lost jobs? The obvious answer is that it doesn't; not directly. However, the disappearance of jobs that are unlikely to return provides the opportunity to re-discover one’s passion – why we do what we do. Starting with why may lead us to a whole different set of actions, maybe even a new job, that can provide more meaning in our life. The jobs that evolve from an approach of following one’s passion can replace those lost jobs that were defined by someone else.

So, can you gain a new perspective; one that focuses on your passion? Can you begin with why – focus on your motivation and purpose, rather than on the what and the how? Can you provide meaning to your work? Can you define your work with meaning? Can your passion drive your purpose?


  1. As a Graphic Designer and Advertising guy I seem to be at a career crossroads after 14 years. Being passionate about design is not enough any more. Now I am seeking meaning in what I do. Otherwise, I feel that I might never truly be satisfied with my work life and would also be in danger of burning out.

    Call me an idealist, but I would rather work for less money with an organization that is doing something worthwhile, as opposed to simply feeding consumerism. I think the missing piece of the puzzle is doing something that matters. If I were a furniture maker, the difference would be making a quality heirloom piece versus churning out a disposable piece made out of particle board.

    I think I can identify 3 stages of my career. When I started out, I had passion, but needed to develop my technique. Later on, I mastered the job and built my successes into a body of work. The final step, as you say, is to find a way to infuse my work with meaning.

  2. Joe,

    Great comment. Your three stages of your career are spot on. By the way, you might enjoy the video at It may provide some inspiration for your next move.