“Follow your passion” is one of the most often-heard pieces of advice when it comes to finding your career path. However, this statement can cause more anxiety than inspiration, as many people may not yet know what they are passionate about. Indeed, experts have suggested that for most of us, rather than passion being the drive behind hard work, it is actually the other way around. It is putting effort into a career path over a longer period of time that causes us to develop a passion for it. Simply waiting for your passion to erupt fully-formed from within you is not only a recipe for making yourself miserable, at its worst it’s an excuse for not putting in the hard work necessary to truly achieve great things. Rather than searching for your passion, becoming passionate about doing great work that aligns with your purpose is how people become successful, both in life and in business. A well-rooted sense of purpose is what gives you the resilience to prosper in the long run.
In my own career, I have found this to be the case. I was lucky enough to be raised by two medical professionals — my mother was a technician at a center for ophthalmic care, and my father was a well-known dermatopathologist and clinical professor at the University of Miami. Because of this, I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a doctor, and believed it was because I had a passion for medicine. However, once I earned my medical degree I became a doctor at a plastic surgery practice and I was increasingly left with a feeling of unfulfillment. I was within the medical field like my mother and father before me, and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t satisfied with my career until I took a long hard look at what I had admired in my parents in the first place. It wasn’t the fact that they held prestigious positions, or even that they were both incredibly intelligent people with a deep understanding of medicine. It was the fact that their purpose in life was to help people, both in work and at home. I still remember a time when a plumber told me my father was a great man because he had rolled up his sleeves and helped him fix a messy plumbing issue.
Upon realizing my purpose wasn’t to practice medicine but to help people I began making plans for starting my own dermatology practice, one in which I could focus exclusively on medical dermatology. By finding my purpose in life, I have been able to successfully grow my business to five locations, and experience a level of fulfillment that I had only dreamed of prior. Below are some of the ways in which you can evaluate yourself to best discover where your purpose lies.
REFLECT AND ASK YOURSELF QUESTIONS
Self-reflection is a key factor in discovering your purpose, and one of the easiest ways to do so is by asking yourself questions. While a passion is something that is developed for a subject, your purpose is and always has been within you, it’s just a matter of figuring it out. Set a good block of time away for yourself, and in a journal or even in the notes section of your phone spend some time reflecting on times in your life when you have felt most happiest and like the most joyful version of yourself. When was that happening? What do you do really well, and what are you good at? Think about a set amount of time such as the past week and look at what gave you the most energy. What about any major obstacles you have managed to overcome? What specific inner strengths did you possess to overcome them? You can also look outwards to other people, reflecting on what other people would describe as your strengths or what your friends appreciate and come to you for. What about people you admire? What qualities in particular do you find attractive in them? Finally, what impact do you want to have on the world?
Once you have finished your self-reflection, read through everything you have written and look for patterns. Underline or highlight things such as repeated words and statements, using your intuition to guide you rather than conscious reasoning. Write these words and short phrases down, because they are the themes that show up in multiple facets of your life and help identify what your values are.
CREATE A PURPOSE STATEMENT
Let your themes marinate for a bit, and once you are ready to return to them review and pull out three or four that grab your attention and truly stand out to you. Using these themes, workshop different statements that capture the patterns you noticed previously. Ideally, this statement should be concise — one sentence in length — and answer the questions as to why you are here and what matters most to you. It won’t be perfect the first time you write it, but it should evoke feelings of excitement and inspiration when you read it back. To test it, think about a few examples in your life when you were living your purpose. How did you feel? If you felt fulfilled and satisfied, then you know you’re on the right track. Be patient with it, as it will continue to unfold for you over time.
If you are struggling to properly voice your purpose statement, you can use the following template as a guide: The purpose of my life is to (what I do to act with purpose) using my (unique qualities and strengths that I bring to the table) so that/in order to (the impact or outcome of what I am being and doing with purpose). Be sure that your statement is sufficiently broad to encompass a vision of activities and is not limited to what you are doing today. Once you have developed your purpose statement, be on the lookout for opportunities to act on this purpose at work and in life.
FIND THE “WHY” BEHIND YOUR DAYDREAMS
When you’re not happy or fulfilled in your career, it can be easy to daydream of leaving everything behind to start a completely new one. You may see yourself going on a road trip to write the next great American novel, running a bed and breakfast in a quaint seaside town, traveling the world teaching underprivileged youth, or even taking on a high-profile case as a lawyer. But before you quit the job and career you’ve already invested time and effort in, it’s important to perform a reality check and realize that in all likelihood you have no idea if these idyllic aspirations would actually be a fit for your life. For example, does spending each day in a different dirty motel room just to gain material for a book really sound as appealing as settling in to your own bed every night?
Rather than “chucking the entire baby out with the bathwater” and making a rash decision you may come to regret, again take a hard look at the why of it all. Start thinking more deeply about what it is specifically about these desired roles that you aspire to. Do you want to become an author so you can finally feel validated and recognized for your views, or because you want to make a difference to people in a bigger way? Do you want to become a lawyer because you think it will bring status and money to you, or perhaps so you can finally advocate for a particular cause and help people who are struggling to overcome a specific challenge. Once you’ve identified what it is you are seeking, take a look at your current career and see if by simply walking away from certain elements while preserving others could still result in you fulfilling your purpose.
THINK BEYOND YOUR WORK
As you shape the way in which you perceive your work, it is important to keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to derive a sense of purpose from your job. Through your family, your friends, and your contributions to the community you can also find fulfillment. In fact, having a sense of purpose outside of your career can actually help you find more meaning in your work. Performing activities like coaching little league our building houses for low income-families on the weekends allow you to think about purpose in a more holistic way through the lens of family, friends, community, and work. By not relying on your job and your job alone for fulfillment, you release it from the pressure of being your sole sense of fulfillment.
A change in perception ultimately requires self-awareness. Being aware of the power you have to shape your purpose, your connection to the bigger picture and your positive impact on others inside and outside the office can help you feel more fulfilled. So if you’re at the start of your career or contemplating a change of direction, stop trying to follow your passion to the right job for you, and instead ask yourself this simple question: What do I truly care about? Purpose is a far better compass than joy.