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Purpose versus Passion

“What is your passion?” No other sentence in the English language has caused me as much angst and anxiety as this four-word question. For the longest time, I tried to ignore it, but that damn thing is everywhere! College admissions essays, job interviews, red-wine-induced existential conversations . . . you simply can’t escape it. At […]

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“What is your passion?” No other sentence in the English language has caused me as much angst and anxiety as this four-word question. For the longest time, I tried to ignore it, but that damn thing is everywhere! College admissions essays, job interviews, red-wine-induced existential conversations . . . you simply can’t escape it. At one point, I was so consumed by my lack of a clear passion that I made it my mission, nay, my quest, to find it. I joined passion clubs. I read self-help blogs. I bought books. I took tests. I even went so far as to track down my high school guidance counselor to see what I could learn from her. But the truth kept staring me directly in the face: I had no idea—zero, zip, zilch, nada—what my passion might be.

Even when I started my coaching business, which felt both personally meaningful and purposeful, I still struggled with how to articulate one singular passion. To make mat- ters more complicated, I had to deal with clients who were struggling with the exact same confusing idea—this elusive concept of “knowing your passion.” They looked to me to fill that ever-present void that came from their lack of clarity. Of course, that disconnect left me feeling like a fraud in my own area of expertise.

One day, three years into my coaching business, I was given a gift that alleviated this anxiety. A life-changing coun- selor taught me a lesson that reframed my epic search for my passion, and it has served me beautifully ever since. At a counseling session, I shared with my therapist that I’d had a breakthrough in my professional messaging. For the lon- gest time I’d been searching for my core message, and that day I was happy to say that I had found it. Naturally, she was intrigued, so I pulled out my notebook, cleared my throat, pre- pared for the fanfare that awaited me. I said, “I help people figure out what they were created to do.” I paused and waited for the inevitable round of applause and tearful excitement. Nothing happened. So, I put it a different way. “You know, it all comes down to identifying and doing that which we were created for . . . what we’re meant to be. That’s what a passion really is! That’s what my message is going to be.”

Her response: pause . . . head tilt . . . brow furrow . . . sigh. “You don’t like it, do you?” I said, without hiding my disappointment.

“It’s not that,” she said. “It’s just not true. We don’t have one passion for which we were created.”

To really comprehend the stunned look on my face, you have to know that my counselor ran a Christian-based therapy practice. We started every session with a prayer about God’s will. Of all the people on the planet, I thought she would be supportive of the idea of being created for a reason. So, after I finally picked up my jaw from the floor and convinced my ego not to flee the room, I somehow found the courage to ask her why.

“We weren’t created for just one thing,” she said. “No one has only one passion or purpose. We have many. And they are constantly changing.”

Her answer was equally stunning. I’m sorry, what?! What about all those passion clubs and personality tests and mis- erable freakin’ essay questions that demand to know our one, singular, easy-to-articulate passion? What gives!

“Take, for instance, what’s going on in my life. I’m a pro- fessional counselor running my own practice. I do speaking engagements, panels, and facilitations. I’m a wife and mother of two grown women. I’m a grandmother. I volunteer. But let’s put that all aside for a moment. Right now, my youngest daughter is preparing to be married. That makes me mother of the bride. I feel, deep down, that right now my passion, my purpose, is to be the best mother of the bride I can possibly be.

“So, what does that mean?” she continued. “I’m not taking extra speaking gigs. I’m not taking on any new clients. I’ve scaled back my volunteering. Every bit of my spare time is dedicated to figuring out how I can be a better mother of the bride. And that’s all well and good . . . for now. But at some point, if all goes to plan, my daughter is going to get married. And then what? I’m no longer going to be mother of the bride. So, if I’ve defined that as my one passion, one purpose, and one destiny and then it ends, what happens next?

This idea was so logical, so common sense that I almost beat myself up for not seeing it sooner. No wonder we’ve all been frustrated, anxious, and miserable trying to define our passion or discover our purpose. It’s an insanely misguided exercise! Trying to choose a singular passion or purpose means we have to actively ignore the only consistency in life: change. Maybe instead of forcing a passion epiphany we should be asking, What is my passion right now? What is my purpose at this phase of life? What is my destiny today?

That day in her office, with my ego deflated but my mind open to a new reality, I first conceived of the Nth Degree being an iterative model designed for change. Not just a one- time career breakthrough but a concept that could be used repeatedly as our lives and circumstances evolve. So, whether this is your first time or your fiftieth time going through the Nth Degree methodology, begin at the beginning: the Dis- cover phase and its very first step, Now.

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