Go on, they said. Follow your passion, they said.
Come on, we’ve said it, too! After all, identifying your passions—your staunchest interests, the strengths that make you you, the desires that run just about as deep as your DNA—is a big part of finding your calling, which is what we’re all about.
But what if chasing your passions isn’t big enough? What if you’re still searching for meaning in doing what you love? What if it all seems just a bit self-serving?
I love writing, reading, learning, dancing, traveling, and watching movies, but at the end of the day I need to look around and know that it wasn’t all for me.
If that’s you too, then here’s a tip: To find your calling, don’t find your passions. Find your purpose. Why are you here? Not trying to get all philosophical! The answer isn’t hiding on some mystic mountain, but if you must, go ahead. I’ll wait. When you get back, I bet your answer is the same as mine:
Your purpose is to serve others.
This is a purpose we all share; the only difference is how we serve.
Teaching kindergarteners to read. Preparing the best soufflé you know how for happy eaters. Running a business that sustains dozens of families. Designing websites. Writing books. Setting bones. Whatever your particular purpose might be, it’s about helping others.
Your passions are about you. Your purpose, not so. As Caroline Beaton points out, while your passions are self-oriented (they should be; they’re yours), your purpose is others-oriented, and it’s this orientation that gives purpose longevity.
Your passions will likely change because that’s what passions do; they’re based on what you enjoy and what makes you feel good, and feelings change. Even the most whole-hearted interests might shift partway through life as their manifestations morph (you channel them differently) or you reprioritize or enthusiasm quietly dies.
In contrast, purpose is hardy. When passions fall away, purpose remains. Of all your cravings, one will never go away: the craving to serve others ahead of yourself. And that is the magical power of purpose. It is so much bigger than you. You’re invested in something far larger than yourself. Even if you don’t do your top favorite thing 24 hours a day (does that even sound appealing?), you’re doing something that truly matters.
So how do you want to serve people? Your gifts are a special shape. Like a puzzle piece, they are designed to fit a distinct need. Find that need. Fill it.
And yes, your passions are connected! Your passions can even help you discover your particular purpose, so by no means ignore them. For example, your passion for fiddling with cars could lead you to finding your purpose as a mechanic, or your love for reading people and solving puzzles leads you to your purpose as a detective.
But as you pursue your calling—especially if this whole passion-chasing thing leaves you feeling like there’s got to be something more—then focus on defining your unique purpose. You’ll be a lot happier investing not in passions with an unknown shelf life, but rather in a purpose that endures.
And the world will know you were here.