This blog post is Part 3 in a 14-part blog series on discovering and living your mission. (If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.) The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “He who has a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any ‘how.’” I think there’s something to this idea. Life is full of difficulties and hardships. As human beings, we need a compelling “why” to feel energized when we wake up each morning.
The question of “why” gets at the first part of the equation of discovering and living your mission: What is your purpose?
I encourage people to focus more on purpose than passion. A lot of people get caught up in finding their passion, but I think this is a mistake that can lead people off course from discovering and living their mission.
Here’s why: Passion involves discovering what you love to do, and it can be a powerful motivator. And yes, there are stories about people pursuing the tasks they enjoy with a singular focus, and it works out. But passion can be tricky. For every success story about someone pursuing their passion, there is another story about passion taking someone off-track. Passion doesn’t always lead to meaningful work over the long haul. Passion is powerful, but unpredictable. Like rocket fuel, passion can take you to the moon, or backfire and explode in your face.
Purpose is more measured. It may not bring as much immediate pleasure or enjoyment, but it is more consistent. Purpose can provide a consistent source of meaning and happiness over time. If passion is like rocket fuel, purpose is more like diesel gasoline. It’s trustworthy, reliable, and doesn’t break down easily.
Purpose is also more other-focused. Passion is often self-focused. What do I love to do? What activities do I enjoy doing? What tasks bring me the most pleasure? These are the questions of passion, and they are focused on the self. Purpose asks a different set of questions. What big problem in the world do I long to solve? What need tugs at my heart and won’t let go? What injustice in the world do I long to correct?
Because purpose is other-focused, it is a more reliable source of meaning than passion. Meaning in life often involves a connection with something other than ourselves. It’s about connecting our life to some greater task or ongoing mission. It’s about connecting with other like-minded folks working in the same direction. It’s about connecting with God or whatever we consider sacred.
When working toward discovering your mission in life, start with “why”. Focus on finding your purpose, which is other-focused and a reliable source of meaning in life. Don’t worry too much about finding your passion, which is more self-focused, and might bring you short-term pleasure at the cost of long-term meaning.