Passion and Purpose in Our Work

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Passion and purpose in our profession. Is it plausible? Is it realistic?  Is it worth pursuing if my work pays well? I always say yes because I think having passion and purpose in our work is a privilege and a responsibility. As Historical Power Culture Outsiders (HPCOs), we come from lineages where the choice to pursue passion and purpose was not permitted or given to family members who came before us.

My father escaped the massacre by the Japanese soldiers in his home city of Nanjing only to become a refugee to Taiwan when the Communists took over in 1949. Without his parents and with only his sister, he paved the way to his future and became a policy analyst in Taiwan. Upon immigrating to the US in the early 70s (among the first wave of Asian immigrants after the Immigration Act of 1965), his career passion was sidelined. He took on administrative jobs and eventually became a computer operator that satisfied neither his intellect nor his passion. But his career fed, clothed and educated his children. Dying unexpectedly at the young age of 59, his career passion was never fulfilled. Many professionals who are Historical Power Culture Outsiders possess elder narratives that echo my father’s journey.

Passion and Purpose are not found in any assessments. They reside within us. For some folks, they find this voice early in life. For many others, it’s only with life experiences that are planned, that are mistakes, that are coincidences, that we meet our Passion and Purpose. But when the encounter occurs, dare we familiarize ourselves with them? Dare we become intimate with a deeper calling? In my work with highly achieving professionals, it’s often the competitive nature to meet the expectations of parents or succumbing to society’s biased insistence that our dream is unrealistic or unattainable that we relegate ourselves to a profession that is well-respected and well-paid, but lackluster in joy, effervescence or mission. Some have told me that passion can be pursued elsewhere. And while that is true, if work absorbs the vast majority of our waking hours, shouldn’t we at least try to explore work that also fulfills and excites us? Indeed, making these shifts are risky, are uncertain, and may create instability, but life’s true riches are rarely conspicuous or easily attained.

As Historical Power Culture Outsiders, we can’t afford to be mediocre professionals. My opinion is that we must be considered a 7,8 or 9 (out of a scale of 10) to achieve advancement and pay equity. Ergo, passion and purpose are vital; they serve as our rocket fuel when we meet the headwinds of intellectual challenge, organization politics or systemic marginalization.

Work that is imbued with passion and purpose is also a responsibility. It’s a commitment to realize our gifts, an expression of gratitude to those who came before us, who were unable to choose careers that leveraged their core interests.

On a practical note, I’d like to answer 2 questions posed during the Career Advancement GPS webinar, that could be helpful for you.

  1. When I started my career, I felt passionate about it, but over time, I’ve felt less excited about my work. What can I do?

Indeed, as our professional experience progress and our career maturity develop, we may need to revisit our passion and purpose and adjust our work as needed. Passions can evolve and purpose can seek a deeper expression. Find a quiet and tranquil place where you have ample time. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

    • When I’ve really enjoyed my career, what specific elements gave me joy, intellectual challenge and/or satisfaction? Why were those elements important to me? Are they still important to me today? What has changed?
    • When I consider work that would truly jazz me and thrill me, what do I imagine? In that vision, what am I doing? Where am I doing it? With whom am I doing it? What are the sources for joy and satisfaction?

When your passion and purpose speak to you, it may not always feel inspiring. Sometimes it seems odd, confusing or even frightening. I ask you to stay with what emerges. Write it down. Nurture the voice that emerges, and give it time to settle in. Our ego often wants things to stay the same, so if your passion and purpose stray from what “makes sense”, our first reaction may be to negate or suppress the voice that emerges.

2. My company purports to support our passions, but in the end, it really just wants us to do what serves it. How do I explore my passions while staying in my organization?

Employers want an employee to be a strong return on investment, so their objective is to ensure that employees add value. Therefore performance is a key metric. The pursuit of passion and purpose is up to the employee. While talent managers recognize the role of passion in driving employee engagement, it’s not a priority. But you can explore and discern on the job.

    • Ask the basic but tough questions: what do I like about my current work? How well aligned is my employer to my interests, my values, my culture? Do I feel belonging and acceptance so I can express my Best Self?
    • Observe functions and jobs around the company. Are there jobs that seem interesting to you? Which colleagues have jobs you’d love to have or try? What common themes emerge from these jobs you are interested in?
    • Explore by meeting with various individuals. You don’t have to divulge that you’re bored or uninterested in your job. You can simply say you’re interested in learning about other jobs in the organization and what they do. Be curious about their journeys. As you talk to more people, you’ll gain more knowledge and insights that will inform what matters to you. They can also provide information on “how” to land these jobs. As you explore, you’re also nurturing social relationships that can help you one day when you’re ready to make the change. Be mindful that you should be reaching out to folks outside of your organizations as well. These could be alums from your university, high school and college friends, contacts in professional organizations, a networked contact in LinkedIn.

A career that excites us sustains us over our many decades of work. Passion drives performance. Not only that, it’s good for our mental, emotional and physical health. The journey toward passionate work often takes time. Requires nurturing. And beckons us to listen inside.

And when the time is right, we need to recognize it and make the choice to jump.