For years, I struggled with discovering my purpose. I also struggled with discovering my passion, though back then I thought of them interchangeably.
The way we as a culture glamorize “following one’s passion” is inspiring to some, but for others - like me - it put a tremendous amount of pressure on me. I felt I was a self-aware person, but I kept on hearing about this allegedly unacknowledged burning passion inside of me.
Now I am a life, love and career coach. I get to work with amazing, smart, accomplished people and help them love their lives more than ever. It was a long road to my coaching career, which included many years of working as an attorney. Back then, I went so far as to poll my co-workers as to what they thought I should do with my life. I was pretty desperate for some guidance.
Luckily, after some years of contemplation, reading, and listening to lots of motivational experts and a few catalyzing life events, I finally figured it out for myself, and now I'm fortunate to help others shortcut their own journey to living more fulfilled lives.
As I mentioned above, for a long time I got stuck on articulating my purpose because the concept was so often used interchangeably with passion. I never had one solitary burning passion, so I thought I was out of luck.
Purpose, I’ve come to realize, is bigger than passion. Purpose is bigger than your job. You might excel at different ways of being in the world. But there is one mode that is the fullest and truest expression of your gifts. In his book The Big Leap, author Gay Hendricks refers to this fullest expression as the “zone of genius”.
(Lots of people are stuck in their “zone of excellence” - enjoying success and some fulfillment, but still falling short of their full potential. If you haven't already, read The Big Leap. It's outstanding.)
Your purpose is the embodiment of your unique set of gifts and talents. Your purpose can be revealed in how you see the world. In how you communicate. In what kinds of endeavors you find the most enjoyable. By what motivates you.
As a coach, one of the ways I help my career and life coaching clients is by helping them to articulate and own their unique purpose. In so doing, I came up with 5 “purpose archetypes” that express common collections of traits. These traits are your built-in, natural born clues to your purpose.
BEACON - Achievement oriented, continuously striving for more. Drawn to entrepreneurial pursuits. May have many dramatic shifts in their life’s path and tend to settle into high profile careers. Opportunities and inspirations come to The Beacon “out of nowhere”. Very good at bringing together different people and ideas.
Famous Beacons: Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama
STORYTELLER - Artists, creators, documentarians. Visionary - they see they “unseen” and allow others a window to that vision through their work. Storytellers typically feel “called” to a particular profession and to have their voices heard. What they create resonates with people on an emotional level, and Storytellers have powerful influence for that reason.
Famous Storytellers: Prince, Picasso, J.K. Rowling
CHANGEMAKER - Evangelists of justice, movements or people. They seek the satisfaction of knowing they’ve changed hearts and minds, championed a cause, or even changed the world. Some Changemakers work in the forefront, while others are more comfortable pulling the strings behind the scene.
Famous Changemakers: Martin Luther King, Jr., Gloria Steinem, Quincy Jones
EXPLORER - Trailblazers, pioneers, achievers of the seemingly impossible. They value the pursuit for the sake of the pursuit, for the sake of discovery or supreme accomplishment. Explorers might enjoy the spotlight that comes with their new discoveries and achievements, but they aren’t primarily motivated by fame or outside accolades. They would do their work even if no one was watching.
Famous Explorers: Steve Jobs, Serena Williams, Richard Branson
ANCHORS - Collaborators, confidantes, philanthropists and caretakers. Anchors are the ones who naturally comfort, counsel and support others. Being this source of strength comes naturally to them, and the success and/or happiness of others depends on having the balance Anchors provide. They have more resilience and ability to adapt to life’s obstacles than most.
Famous Anchors: Michelle Obama, Audrey Hepburn, Paul McCartney
Taking a look at the above, which archetype resonates most with your natural gifts and inclinations? You might comfortably occupy more than one of these roles, but one will likely stand out beyond the rest.
When considering these archetypes, release any preconceived judgments you might have about any of the people above. Richard Branson might enjoy being a celebrity billionaire (and why shouldn't he?), but you get the sense that even if no one knew his name he’d still be running around the world having grand adventures.
Prince was a true artist with a genuine calling as a Storyteller. Just because he became extremely famous doesn’t mean he was any more of a Storyteller than the poet who never received any public recognition for a lifetime of writing poems.
Our purpose is bigger than the means by which we carry it out.
If you’re reading this and you haven’t found your passion yet, don’t worry. That just means two things: 1) you’re probably overthinking it; and 2) you have multiple passions.
If purpose is the road that leads you to your greatest fulfillment, passion is the car you drive. You might fall in love with your ultimate car at the age of 5 and dream of no other, or you might want to test drive many cars throughout the years because they all look intriguing for different reasons.
Take music as an easy example of a passion. If you’re passionate about music, you might love being a piano teacher, a music historian, a composer or a DJ. Or you might be living in your zone of genius as a pediatrician who always has music playing in your office, which is, to you, a satisfying expression of your passion for music.
A passion doesn’t have to be all-encompassing to be a passion. It’s simply something you love. It could be a thing you love that is unrelated to any kind of professional calling.
Travel is one of my passions, but I don’t have a travel-related job, nor do I want one. Nor would I particularly enjoy taking a year off and traveling around the world (at least not at this time in my life). But for some, arranging their lives so they may travel nonstop is the ultimate dream.
For as long as I can remember, I loved talking about love, reading books about dating, and meddling in other people’s love lives. But I also seriously loved movies, and art, and yoga. When I took the pressure off of myself to figure out what my one passion was, I was able to follow the clues that led me to more professional fulfillment than I dreamed was possible.
Passion looks different on different people. If there are things you genuinely enjoy doing, thinking about, learning more about, or spending your money on, you’re staring a passion in the face.
Your passions might be a window into your purpose - if you are passionate about animals, and you’re also an Explorer, you might find great fulfillment as a biologist. If you’re passionate about politics, or gender equality, those passions could dovetail nicely with your true calling as a Changemaker.
If you didn’t have to be “practical” and worry about who would hire you, or how you’d pay your bills, or what people would think of you, what would you do? What role would you occupy? How would your life impact others? By being an Anchor, or by being a Beacon? Dream like no one’s watching!
The intersection of your passion (at least one of them) and your purpose is where your true success lies. Your “zone of genius” awaits you, if you are willing to follow the clues in your life to discover it.
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