Passion and purpose at work

Apr 11 2008 by Peter Vajda Print This Article

There's much discussion these days about passion and purpose in the workplace. A Google search on "passion at work" results in 11,5000,000 hits – although its clear from these that many of us confuse the two. So, what is the difference between passion and purpose - and how do the two connect?

Purpose defines why one is on the planet. Some refer to purpose as a calling. Others, as ones "life work."

Passion is energy - emotional, physical, mental, psychic, often spiritual - that drives supports us to focus our efforts. Sometimes this is purposeful, sometimes not. It can help us positively during the day, pushing us to look for ways to continually improve what we do and how we do it. But it can also be limiting and destructive – both to ourselves and to others.

For example, some passionate folks dress up and go to sporting events to engage in harassment, uncivil and disrespectful behavior – all in the name of being passionate about their team.

Colleagues at work can unfairly judge others, be bullying, engage in gossip, be rude, demeaning and disrespectful about their co-workers' lack of skills and talents – all because they're so passionate about what they do (so why do you have to be so stupid!)

And just as some folks feel their passion allows them to be disrespectful, others channel it towards self-destruction, coming home at night and binging on alcohol, food or drugs.

So passion is energy. The important question is, toward what end is this passion directed?

Is your passion positive? Is it supportive of yourself and of others? Or is it negative, self-destructive and harmful? Just because you're passionate doesn't automatically make you humble, emotionally intelligent, good at relationships, honest, skilled or talented. Passion is just energy.

But purpose completes the passion equation. It's the magic ingredient that gives passion a raison d'etre.

Without purpose as an anchor, passion has no inner or outer guidance system. Without a purpose, life will often will disoriented, out-of-sync and unhappy.

In my years working as a coach, I've always been curious about folks who run into a mid-life crisis at 30 after spending enormous amounts of time, energy and money studying something like law, medicine, IT, finance or management. It amazes me how quickly they have ended up literally hating what they are doing

In some of these cases, they choose to enter a particular profession or career area because they were directed that way by career coaches or consultants who suggested that their talents or interests lay in that direction.

But what these career folks, parents, relatives, even good friends almost never measure is heart. Heart is the focal point of purpose. Not the mind. Not logic. Not what's sexy. Not what The Futurist says one should do and especially, not "Hey you're really good at (blank) that so why don't you pursue (blank)"?

Some never get it. Purpose is not a career or even a talent. But purpose can be manifested in a particular career or by making use of a particular talent or area of expertise. The difference is the energy (passion) that an individual brings to that endeavor and whether their actions and work are "purposeful".


  • How do you characterize your relationship to work?
  • How did you arrive at doing the work you are doing?
  • Do you feel purposeful in your work? Do you feel "coerced" to work or "called" to work
  • Do you feel passionate about your work? What motivates you to go to work?
  • Do you feel completely engaged at work?
  • Why are you on the planet? What is your purpose in life?
  • What is the legacy you'd like to leave behind?
  • What will others say about you when you're gone...about you as a professional, a spouse, a partner, a parent, a friend...?
  • What are three things you're passionate about? How you do express this passion?
  • Are you following your life's purpose? How do you know?
  • If you really, really dislike your work, what story do you tell yourself to justify your doing it?

So two lawyers, two IT professionals, two managers or two bloggers can both do the same thing, but their energy, their engagement, their true love (not ego) of the work, their steadfastness and sense of well-being depends on whether or not they're on purpose when they're working.

Only the purposeful are engaged in their work. One has their heart in it; the other muddles through with an ugh at every turn.

Purpose is the anchor, the beacon, the direction, the career compass that guides us to make decisions that keep our lives moving forward. Without such a guide, many people hit a dead end at 30 (then 40, then 50), constantly wondering "is this all there is?" Or worse, "I have all this talent, and I don't understand why I'm not happy".

The heart is what drives purpose, not the mind or the ego. When someone has their heart in their work, meaning abounds; they are - and feel - purposeful in their work as well as in the rest of their life.

But when everything is ego-driven, meaning is most often trumped by unhappiness, agitation and constant negative judgments and invidious comparisons with others while always feeling to some degree, lacking, deficient, and disconnected.

And from what do such folks feel disconnected? Their heart, their purpose, their true and real self, their essence. The ego mind, logic, assessments, "thinking" and "figuring it out" are not the path to purpose.

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.

Older Comments

A point on punctuation… and searching. A Google search for the exact phrase 'passion at work' only yields an unimpressive 21,700 results. Try adding the quotation marks or you’ll get all websites that simply use any of those three words, not necessarily in relation to each other. Also, watch those commas - 11,5000,000 (?).

Mr. Google

Very insightful article. I wish more career managers, hr professionals, mentors, school-teachers and parent-guardians were compelled to read this at least once a week.

28 yo mid-life crisis

Great job on discribing that coaching someone 'is not' starting off by looking for jobs you are interested in. There may be more successful people finding there dream jobs if they were to first do the insightful work mentioned in this artical first. GMS


You are so right! There is a major difference between purpose and passion, and you hit it on the head, along with how passion supports purpose ... and how it can work against it, too. I was interested because I have recently written two posts on working with purpose on my blog, Write Your Way to Prosperity. I hope you'll come check it out!

Chiwah Slater