If Stephanie had listened to the advice ‘follow your passion’ she would have continued with her dance career. As a teenager in Belgium she trained 6 days a week and dreamt of success in ballet. At some point, however, two things happened: she recognized another growing passion to shape a more sustainable world plus the constant discouragement around her height with regards to a classical dance career tamed her enthusiasm. When I met her last year, she had been working in a company for green energy and sustainability for the past five years. Despite her enthusiasm for sustainability, she reported being tired and uninspired in her current position and seeking a change.
Traditionally, one of the central tenets of career advice is to focus on security and a steady income as a measure of success. However, with the growth in the middle-class worldwide there is an increasing emphasis on having people follow their passion in building one’s career. If you do what you are passionate about, so the saying goes, you don’t have to work one more single day in your life. This narrative, however, has its flaws. While it is true that successful people are often passionate about what they do and hence, are intrinsically motivated, there is a lot more to fulfillment and well-being than this adage claims.
If you can’t follow your passion, the conversation centers around improving your existing work environment, by living to your potential more fully within a given job scenario or use it to develop skills for your dream job. The rapidly growing coaching industry bears testimony to this, operating often at the intersection of life and business coaching. One of the most famous concepts that have been shared with regards to this trend is the Hedgehog principle that encourages people to focus on the intersection of what you love, what you are great at and what pays your bills.
Working with changemakers from all over the world I realized that something is missing in this concept. Overlooked is what skills and impact you can contribute in the world that adds value, regardless of one’s particular job or sector of focus. For example, in this video Benjamin Todd explains if you’re looking for a fulfilling career do what’s valuable instead of just asking what your is passion and how can you make a living with it.
Meaning is generated when we connect to something that is bigger than our happiness. In an adaptation of the Hedgehog concept at Amani Institute we use the following model that adds a fourth element: 'what does the world need' to connect passion to purpose and help people create careers of meaning and impact.
And yet, if we look at Stephanie’s story, we can ask – what if you work at exactly that intersection but still find yourself burnt out and uninspired? Was her passion for sustainability not as compelling as her passion for dance? How could she bring her whole self back into her daily life?
In my experience working with professionals from all over the world in their Inner Journey, I have learned that it is our ability to become internal agents of change that needs to be engaged to connect our passion with purpose not just on paper but in our everyday lives. So while Stephanie seemed to do what she loves, is great at and got paid for while addressing a need in the world, she didn’t feel grounded in purpose.
This agency can be also used to act as an intrapreneur to innovate your company from within - either by creating more meaning or by taking leadership and championing a shift towards bringing the passion back. In Stephanie’s example that could be proposing changes that can help reconnect everyone in the team to the bigger vision they are working for or indeed, to design workplace changes that involve more movement or develop programs in collaboration with dance projects to incorporate the full spectrum of what you love with responding to what the world needs.
For those of us who find themselves in the trenches of social change work the news are good: connecting passion with purpose is not only a matter of responsibility towards the world but also, if we take agency and align our lives, a way to find well-being and happiness.
An ever-increasing group of individuals and organizations are now developing and supporting careers of purpose, meaning and passion. This shouldn’t be just an idealistic notion limited to the elites, but something that agents of change in diverse sectors are embracing. First, it helps to create more meaningful lives of purpose, as well as more engaged employees that add the much-needed change in the world.
Amani Institute is one such organization helping develop the next generation of purpose driven professionals and we encourage you to take a look. Some other great organizations doing work in this space include Aaron Hurst and the Work of Imperative, the BCorporation Movement, THNK, Net Impact, The Changer, Escape the City, Kaos Pilots, The Change School, Global Good Fund, Watson University and of course PCDN
So if you are looking for a job and are worried about whether or not you will be able to find one that is going to respond to all of the four questions of the Purpose Hedgehog concept, remember that it is your personal agency that will help you grow into this. The perfect job description in real life still might not hit that spot – but you don’t have to wait for that to happen. If you go into an interview it might be more important for you to understand how desired your agency is in the organizational culture and how much change you can bring as an intrapreneur. You can shift positions within a company – changing the culture is more difficult.
What is YOUR passion?
What is YOUR purpose?
How can you reconnect with your reasons for working towards positive change?
How can you help a colleague to connect with their purpose?
What type of organizational culture do you want to build as an entrepreneur or intrapreneur?
Geraldine Hepp is the Global Community Director at the Amani Institute. Her background is in Adult Education, Mediation and Social Work and she is interested in how personal and social change correlate.