How do we find our purpose to listen to wisdom to rightly choose when to be agile and change and when we should keep on the same track?
I'm uncertain as to what came first. Was I burning out and thus started to get stressed and failing to close business or was my failure to close business causing the stress that made me burn out? Whatever, the upshot was that times were tough, the economy was in the doldrums and it didn't look as if there was a recovery happening anytime soon.
You'd think that after 15 odd years of this rollercoaster life we loving call entrepreneurship that I would know better than to allow myself to become exhausted but then many of my coaching clients experience very similar situations. Perhaps that was it! Burnout is a contagious disease!! A mind virus that constantly reminds you there but for the grace of God go I. And boy did I jump down the rabbit hole.
When I asked close friends, mentors and fellow coaches, most of them advised me to “keep on keeping on” – that I was “on the right track”, not to “get distracted”. Others suggested I flip and change. Take off and do something different.
The latter seemed easier – after all, the grass always does seem greener…
Stupid, stupid mistake!
Oh well, that was an eighteen month error. The grass wasn't just not greener, it was an arid, dust-filled desert of disappointment and regret.
A couple of weeks ago, I was participating in a webinar of fellow entrepreneurs and the discussion moved to the idea of following one's passion.
For a long while I was keeping quiet and listening in to folk enthusiastic and new to running their own business and several soon to be corporate refugees along with some old hands at this game. You could hear the passion in people's voices, their wanton desire to impact lives and make a difference and it was delightful to hear.
But after a while I began to become concerned that many were confusing passion for purpose and that an obstacle such as I had faced just ten years ago could so easily derail them.
On the other hand, their passion and excitement was vivid – something I rarely sense with my clients in the corporate world. And I'm thinking that passion is that fuel that keeps us keeping on when times are tough and each day seems more like a battle than an enjoyable journey.
I plan on discussing a lot in this episode of the Leadership AdvantEdge. So hold onto your hats as I try to distinguish between passion and purpose because these appear to drive what we choose to do in our lives (even if we're uncertain what they are). And how passion and purpose can help us wisely decide between being agile or being tenacious.
I believe that passion and purpose are not the same thing.
For me, purpose is your reason for being, it's the what you were born to do or achieve in this life.
Passion is the drive, the desire, love, aching want to do or achieve something. Passion is turned into energy to act, while purpose is your reason to act.
Passion without purpose can quickly become dead works. For example, I can be wildly enthusiastic to pursue a particular course of action but will likely run out of steam when I find there is no reason or motive for doing so. The fuel of desire runs out.
Purpose is something that pulls you along, it's what brings meaning to life and actions.
Perhaps simplistically? Passion is the emotion, whilst purpose is the reason. Purpose is your key to life!
It seems that yes, this matters a great deal. I have met so many people who love what they do. They are, without doubt, passionate about their work. Of course, I've met many more who don't enjoy what they are doing one little bit. You won't be surprised that the former tend to be self-employed or working in NGOs and the latter are salaried employees in the corporate world.
The terms passion and engagement are often used interchangeably when referring to employee attitude and effort. And a 2017 Deloitte University report has 64% of surveyed employees neither passionate nor engaged. That includes senior managers and leaders! Aon Hewit's 2017 Global Engagement survey shows that just 24% of employees are highly engaged.
Such low employee engagement numbers are not news – that they seem to be on a downward trend in most countries should be pause for thought for HR leaders that all those fun-filled team-building courses and motivational seminars don't appear to have quite done the trick.
The fuel of passion, it seems, is getting depleted. And so very many corporate employees desire to quit their job (aka quit their boss) and escape to the passion-filled life of doing your own thing. But even then, the passion often runs out when “doing your own thing” doesn't continue to pay the grand lifestyle bills.
That's when we need something more important than passion. That's when we need to have purpose.
“There are two important days in your life,” says my mentor, Dr John C. Maxwell, “the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
You've for sure, had the first day, but have you had the second yet?
Your purpose is your why. The reason you were born and the reason you have the gifts you do.
“Follow your passion” many cry, but it can be so much more powerful when you follow your passion to acheive your purpose.
Passion can help you move from a life of struggling to get by through a life of surviving to a successful life of achievement. You might swing between survival and success more than a few times.
Purpose though, that can take you to a life of significance. Achievements that are bigger than you and impacting others.
Where do you want your life to be, Struggle, Survival, Success or Significance?
Passion may drive you to succeed though most people I come across seem to run out of fuel too soon. But when you are seeking significance through fulfilling your purpose, even those dark days when something needs to be done that is somewhat less than inspiring become a beacon along the way.
I was working with a client recently who has shown great tenacity. Whatever life threw at her, she has buckled down and kept on keeping on. She's what I call a wannapreneur. Someone who really wants to be an entrepreneur and be successful but, because life is like this, has switched back to salaried employment again and again to survive.
She follows her passion. Loves what she does. But the business is yet to see real success financially, and when you have bills to pay…
After a while, the new boss will grate on the nerves and she begins a new assault on the entrepreneurial dream.
She shows tenacity to keep trying, and some agility to switch to survival mode when needed. Is that the right decision?
Why does she keep trying? Because she has a clear purpose that aches to be fulfilled. But sometimes, you have mouths to feed and bills to pay and that takes immediate precedence over the longer-term life purpose.
A leader I work with shows a tremendous agility to go with the flow. He's highly successful and seems to just know when he should keep on pushing and when he should back off and change approach. He's successfully concluded a significant re-engineering of the business through this approach.
Another leader in a very similar re-engineering situation in a different company has shown great strength of determination and tenacity pushing through changes in spite of obstacles and also successfully.
All of these leaders evaluate their choice to keep on keeping on or switch based on some sort of “inner knowing”. A “gut feeling” or an “intuitive sense”. Some leaders describe it as discomfort and lack of alignment felt or the absence of peace inside that initiates the choice to change tack. When it goes well, we call this thing “wisdom”, when we, in glorious technicolor hindsight, make a bad call, we call it a mistake or a life lesson.
The passion that drives you to do what you love can quickly take you down the wrong path. You keep on doing something because you enjoy doing it. Love it. And you do it so well that it makes you feel good. But passion seldom listens to wisdom.
Just ask your mother. As a kid, I guarantee that you adamantly followed something through because you were passionate about it, turning a deaf ear to the sage advice of those with more experience whose intent seemed to be to stop you from enjoying yourself.
Once you know your purpose, it becomes easy to ask yourself if continuing down this road will achieve your purpose, or is there another, better road given the obstacles in my way?
And if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5 NKJV)
If you google “How to find my purpose” you'll be presented with just shy of a billion results. Some are really helpful. Find Your Why by Simon Sinek is one I can recommend.
I worked with Simon Sinek after that eighteen month error I shared at the beginning and re-discovered my own purpose. And that error? Whilst it wasn't fun, it was an excellent lesson in discerning the voice of wisdom and I did create a whole new approach to coaching and training that is now the bedrock of my fulfilling my purpose.
The best programme that you can choose is my own short self-coaching course called “Living on Purpose” designed for you to dig into your own life and find your gifts, your passions and your purpose. It requires commitment from you. And whilst it's a short course, it ain't easy but you will get unstuck.
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