Passion, Purpose, Or Profit? Reimagining How We Talk About Our Professional Lives

Today’s young professionals are less established and earn less than previous generations and they’re more likely to work several jobs, freelance, or jump between companies frequently. This has created a high degree of stress and it’s changed how they approach work. Rather than focusing on building a career, today’s workers are more likely to speak about pursuing their passions or finding a purpose. It’s a whole new professional vocabulary, but what does it really mean?

When workers turn to the language of fulfillment, they’re highlighting a number of gaps in what jobs offer in terms of income or benefits and what it takes to make up for those shortfalls. Forced to experiment with a lot of different approaches to work, here’s what they’ve discovered.

Values Matter

So many of today’s jobs are things no one could have imagined even a decade before, so aiming for a particular role isn’t a reasonable employment strategy. In the midst of constant change, though, what tends to be stable are an individual’s values. When someone is clear about their personal values, everything is filtered through that lens. That includes choosing a job; thoughtful professionals with clear personal missions can find ways to live their values in their work and if they can’t see a way to do so, they won’t take the job.

The Difference Between Purpose And Passion

If finding work that aligns with one’s values significantly shapes professional fulfillment, one major reason for that is how those values help people parse passion from purpose. Everyone has a passion, something that excites them and makes them happy, but research shows happiness isn’t enough to build a career. In fact, people who are preoccupied with this idea are less likely to be successful in that project and also more likely to quit their jobs nine months later – not a good combination.

Enjoyment Meets Expertise

Just because experts advise against over-emphasizing passion from a career perspective, that doesn’t mean that workers should set enjoyment aside entirely. As Marla Beck, co-founder of the multi-million dollar cosmetic company Bluemercury puts it, one of the best ways to find professional fulfillment is by becoming an expert in what you enjoy. That might mean innovating within an existing company, taking classes to learn more about a specialized activity, or starting an LLC to teach others a skill or consult on problems across other businesses.

Grow Where You’re Planted

In tenuous professional circumstances, it can be risky for professionals to jump ship in hopes that another company will be a better fit for their values, especially if they generally like what they do. So, what’s the best path when a job is ‘good’ in the plainest sense of the word, but not fulfilling? For those individuals, the right choice might be to become intrapreneurs.

Intrapreneurs are, like entrepreneurs, innovators, but they innovate within their current place of employment. They’re people who enjoy thinking outside the box and are willing to take risks. Often, they’ve become invested in their job, but think there are things that could change to work better. Sometimes they break a few rules, but they also know how to leverage the tools at their disposal and can sell their ideas. These are people who know how to grow where they’re planted, creating opportunities because they see things differently.

The rise of the gig economy has pushed more workers towards self-employment, forcing more people to reckon with questions of passion, purpose, and how to pay the bills. What they’ve realized is that fulfillment takes a lot of forms, and that it’s possible to find it in unusual places if you’re true to yourself.