Following your passion – Easier said than done

A guest post from {grow} community member Jeremy Floyd

From Donald Trump to Oprah Winfrey, the “secret” to success seems always to be “follow your passion.” I get lost with this directive. To me, it’s akin to telling someone to embrace their “freedom.” Okay, what the hell am I supposed to do with that?

Passion is a loaded term. That soup of spiritual, emotional, mental, physical/social longing, and satisfaction each have unique ingredients. The challenge is to bring alignment that satisfies all elements of your person. I’ve found myself chasing mental “passion” only to drain all energy from my physical body and vice versa.

So what’s alignment? Most of us have spent much of our lives with the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” The real question is WHY do you want to be when you grow up?  Below the surface of the what is a reason that drives you. The alignment of the why, how, and what are the critical recipe to figuring out the “passion” question.

Simon Sinek does a nice job of explaining the approach of the what versus the why by illustrating the Golden Circle. (If you haven’t seen his TED talk check it out.)

When I was 15, my deepest longing was to direct movies. I spent years in the theatre trying my hand at acting, directing, and a ton of time in the technical production.  Other masters came into my life, and in the pursuit of their satisfaction I quashed the dream.  At 27, I thought my passion was to be a lawyer.  But I focused on the “what” of being a lawyer – power, money and success – rather than the “why,” which is helping people.  I went down a ridiculously difficult road to discover the inside of the “what” was different than the outside of the “why.”

So, how do you get to the true heart of your passion?

  1. Remove the “whats.” We spend a great deal of time in our culture driving to the features of our lives: what clothes we wear to work; what car we will drive; what kind of house we’ll live in. etc. These are all results, or features, and they cannot drive the decision.
  2. What is the problem in the world that gets you excited?  After years of searching, I believe that people and organizations are uniquely situated to be incredible, but they don’t always discern their path to excellence.
  3. What can you do better than anyone else to solve that problem? In marketing terms, what is the “point of differentiation?” For me, I believe that by spending time with people and organizations, listening to them, and bringing into focus the “thing” that really drives them, I am helping to unleash potential.
  4. There lies the WHY. Why?  That is the real center, isn’t it?  My purpose or WHY statement is to unleash potential. The purpose should be boiled down to one or two words and be very simple.
  5. How do you do it?  The how is the bridge from the why to the what.  It becomes the rules or framework that directs the purpose into the action.
  6. Finally, what’s the what?  At this point it is easier to determine what you can do, but more importantly it determines what you can’t do. The realm of opportunity is limited by the answers to the preceding questions. So, it is easy for me to say based on my purpose and promises that I would not, for example, be satisfied as a scientist working in a lab all day because I would not be unleashing the potential of people.
Obviously, this an oversimplified approach. It may take months, if not years, to answer question number two, for example. But shifting the focus from the outside to looking inside is the start of the journey towards passion, er, purpose. Despite the difficulty of the journey, it gives greater meaning to everything in your life.
In his book, Sinek tells the parable of the bricklayers:

One day while wandering, I came across three bricklayers. I asked the first bricklayer what he was doing.

“Laying bricks,” he told me.

I asked the second what he was doing.

“Making a brick wall,” he told me.

I asked the third.

“Building a cathedral,” he explained.

Once you’ve identified the purpose, every action that you make in your life has greater meaning and significance. Suddenly, there is alignment between your actions and your goals.

And only then, I would say, you can truly be passionate.

I know this is a very different perspective. How does it land on you?

Jeremy Floyd, President of Bluegill Creative, facilitates corporate and board retreats to help organizations discover their reason for being. He also posts about marketing and digital media on his blog.

All posts

  • Anonymous

    Great timing on this post. For me at any rate. You did write this for me, right?

  • Exactly. Thanks Jenn. When the “why” is right, the “what” seems to fall exactly into place!

  • Everyone here in the Business GROW community is building Cathedrals. Just a feeling I get. Thanks for adding your expertise here, Jeremy.

  • That’s a good hunch, and I’d tend to agree with you!

  • Great post,Jeremy. I would say that it has taken me years to figure out the real depth of my why and how…So many of us want to “help people,” but really most work and business at the core is helpful (otherwise it wouldn’t meet any recognizable need and generate any income). So digging into that why also has to tag on a ‘who” (who do you want to help/support/problem solve for, etc). A worthwhile process that takes time, patience and a good deal of trial and error…

  • Absolutely. When conducting core ideology sessions, I also spend a great deal of time digging into the “who” of the organization. In these exercises, we dig into the values of “who” is on the team (or bus) and what does it take to stay on the team. Often, organizations develop a predictable set of nouns that are their values, but when you really dig into the actions, or verbs, of their culture. It becomes a great descriptor of the who of their organization.

    Tony Hsieh has done an amazing job of developing Zappos’ core values that are definitely worth checking out:

  • I love “Start With Why.” That book helped my transition from journalism to marketing. It would have been easy for me to stay in the field, but my real passion is just to write in general. I loved covering games and writing sports. However, I can work passionately writing for a marketing firm as I can for a paper.

  • That’s a great testimonial for Sinek. The simplicity in his execution builds a really nice framework for “core” ideology. There are many similarities to Collins Good to Great, but for many, Sinek is more digestible.

  • Ah! I loved this.
    Spent a lot of energy, like you, chasing the nebulus. I heard of Mr. Sinek a few months ago. I’d been working out this idea for several years. Nice to get another take on it. Makes me smile. Thanks for the post.

  • This is a very powerful post, Jeremy. Perhaps it should be required reading for every college student wondering “what” they are going to do after graduation. Thanks for providing this excellent perspective.

  • Pingback: » Passionate about living THE DREAM » The Creative Womb of An InfoPreneur()

  • 🙂 Billy, you had a little heads up on this post. Thanks for the comment. Are you familiar with Susan Scott?

  • Thank you, Alice. I wish I knew then what I knew now, but I surely would have ignored it. Are you in alignment with your why practicing medicine?

  • Pingback: Link love (Powered by creative envy and blue cheese) | Musings of an Abstract Aucklander()

  • Thanks 3 things to ponder when adressing these questions Jeremy. 1. What are you going to be remembered for if you die this afternoon? 2. Your life has nothing to do with you. 3.When you truly do what you love you do not need to be paid for it. Just being able to do it is reward enough. The people who have discovered his are the ones inheriting the new earth I personally am living my dream every day Michael

  • Jeremy, there is no other career that would have made me so happy in my life. The trite, but true statement I made early in life: I want to help people, was really what I wanted to do. Of course I have expanded the HOW over the years, and now doing a lot of teaching and administrative medicine I think I can help more people than I ever could one on one. But I still do the old fashioned doctoring. I just love to hear my students comment on how much they can see in my face I love what I do. My goal is to make every patient smile before I leave their room. Doesn’t always work. Two year olds are the hardest, And adolescents. But it makes me so happy if I can make them happy even though they are sick and in the hospital.

  • Anonymous

    Great approach you’ve outlined Jeremy, toward getting to the core of what drives us. I especially like the brick-layers reference. Good post!

  • Pingback: Musings: What Have You Discovered? | Mirth and Motivation()

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast that I co-host with Tom Webster.

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details