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Work & Purpose

Finding Passion and Purpose Through Work

Instead of looking for one true passion, try the P.A.S.S.I.O.N. acronym


As a child, I adored Valentine’s Day. I loved the chocolate hearts my mom slipped under my pillow, the handmade card from my grandmother and the pink-frosted cupcakes we shared at school. But by the time I hit high school, the only thing that counted as a “real” Valentine was having a boyfriend. If you had one, it was delightful. If not, there was little reason to celebrate, at least not publicly.

Looking back now, I realize how limiting my teen definition of love was. At the time, I was so intent on finding “the one” I forgot to appreciate all the other special people in my life.

Today, in my work as a career coach, I find that singular focus on finding “passion” and “purpose” in midlife often proves just as frustrating as the quest for Prince Charming.

It’s lovely to think you have the perfect career waiting to be discovered some day. But typically, there are multiple directions you could pursue with equal success. It’s only with time, experimentation and a bit of serendipity, that you discover passion for your career.

So here’s my advice in honor of Valentine’s Day: Stop focusing on finding your one true passion in your worklife. Instead, reframe and broaden your definition of passion as an acronym — P.A.S.S.I.O.N — that highlights the different ingredients you want in a career you can be passionate about.

The P.A.S.S.I.O.N Formula

Here are the variables to consider when assessing your passion profile:

P stands for people. Who are the people you want to work around? Do you prefer being around older people or children? Creative types or scientists? Introverted or outgoing personalities? The people you work with can make all the difference in the world.

A stands for activities. What types of activities do you do well, enjoy and find most meaningful? Are you someone who loves to take class and learn new things? Do you find fulfillment in mentoring new employees? Do you crave reading mystery novels in your free time? Think about the activities you enjoy both in the workplace and at home.

S stands for skills and strengths. In other words, what do you do well? Do you gravitate towards leadership roles? Are you a natural at solving relationship problems? Do you find it easy to learn new software? Chances are that you have a wide variety of skills, but it’s best to focus on the skills you most enjoy using.

S stands for settings. What types of work environments do you find most comfortable? Do you prefer a buttoned-up, corporate office or a laid-back creative setting? Are you happier working at headquarters or from home? Do you find a fast-paced workplace energizing or draining? Work environments can have an enormous impact on your day-to-day happiness.

I stands for interests. What topics and industries speak to you? Do you have deep expertise in a particular subject, such as American history, French cooking or organizational development? When considering this question, it helps to think about the books, websites and magazines you read during your free time.

Then, since you can’t earn income from your passions without a customer or employer willing to pay for your services, the last two letters of the acronym, “O” and “N” address the needs of the marketplace.

O stands for opportunities. What and where are the opportunities in the workplace for someone like you? Are there possibilities to offer your services on a project, or as a freelance or gig worker? As Aristotle once said, “Where your talents and needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.”

N stands for needs. What does the marketplace need that you would love to provide? Could your town use more day care services? Have you noticed a need for more diversity training in your industry? When you match your skills and interests to a need in the marketplace, you’ll find satisfying outlets.

A New Way to Look at Purpose

Finally, many of us think we need to work for a nonprofit or change the world in order to find purpose in our work. But bestselling author Dan Pink interestingly suggests that purpose at work can mean two different things.

There’s purpose with a capital P, he says, which means doing work that makes a difference in the world, like being a doctor or helping to solve the climate crisis. Then there’s purpose with a small “p,” which entails work that makes a contribution, such as helping to get a report out the door or leading a critical meeting. Even when you’re not changing the world, says Pink, it’s satisfying to know your input, effort and experience matters.

Ultimately, I think you’ll find that assessing your passion through the multi-faceted lens of the P.A.S.S.I.O.N formula and reframing your definition of purpose will open you up to new and exciting options.

It’s a great gift to give yourself. No expensive chocolates or roses needed.

Nancy Collamer
By Nancy Collamer
Nancy Collamer, M.S., is a semi-retirement coach, speaker and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. You can now download her free workbook called 25 Ways to Help You Identify Your Ideal Second Act on her website at MyLifestyleCareer.com (and you'll also receive her free bi-monthly newsletter).

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