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Why Purpose Trumps Passion Every Time

purpose trumps passion sara thomas

Much has been written about our pursuing life with purpose. But what about our passions? You’ve likely heard the advice, “Pursue your passion.” Turns out, that’s terrible advice.

Instead, cultivate your purpose.

If your head is exploding at the moment, allow me to explain the difference:

  • Purpose is defined as “the sense that you are contributing to others, that your work has broader meaning.”¹
  • Passion is “the feeling of excitement or enthusiasm you have about your work.”¹

Yes, both are good. As it turns out, purpose trumps passion every time. Allow me to illustrate.

When Passion Meets Purpose

While serving a church in Cincinnati, I started a ministry at the time we called Awaken the City. For at least six weeks in the summer, we hosted teams of people to connect them to serving opportunities in the city.

At least, that’s what most people thought. The purpose was much deeper. The intensity of the ministry is a reflection of the depth of purpose.

  • We started the day with breakfast and studying the Scriptures. Then we’d send teams out to serve in the city. Every act of service focused on people. The day ended with a meal and worship service where we reflected on where we experienced God’s presence that day.
  • Our days started at 6:30 am and didn’t end until close to midnight. Six days a week, for six weeks in the summer we kept this schedule.
  • I supervised 5-6 college age interns, 1-2 professional staff, countless church volunteers, all the while cultivating relationships with our ministry partners.

To say the work was exhausting is an understatement. Every part of my being – physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual – was tired.

But I was more alive, energized, and productive than at any other time of the year. Why?

Because Awaken the City was connected to a purpose of sharing the light and love of Christ in the city. Everything we did was focused on building relationships with people living in poverty.

For me, a passion for people living in poverty in the city came together with a purpose of sharing the love of Jesus. My passion alone could have sucked the life out of me. To sustain my passion for the long haul, I needed a purpose.

Ready to find out why I say purpose trumps passion? Here are a few reasons. You probably have more.

purpose trumps passion sara thomasPurpose is Something People Can Share

Purpose has two key elements. The first is shared meaning.

Shared meaning comes from something that is beyond yourself.

Think of shared meaning as the connection point for your purpose. Your tasks can be different. Your roles need to be diverse. But the purpose of the group creates a point of intersection. That’s where shared meaning comes from.

Remember, a focus on purpose can fade. People need reminders. Whether it is the purpose of the whole organization, a work team or a task group, cultivating purpose can spark a connection.

The connections are moments where relationships begin to deepen. As a result, performance and satisfaction increase.

Passion is Individualistic

Conversely, passion is about the individual. We all have passions. But that doesn’t mean the Finnish snowboarding coach at the Olympics is going to share the same passion as you.

What does he do to stay calm during the races? He knits. No joke. Here is the proof.

His passion for snowboarding may be shared by others on the slopestyle course. His passion for knitting? Not so much.

Passions are individual. We wouldn’t expect another coach to learn to knit. But, we would expect another snowboarding coach to draw out the best in his or her athletes.

Moving on from knitting snowboarding coaches…

Purpose has a Beneficiary

The second element of purpose is a contribution. Said differently, your purpose has a beneficiary.

Allow me to illustrate with an example.

What is your “why?” Why do you clean the kitchen at the church every Thursday afternoon? “Because it’s a task I am responsible for doing.”

Why? “Because someone needs to clean the kitchen.”

Why does that matter? “Because we want a clean environment for church members and guests.”

Why does that matter? “Because we seek to welcome people into the body of Christ.”

Now you’ve found the why. The purpose always points to the contribution being made on behalf of others. There is a beneficiary to your work. Now, the task of cleaning the kitchen transcends the task list.

Purpose or Passion?

Which will you choose? Purpose or passion?

Admit it. You want both.


In the best scenario, pursue your purpose with passion. Why? Because people with high passion and purpose make contributions that have personal meaning (passions) and a beneficiary (purpose).

Tell me in the comments below: What are you doing that is filled with purpose and engages your passions?

Put the above ideas into action. Download the “Purpose Worksheet” to identify how your passions meet your purpose.

Today’s a great day to live your purpose. Go pursue your purpose!

¹Chip and Dan Heath, The Power of Moments, p. 217