Culture Chat

And other musings on humanizing the workplace
Purpose and Passion: Why your “true calling” doesn’t have to be just one thing

Purpose and Passion: Why your “true calling” doesn’t have to be just one thing

June 12, 2016
Susan Cato

Welcome to our new column, True Self Saturday, by Susan Cato, who will be writing for us on a regular basis about authenticity and bringing your true self to work. This topic is something we care a lot about, and yet we haven’t until now explored in any deep way what it really means.  We’re excited to dig into it a little bit with Susan’s help.


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For years I thought that in order for my work to really matter it had to be my passion. Or, I had to work for an organization with meaningful philanthropic mission, or simply have work that allowed me to directly make some sort of epic difference in the world. The reality is that most of us just have to work, period. And hopefully we will generally like what we do.

Growing up, and even now, we are all told to find our passion and work accordingly. We are sold countless books, meditations, workshops, assessments and tests that supposedly help us to find our true purpose and passion. It has always been difficult for me to understand why it's not enough to just be who we are, as we are, and why we have to search for something else. I don't know about you, but I've spent hours years on all of these things, and still have yet to figure out what my true singular purpose and passion is.

I have always been in awe of people who live and work their passion. Where the line is blurred between what they love and what they do to make a living. Somehow they have shirked the rules that the rest of us seem to think we have to live by, breaking free of the supposed "limitations" imposed by our day jobs.

You can spend a lifetime searching and never find it. While searching, your entire career and life can pass you by. Many of us experience this, and then give up thinking that there is nothing special about what we do or have to offer. I was the person who used to let this type of thinking get out of control until I began to understand that my path is unique to who I am and is no less awesome just because I do not have just one, single-minded, focused purpose. Like many others, I am curious and eager to learn new things, fascinated by nature and technology and history and helping others among many other things. I get very excited about projects that involve any or all of the above. I immerse myself in "bursts" (could be weeks, months, years), and then finish a phase or project and usually move on to something else. My colleagues and friends have criticized me for this, because (in their minds) people are supposed to focus on one thing for the majority of their life and career. Truth-be-told, some of my friends have told me that I change jobs and focus more than they change their underwear (which is gross, by the way, because these bursts could be weeks, months or years).

Turns out that there is a phrase for people like us - we are called Multipotentialites. According to Wikipedia, this term "can be used interchangeably with polymath or Renaissance Person." Well-then, we are in good company - Darwin, Jefferson, Leonard DaVinci and many others fit into this category.

"When it comes to our abilities, it feels as if we have two options. We can either spend our time developing depth in one particular skill or interest – perhaps becoming a 9-dan player of Go, a master musician, the best software developer. Or we can spend our time becoming quite good – but presumably less good – across many diverse activities" —Emily Wapnick

Career coach Emilie Wapnick describes the "multipotentialite" — those of us with many interests, many jobs over a lifetime, and many interlocking potentials.

It’s of great relief to me that finding our purpose, passion, and meaning in life doesn't have to happen in one, massively focused and linear way. We can all do small things in a big way and/or amazing things in small ways and be just as impactful, fulfilled and inspired - and more authentically true to who we are.

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Susan Cato is a recognized expert on digital strategy, producing award-winning websites, web applications, online publications and community platforms. Her superpower is the combination of a deep understanding of digital processes and structures alongside a keen sense of the power of innovation and thinking outside the box. 

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(photo credit)

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