A lot of readers have asked about finding passion and purpose in the workplace — and we understand why. Our generation seems to wrestle with this issue more than previous generations. Is it realistic to pursue a job based on your passion for the industry or mission?
We can make strong arguments for both sides. So we asked two of our contributors to weigh in.
Riley Fuller is the President of the Humanity and Hope United Foundation, a nonprofit working to assist underserved villages in remote parts of Honduras. And Chris Harrison is a Business Development Manager for Esker, a software company. He’s explained to us several times what he does, but it’s too complicated for us to understand.
Ben Higgins: So gentlemen, why are recent generations more focused on passion in the workplace?
Riley Fuller: I’m not sure why people are more focused on purpose than ever before. Maybe it’s because most people don’t have to fight for survival anymore; both men and women work more inside and outside the home; and we see many examples of people living with purpose on social media… Regardless I think our culture is experiencing a huge push from “profession to passion.”
Chris Harrison: For the Baby Boomer generation, which includes many of our parents, a job was a way to provide for their families and save for a secure future. They didn’t prioritize a vocation that “checks all the boxes” the way many of us, the Millennials, do.
BH: What does checking all the boxes mean to you?
RF: I’ve lived the experience of “checking all the boxes,” and it didn’t work for me. So four years ago I joined Humanity & Hope United full-time and tried to spend my time “on purpose” instead of “for profit.” To say the experience has been easy and that I’ve always enjoyed it would be an outright lie. But it’s been so enriching for myself and others that I’ve never looked back.
CH: Yeah, you need to reflect on your priorities. I believe it’s somewhat unrealistic to think we can all find a job that perfectly suits our passions, especially early in our careers. Sure, some young people make it happen. But for most, you’ve gotta gain experience before qualifying for your dream job or passion project. Heck, it’d be pretty cool to have a six-figure salary as a National Park Ranger, but I’m still waiting for that job alert to come through.
RF: Yeah, it’s a tough balance between being passionate and pragmatic. And there’s a whole lot in between. Before I started trying to work “on purpose,” I was part of a leadership development program at a Fortune 100 firm. I worked for at least a year in jobs like trading financial derivatives, selling insurance, and building an investment business. I’m so thankful for the experience. But I didn’t just feel empty; I felt broken. I felt like my life didn’t make sense.
CH: I think that’s when you need to reevaluate why you work and what you’re working toward. I’ve been in technology sales for the last six years, most recently for a company in a small satellite office in Denver. While there are only five of us (out of a 450-employee company) in a small office, I feel blessed. I have a boss who cares about my success and challenges me; helpful, fun colleagues; a healthy salary; and a company culture that embraces work/life balance.
BH: So how do you incorporate passion and purpose in a more traditional setting?
CH: Good question. At my core, am I passionate about document process automation software? Don’t kid yourself. But I am passionate about growing myself as a person, communicating better, having the resources to mentor fatherless youth in our community during my free time, and providing finances that allow me to play competitive soccer, camp with my family, and have a safe feeling of “okay, we got this” when our car blows up.
RF: I think it involves your intentions. Before working for H&H I only focused on myself, what I wanted, what I was missing, what my goals were… I spent no time focusing on others, not even my family. My job didn’t encourage me to use my best (time, money, talents) to serve others, either. For me, working “on purpose” helped me realize that life is much bigger than me, and that I have a lot to give.
CH: Life is SO much bigger than ourselves. And I certainly don’t disagree with Millennials who believe they should pursue their dreams. Life is short! I work to live; I don’t live to work. And it’s what I do with my work to grow myself combined with what I do in my free time that develops my character, personality, and integrity. For many, a job is a tool that enables you to chase your passions — and that’s okay.
BH: What’s your advice for someone who’s looking for a passionate, purposeful career?
RF: When we are passionate about our work and the people we work with, we can overcome even the most difficult obstacles. We won’t give up fighting for what’s important. I try to live my life knowing that the stories I participate in will outlive me and nearly everything else will be forgotten. I think we all want to be part of stories that are worth telling! And I think it’s important to remember that the corporate world can still be a setting where life-changing stories take place.
CH: And remember the bigger picture. While your job may not check all the boxes concerning what you’re passionate about, it may check the right boxes to grow you as a person and enable your passions outside of the office. I agree with Riley that we all have a lot to give. And I think your profession is one of the tools that enables you to do so.
By Riley Fuller & Chris Harrison with Ben Higgins
How do you blend passion and purpose into your job?