Purpose Over Passion

95262317_da0a908053_bI was in a band for six years without ever being a musician. We were called the “25th Hour”. I was in sixth grade when my best friend Jim started playing guitar. I bought one as well, and although I gave it a shot…my guitar ended up the same way as my clarinet, saxophone, and trumpet…dusty.

In 7th grade two of my friends were good enough to start thinking “band”. I’ve been a bit outspoken my entire life and fit in nicely as a lead singer. We actually auditioned (in 7th grade) two drummers, with our girl friend winning out and joining the 25th Hour. Our fifth person played bass, and all of a sudden we had an actual band.

Now if you’ve ever been in a garage band before “garage band” you’ll realize that for us, it was a total experiment. Each practice, rehearsal, gig (yes, we played in some gigs ha), and recording session (two LPs) was a bizarre mix of fun, trial & error, and chaos. As we grew older, our expectations of ourselves rose, and our abilities also grew. It was still a ton of fun when we were in 11th and 12th grade, but a divide had been created.

The Passion Divide

You see, I wasn’t as “passionate” about making music like three of my band mates were. I loved writing lyrics to new songs, enjoyed performing in front of people, and thought it was a ton of fun hanging out and practicing. I even spent a lot of time learning the technology behind the recording process…but this was not something I would continue after high school. It had a feeling of “being over” to me by the time I was senior.

For three of my band mates, they had real purpose for our band. They wanted to work in music and with music, while in college and preferably for the rest of their lives. They spent our practices and rehearsals playing with purpose, while I spent it having a good time. As a result they continued to improve as musicians and learn more about the process and industry. Two of them currently work in the music industry. Our drummer recently graduated from Harvard’s Business School, and me…I went on to teach reading and writing to high school students with a new job now focused on technology.

The Difference Between Purpose and Passion

That’s the difference between purpose and passion to me. Passion may get you going. It may have you fired up about a new project or opportunity. It may lead you to shout it from the mountain tops. But purpose is a different animal. It keeps you going when others fade away. It drives your everyday actions because there is a reason behind everything you do.

I’ve written and spoke a lot about student’s finding their passions. About people finding their passions. And I do think that passion is a place to start, because it does lead to purpose. But, there is a reason Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life” is the best-selling non-fiction hard-back in history. We, as people, are looking for purpose in our lives. We are looking for self-actualization (as Abraham Maslow called it.)

Passion may lead us to new experiences, but ultimately it should point us to purpose. For my band mates, the 25th Hour was the start of their journey in music. For me, it was the start of my journey with writing (although I didn’t know it at the time). Whether you are in high school, or newly retired, let purpose guide your actions…and you’ll never look back.

Photo Credit: pfig via Compfight cc

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  • A.J.,

    Well said. I recently saw Kevin Brookhouser’s post (http://edreach.us/2013/05/17/your-students-are-not-geniuses/) about calling 20% Time “Genius Hour” and its implications. This, a month after I’d played with the word Genius in a post of my own (http://geniushour.blogspot.com/2013/04/genius.html). The words “passion” and “purpose” were thrown out after this post in a couple of tweets. We don’t use these terms lightly, as we who have passion and purpose know what they are about. Thank you for this distinction, and for reinvigorating me to help my students find passions that lead to purpose…however long that may take!


    • AJ Juliani says:

      Thanks Joy. Kevin’s post got me thinking yesterday. Specifically about how we lead students in this “20% Time”. We have a great responsibility on our hands (even though sometimes it may not feel that way). I want kids to have passion. I want them to have purpose. I also believe in the potential of “genius”. But most importantly I just want our students to be able to “do” things in school instead of just “learning” things in school. When they find their passions and purpose, they’ll translate that ability to “do” in their own time and life!

  • A.J.,
    Thank you for explaining the distinction between passion and purpose so eloquently! I think this is a concept I’ve been struggling with internally lately and you’ve helped to clarify what my confusion was all about. Passion is wonderful, but purpose is what drives us long term. Helping our students find purpose is a much trickier thing than helping them discover a passion.

    Thanks again!

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