Passion vs. Purpose – What’s the Difference and Why Does It Matter?

Passion vs. Purpose - What's the Difference and Why Does It Matter?

Most people see passion and purpose like two peas in a pod. 


So much so that they’re often referred to interchangeably. 


But I’m gonna present the idea that passion and purpose are more like PB&J. 


They’re individually so different from one another (not to mention, powerfully tasty on their own), yet combining the two makes magic. 


Whether it’s passion vs. purpose that you’re after, having both buckets filled can give you the utmost life satisfaction and fulfillment. 


To help you fulfill both passion and purpose, it’s important to first differentiate between the two, so you can more easily identify them in your experiences. 


So, today, I bring you four ways to look at passion vs. purpose. 


4 ways to define passion vs. purpose

#1. Passion is for you and purpose is for others

Likely my favorite distinction between passion vs. purpose is the inward vs. outward outlook, where passion is what the world gives you, while purpose is what you give to the world. 


The difference between passion vs purpose: Passion is the world's gift to you. Purpose is your gift to the world.
Passion is the world’s gift to you. Purpose is your gift to the world.


If you’re wondering how passion and purpose are related, look to author, former monk and public speaker, Jay Shetty, and his definition of passion vs. purpose:


“Your passion is for you and your purpose is for others. When you use your passion in the service of others, it becomes your purpose.”


jay shetty
Jay Shetty. Source: Executive Speakers


So, you can turn one of your passions into your purpose by using it to serve the greater good.


If you dig deeper into Jay’s philosophy, passion is just one ingredient of four to create your purpose. Your purpose is the intersection between your passion, mission, profession, and vocation.


purpose and passion helps people serve others
Passion, among other ingredients, make up your purpose. Source: Pinterest


While this format may apply to people who are still in their careers, the main takeaway for achieving your ideal retirement lifestyle is passion is something that serves you, and purpose is something that you do to serve others. 


And, passion is one of multiple components that make up your purpose; the other ingredients include outward forms of giving back, like in volunteerism, leaving a legacy, or another form of your “work.” 


Let’s take a common interest, like animals, for example. 


If you’re a pet lover, you’re probably passionate about animals. 


But if you’re an animal rescuer, you’re likely passionate about animals and fulfilling your purpose of saving them, too. 


Put another way, both an animal rescuer and a pet owner may be passionate about animals. Yet, only the animal rescuer may have the purpose of saving animals. 


#2. Passion is about emotions, while purpose is the reason behind your emotions

Another take on passion vs. purpose is based on emotions. 


While passion is something that excites you and lights a fire of emotions inside of you, purpose is the driving reason behind emotions.


passion is what makes you feel emotions whereas purpose is what drives them
Passion is about your emotions. Purpose is about the reason behind your emotions.


According to the dictionary’s definition:


“Passion is any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling.”


It’s literally an emotion, whether love or hate. Emotions can also be put into terms of energy.


According to Oprah:


“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” 


oprah winfrey
Oprah Winfrey. Source: Boston Globe


I do love thinking about passion as energy because it means it’s something that can be created from within. It’s fluid and you can work on developing the excitement for it.


Look to music, for instance. Whether it’s listening to or playing a heartening tune, I’m sure you’ve had a passionate experience with music that excited your emotions. 


But was it always there? Not necessarily. 


Your passion for playing or performing music is likely developed. For instance, you’re probably not passionate about playing the piano if you’ve only learned three chords. It’s tough to feel excited about something before becoming knowledgeable or skilled at it. 


Likewise, from a listening perspective, some songs might excite more passion and emotion in you, once you’ve acquired a taste or ear for them. Or, maybe you have a newfound appreciation for a song after hearing it in a certain context, like in a dramatic movie scene.


Either way, your passion and emotions toward music are conjured up from inside and can be developed. 


Whereas, purpose is the reason for your emotions and remains more prevalent. 


Back to the music example, while music may bring you happiness or joy it’s not your purpose to simply listen to or perform it. 


Maybe your purpose to excite other people by writing melodies, orchestrating songs, and performing them as gifts to the world. Or maybe your purpose is to heal people with your music. After all, studies reveal several healing effects of music across a range of patients and ailments.


In this scenario, American essayist, philosopher and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, has a definition of purpose that fits the bill:


“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, and to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” 


ralph waldo emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson. Source: ThoughtCo


#3. Passion is your “what” and purpose is your “why”

Similar to the emotional take on passion vs. purpose, this one outlines each according to your “what” and “why,” your passion being your “what” and your purpose being your “why.”


Just like your emotions, your passions in this sense of “what” can be developed. Rather than an emotion, though, this view of passion is based on a skill level or topic of interest. 


Passion is your "what." Purpose is your "why."
Passion is your “what.” Purpose is your “why.”


Research shows that believing passion is fixed can make you less likely to explore new topics. So, it’s wise to treat your passions as something you can develop, explore, and grow into. 


Take cooking, for example. You can develop a passion for learning new recipes, cooking meals, and drumming up your own concoctions. It’s a flexible skill and interest that changes and develops the more you hone it.


Purpose, on the other hand, is your “why.”


The dictionary’s definition of purpose is appropriate here:


“Purpose is the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.”


Simon Sinek, who trailblazed a lot of the work on finding your “why,” puts both the “what” and “why” into terms of his Golden Circle, where the “why” is at the center of everything you do and even maps to how your brain works.


simon sinek's golden circle about why how and what drives people
Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle puts your “why” in the center of everything you and your brain are meant to do. Source: Simon Sinek


According to Simon, it’s the purpose and “why” that drives us:


“It’s only when there’s a roadblock or you’re struggling or something’s not going right that you start thinking, ‘Why am I on the road in the first place?’ And that’s what ‘why’ means – it means before you get in the car, you actually have a sense of destination.”


simon sinek
Simon Sinek has a great TED talk


Which means, there are several ways, aka “whats” and passions, that you can use to get there.


Back to the topic of cooking, maybe you’re passionate about cooking, but it’s your purpose to give people a chance to relish in the innovative recipes that you’ve concocted while bonding with their loved ones.


This “why” (or purpose) can happen in more ways than one, and can manifest as several “whats” (or passions), like:


  • Serving meals in your restaurant’s dining experience 
  • As a personal chef 
  • Virtually on a cooking show
  • In written form as a recipe book
  • At a tasting event
  • In a cooking class


Basically, your purpose is the reason why you’re put on this earth and your passions are your various ways to achieve it. 


Speaking of several paths, that brings us to the final passion vs. purpose viewpoint.


#4. Passions are multiple and purpose is singular

Finally, another way of viewing the difference between passion vs. purpose is in quantity. 


It’s common to have several passions and only one purpose.


It's common to have multiple passions and one purpose.


Which makes sense if you think of your passions in terms of things that bring you joy. You can develop a deep interest and passion for several activities and topics. 


Plus, if you have several passions, that means they can also change and you can grow them over time.


Whereas, a purpose is singular, if you look at it in terms of the reason you were put on this earth.


The way you go about your “why” may develop, but your actual “why” remains singular and unwavering.


Now that you have clear ways of identifying passion vs. purpose, let’s walk through why the distinction even matters.


Why passion vs. purpose matters

The first glaring reason why it’s important to draw a border between passion vs. purpose is so you can easily identify each one and then bring it into your life. 


While having each one alone enhances your life, having both passion and purpose can do wonders for you. Having a clear perspective on whether an activity brings you passion or purpose can better inform your involvement level. 


That is, of course, if you want to be happy and thriving.


Take employment, for instance.


One study of 5,000 employees over the span of five years revealed that people with both purpose and passion scored in the 80th percentile in performance. 


The study also found that passion and purpose, individually, don’t hold as well. In fact, the people with only purpose dropped to the 64th percentile in performance, and those with only passion plummeted all the way down to the 20th percentile. 


So, what’s the learning lesson? 


Not necessarily that purpose is more important than passion. In fact, another study led by Jon Jachimowicz found passion to be hugely important when combined with perseverance (aka grit) and leads to a significant boost in job performance.


passion and perserverence lead to better performance
Jachimowicz’s study revealed passion and perseverance lead to better performance. Source: PNAS


But back to the combination at hand – passion and purpose. The main takeaway is: marrying the two can really make you prosper. 


While we’re on the topic of finding the perfect job environment, the golden ticket sits at the intersection between passion and purpose, which is dubbed as the P-Squared region by Morten Hansen, author of Purpose, Meaning, and Passion.


matching passion and purpose leads to better performance
Hansen refers to the ideal intersection between passion and purpose as P-Squared, which is where you should focus your energy. Source: Morten Hansen


If you’re wondering how to work this ideal matchup into your retirement lifestyle, simply try to think of your daily activities in terms of your passions and purpose. 


For instance, if you’re looking for an ideal volunteer opportunity, consider hunting for a gig that taps into both your passion(s) and purpose. Morten Hansen’s P-Squared cross-section makes for a worthwhile fit.


Or, as Jay Shetty shared, you can turn your passions into your purpose by incorporating them into the way you serve others and give back to the world. 


And, of course, if you want to fulfill your need to feel more relevant, needed, and useful, focus on your purpose and focus on what energizes you while serving others.


Finally, if your desire is to find a fulfilling hobby to enjoy, tap into your passions. And don’t just try to aimlessly fill up your time (as most retirees do during the disenchantment retirement stage). Brainstorm and try a range of activities to land on ones that excite you inwardly. In other words, identify hobbies that conjure up positive emotions, light you up, and bring you joy. 


Can Passion Be Developed?

When it comes to passions, most people seem to think that you’re either born with them or you’re not. But is that really the case? Can passion be developed over time, regardless of your age?


The answer is a definite yes.


We’re always told to find our passion — and for good reason. It is something you find and develop, not something you are born with. A recent study found that your interests develop and grow over time.


If you consider yourself a lifelong learner, you’ll discover hundreds of new interests over time that could develop into passions. The key is to be consistent and not give up on the first obstacle. Something might be your passion even if you’re not immediately excellent at it.


And what’s most important is to pay attention to whether something naturally energizes or depletes you. There’s an important underlying spark of energy that a true passion provides. We would even go as far as saying “passion = energy”, so follow that energy. It’s a reliable clue that you’re headed in the right direction.


It’s time to build a passionate and purposeful life that you love

While passion and purpose on their own deliver great benefits, a mix of the two brings you incredible experiences.


To recap, here are four ways to look at passion vs. purpose:


  • #1. Passion is for you. Purpose is for others.
  • #2. Passion is about your emotions. Purpose is the reason behind your emotions.
  • #3. Passion is your “what.” Purpose is your “why.”
  • #4. You can have multiple passions and one purpose.


Once you have clarity on identifying your passions and purpose, you can get involved with people, projects and activities that are congruent with them. 


Which is a key way to filter in a greater sense of accomplishment, fulfillment, and satisfaction into your life and daily routine.


Here’s to customizing your ideal passionate and purposeful life to overcome any boredom achieve true happiness in retirement.

What's Your Retirement Purpose?

These 10 questions can make all the difference
portrait of Cyn Meyer, founder of Second Wind Movement and a certified retirement life coach
Cyn Meyer 

Retirement Life Coach

As a certified retirement life coach since 2018, Cyn has helped thousands of older adults turn their retirement years into remarkable years full of growth, purpose, and passion. Through her signature program Rewire My Retirement, she helps people achieve their best life across the 5 Rings of Retirement, which covers topics Growth, Community, Health, Giving Back, and Finance.

Cyn combines specific life coaching tools, neuroscience, and her extensive background in marketing (spanning 17 years) to make a powerful impact with Second Wind Movement – an organization dedicated to providing educational resources and coaching for seniors.

With meticulous research, insight, and passion, Cyn’s mission is to usher in a new wave of positive experiences for generations of retirees.

portrait of Cyn Meyer, founder of Second Wind Movement and a certified retirement life coach

Cyn Meyer 

Retirement Life Coach

As a certified retirement life coach since 2018, Cyn has helped thousands of older adults turn their retirement years into remarkable years full of growth, purpose, and passion (beyond the stereotypical financial planning side of retirement). 

She combines specific life coaching tools, neuroscience, and her extensive background in marketing (spanning 17 years) to make a powerful impact with Second Wind Movement – an organization dedicated to providing educational resources and coaching for seniors.

With meticulous research, insight, and passion, Cyn’s mission is to usher in a new wave of positive experiences for generations of retirees.