Demystifying Passion and Purpose

Demystifying Passion and Purpose

There’s a lot of words in the ‘life purpose’ space that are used interchangeably but are just subtly different ways to skin the same (new age) cat. So, at the risk of oversimplification, I’ve focussed on the two words that resonate most with me… passion and purpose … otherwise known as our ‘what’ and our ‘why’. Our passions (plural… because we can have more than one) are our “what’s” … they’re the nouns that describe the things that make us come alive. Our ‘passions’ live in our hearts, not our heads and they can change over time. Passion is inward focussed; it’s emotive and relies on intuition over intellect to uncover it. Our purpose, on the other hand, is our ‘why’… it’s the verb (or action) word that describes the reason (usually singular) behind what we’re here to do. It’s what inspires us to take action. Purpose is less emotive but more focussed than passion and tends to be more enduring. It’s also a little more elusive and harder to define.

In a perfect (and perhaps idealistic) world, our passion fuels our purpose. We find a purpose that is driven by or related to something about which we feel passionate. Simple. Well, maybe for some, but for a lot of us … not so much. Of course, it’s also useful to overlay all this passion and purpose with what you’re actually good at … your innate strengths, which is not to say that you can’t be passionate about things for which you have no natural talent (as evidenced by my passion for dancing). But the sweet spot we’re all searching for is at the intersection of our passions, our purpose and our strengths.

The Japanese have coined a term for this sweet spot. They call it your ikigai, which roughly translates as your ‘reason for being’ or sense of purpose… and it has been linked to the longevity of the inhabitants of Okinawa, the Japanese Island (and Blue Zone) where ikigai had its origins. The Japanese believe that your ikigai is at the intersection of what you are good at, what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and of course, what you love. Explorer and journalist, Dan Buettner, who discovered the world’s five Blue Zones, believes that, while called different things, the philosophy behind ikigai is common to all the blue zones of the world. On the island of Ikaria in Greece they call it kefi. The Nicoyans call it ‘plan de vida.’ Whatever you call it, it appears that having a clear reason for ‘getting out of bed every morning’ was one of the habits that all these centenarians shared.

For many of us, uncovering our ikigai is easier said than done, but if a ‘reason for being’ adds both life to our years and years to our lives, then it seems worth exploring further. As Shakespeare said, “The Purpose of Life Is to Discover Your Gift. The Meaning of Life Is to Give Your Gift Away.”

Ang Galloway is an Australian-based writer, MEA alum, and midlife explorer. You can read more of her stories on her blog at