“Follow your passion” is the line most people remember from Steve Jobs famous commencement speech at Stanford University.

The research says Steve got it wrong.

Purpose trumps passion every time, write Chip and Dan Heath in their powerful book The Power of Moments. 

They site a study of high and low performers conducted by University of California, Berkeley professor Morten Hansen who looked at the impact of passion and purpose.

Passion is the feeling of excitement or enthusiasm we have about our work.  

Purpose is the sense we are contributing to others, that our work has broader meaning.

Those with low purpose and low passion were in the bottom 10th percentile. No surprise: If we are unenthusiastic about our work and find it lacks meaning, our chances of being an overachiever are low.  

On the flip side, those with high purpose and high passion were in the top 20 percentile. Makes sense: if we are enthusiastic and find lots of meaning in our work, we are likely crushing it. 

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Those who are passionate about their job were still low performers if they lacked a sense of purpose. They ranked in the bottom 20th percentile.


Those with a high sense of purpose or meaning but weren’t particularly passionate about their work still ranked in the 64th percentile.

Purpose trumps passion. The Heath brothers reflect that one reason for these findings is passion is individualistic where purpose is something people can share. Purpose knits groups together.

The bottom line?  It’s more important to find our purpose rather than pursue our passion.


Reflection: Where do I fall on the passion / purpose matrix?

Action: Find time to consistently journal about the purpose in my work.  

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