Moving from Passion to Purpose


In my role at Microsoft, I would encounter people on a daily basis that would tell me about their passion to make a difference. I have always been curious as to why people feel ‘passion’ is such a critical component for them and their work. Why do they need to feel passionate about the work they do, or that they must have some passion in their work life? Students are taught to talk and write about their passion. When we go for a job interview, we talk about our passion. It seems that passion is an overused and overrated word. Now don’t get me wrong, I too exude passion when I talk about the work I do. But passion alone is just not enough.  Hugh Culver in his blog “Why passion is overrated and what matters instead” discusses that passion is not enough for success but hard work is. 

When people came to see me seeking to join my team while I was at Microsoft, I didn’t ask them how passionate they were about making a difference, instead, I would ask them to share with me a difference they have made, however small or insignificant it might be. This was a far more insightful way to discover their strengths and their purpose.  

Julie Burstein in her book, “Spark – How Creativity Works” shares wonderful stories of very famous creative people, of all the stories she tells one stood out.  The story is about Stanley Kunitz, America’s Poet Laureate who had this marvelous and deep relationship with nature, he wrote “At my touch the wild/braid of creation/trembles.”  As a young man during the Great Depression, he bought a farm and decided to get to know the farm and all its wildlife.  He got to know a family of owls that he patiently befriended, spending hours standing still underneath their nest until they accepted him as part of their world.  He eventually carried the mother and the four babies to his attic where they then lived.  The moral here is that for him to learn he became part of the world he wanted to know, and it required a lot of hard work and patience. The story also serves as an inspiration for how each one of us can make a lasting contribution to society.  What is then the magic sauce that inspires us to go out and make positive change that eventually has a collective impact?

Several years ago, when speaking to the incoming class of international students at the University of Washington, I developed a framework to share with them so they would use their time at the University to think about their purpose and extend the common good in addition to following their ‘passion.’

I suggested that they follow the Six C’s: Conviction, Creativity, Capability, Capacity, Commitment, and Compassion. The Six C’s while not as attractive as passion, however, combining them with your passion will enable you to drive greater and more lasting impact, create more social opportunities and develop your purpose for the ‘common good’.  

To make an impact in anything, whether starting a lemonade stand or deciding to give up all your possessions and move to another country to work in a rural environment, one must first and foremost have conviction – a belief in yourself and your ability.  Vivienne Harr a nine-year-old in 2013 learned about child slavery and started a lemonade stand, running it for 365 days straight and raising over $100,000 for groups that fight slavery (  She had belief in her ability and recognized her strengths and weakness and have the desire to learn and grow. 

However, conviction is not enough, one also must have a spark of creativity.  Most of us have a new idea every minute of every waking hour, but that is different from creativity.  To be creative requires the ability to put your skills and ideas together into what is eventually a concept or prototype.  You must filter your ideas and settle on one that we are willing to pursue; one that is both well-formed and thought out.   As I have traveled around the world, I see people have creative ideas all over the place.  Let me share one – Rosalyn lives in one of the most squalid slums in Nairobi – Kibera—here she has a small workshop to make shoes out of recycled tires which she then sells online.  She employs many young women and men from the slum and gives them a job but her workshop also then provides them an opportunity to learn other skills.  This to me is creativity.

Once you have ‘the idea’ you then need to have the capability and the right skills to take that idea further.  Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers” shares several examples where those that have succeeded have spent a minimum of 10,000 hours practicing becoming an expert.  For example, he highlights how Bill Gates as a young man spent hours upon end coding and sharpening his skills, and with this practice, he could then launch Microsoft as a company at a very young age. Deep knowledge and skills are critical before embarking on implementing ‘the idea’.  

Once you know you have the skills to take your idea further you then need the capacity and the ability to put your ideas and skills to work – this means you have now taken the hard step of figuring out a plan of action and have the capacity to put that plan into practice.  For example, starting my own business, when I moved to Seattle from the East Coast, I did not know many people here.  I was asked by some executives at a Foundation that had supported a program of mine to help someone who had started a nonprofit focused on bridging the digital divide. I knew nothing of the subject matter in fact my kids thought I was a technology luddite.   But by working very hard and knocking on countless doors we established the organization in a very short period of time and in the early 2000 were seen as one of the most innovative nonprofits focused on bridging the digital divide.  There are no shortcuts in life to having to give it your all.

The fifth C is, in my opinion, often the hardest to undertake and sustain – commitment.  You must combine the ability to take the plan and make it work with the strength and resolve needed to stay the course.  Steve Ballmer, the former CEO at Microsoft was always reminding people of the importance of commitment and tenacity.  He always told us at Microsoft that we face problems, but we keep going and going and going and going and going until we solve those problems.

There will always be obstacles and setbacks to overcome.  This is where most give up.  But to succeed you must make a commitment to stay the course, not fear failure, and learn from your mistakes – which are an inevitable part of making a difference.  With commitment, you will try new avenues no matter what.  

Finally, it is about compassion.  You need to develop your ability to think beyond a narrow impact into a realm where you think beyond yourself and immediate context.  You must become conscious of the community around you and the impact your work will have – both good and bad.  We all need to focus on developing insight into any potential unintended consequences of our actions.  

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When you combine the Six ‘Cs you can drive sustainable, real, positive change.  Passion is a personal pursuit, it is important, but the combination of Conviction, Creativity, Capability, Capacity, Commitment, and Compassion are the essential elements to getting real results.  Understanding and accepting these drivers you will be in a far better position to succeed in what you do, enjoy what you do, and have a fulfilling experience at the same time. 

As we move into fall and with most of us coming back from vacation and school it is important for us to remember that purpose is what drives us and is the glue as we go through the period of ‘great resignation’ and ‘quiet quitting’ that organization focus on helping employees connect to their purpose and find the connections between individual purpose and work. We have conducted purpose mindset workshops for organizations around the world and see the transformations individuals go through when they are able to articulate their strengths, values, and purpose and then strands of alignment with their work. Our goal is to have all individuals articulate their purpose and in doing so help make the world a better place.

By Dr. Akhtar Badshah

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