Is Your Passion Selfless or Selfish?

Posted by in Career Success | 8 comments

Our passions can often seem elusive but there’s a reason for this.

This happens because our drive to find our passions is grounded in our own needs, comfort, interests, and desire for significance.


Molly Sabourin via Compfight

So in order to find our passions we must first ask ourselves why we want to find our passion.

Does it come from our own pride, envy of others, or a place to find our worth?

Or is it something more?

The solution to finding your passion lies in the very thing we often avoid.

To truly find our passions in life we must sacrifice our freedom for someone else.

This can sound almost foreign to someone living in western culture.

Our culture tells us there is nothing of more value than our own happiness and our own individual freedom.

Yet, it’s only when you shift your focus from serving your own needs and desires to serving the needs of others first that you will truly experience passion.

So How Do You Know If You’re Being Selfish or Selfless?

Ask yourself these questions:

Why do you work? Most are working to make money but ultimately money is an empty motivator. What most people don’t realize is they’re also working to avoid a sense of insignificance. When you’re working only for yourself to feed your desires for money, significance, power, or respect you will never experience the feeling of truly working in your passion. It’s only when your motivation becomes a way to selflessly serve others that you can experience the level of satisfaction you are looking for from your work.

Who will benefit the most when you find your passion? If you were working in your passions today is there someone who would benefit from your work? Would they benefit more than you? It’s not wrong for you to benefit as well, either monetarily or otherwise, but are you providing more value for them than they are for you? This will be a clue as whether or not you’re working in your passions.

Who would you be thrilled to serve and help even if no one knew about it? If you could do work you weren’t allowed to tell your family and friends about would you still do it? If you were to gain nothing from it would you still want to do it? Again, there’s nothing wrong with getting something from working (i.e. money) but would your motivation come from a place of desiring to serve another person? When you can answer yes to those questions you’ll know you’re on the right track to finding your passions.

We all want to know what we do with our lives matters.

So often we look to work to provide us with a sense of significance and identity.

However, when we let go of working in our passions to meet our own needs and focus on how we can serve others we can truly do work that is meaningful, enjoyable, and prosperous.

Question: Have you ever met someone who is working to serve others first? What was it like to spend time with that person?

  • Dave Unger

    I’m a nerd, so reading this post immediately brought to mind an example from science fiction.

    In Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan, Spock heroically sacrifices himself in order to save a starship full of people. His reason – “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Kirk adds, “Or the one.”

    That’s a very Confucian philosophy. In Eastern though, individuals have an obligation to their families which takes priority over their own aspirations. And families have an obligation to society.

    Star Trek III – The Search for Spock illustrates the Western counterpoint. In that movie, Kirk hijacks a starship in order to go searching for a way to bring Spock back to life. In doing so, he endangers more lives than Spock originally saved. Why? “Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.” That’s a very concise way to sum up much of modern Western thinking. We want life to be all about us or at least all about the people and things we care about.

    As Adam points out in this post, searching for one’s own passion can often result in tension between selfish and selfless desires. And I agree that the optimal combination is to find something you care deeply about that both provides and income stream and benefits other people in some way. That way you can work at something that gives you pleasure and a sense of accomplishment while also knowing you’ve helped someone else in some way.

    My own strongest passion is to teach others. I can do that in any setting. As a Marine NCO, I sometimes showed younger Marines the most efficient ways to sweep floors and clean toilets. As a computer consultant, I have shown a customer how to design a $6 million computer system that outperforms the $10 million system they designed on their own.

    In terms of following my passion, both experiences gave me pleasure and a similar sense of accomplishment. In terms of work being gainful employment, however, there’s a huge difference between the two. The income streams are immensely different.

    I have never met someone whose passion was limited to performing a specific task such as working in a machine shop making bolts but not nuts. We all seem to have a wide variety of jobs that would allow us to live out our passions. Choosing work that also benefits others at the same time makes life sweeter and more fulfilling.

    Thanks for the post, Adam. I hope many readers follow your advice.

    • I love the way you frame what you love to do Dave. Yes, you can have a passion for teaching and you can apply that in many different settings and roles. It’s quite empowering to understand how your passion can be applied in so many different ways.

  • Adam what a great post today. Thanks for making us dig deep in our thoughts to be sure we are being true to our authentic selves.

    • Thanks Jenny. Yes, sometimes we have to truly dig deep to understand what we’re truly passionate about.

  • Matthew Hagan

    Great post Adam! You have given us a great point of reference. Searching for your passion is such an inward exercise but our actual passion is not ultimately about us.

    • Thanks Matthew, yes, that’s right. In my experience, when we unselfishly serve and add value to others we can truly feel a deep sense of reward.

  • Wayne Simmons

    Wow, very good post, but very convicting for me.I have a pretty good handle on my passion(s), I haven’t figured out how to use them to help others. As a musician, I serve in our praise band weekly, but that’s pretty much it at the moment. I’m currently unemployed, looking for a job, any kind of job to help provide for my family as the Bible instructs. Unfortunately, I’m not having much luck. I don’t want to be selfish and just make money, but at the same time I want to be a man of responsibility that takes care of his family. I’ve tried to look at it as how can I provide for my family AND help others?

    • Yes, Wayne I know it can be difficult to focus on work we love to do when we feel pressure to just put food on the table. At times we have to focus on the marketable skills we have that can provide income while we continue to search for ways to work in our passions. You should be commended for striving to care for your family and help others.