Finding Where Your Passion, Your Genius and Your Purpose Meet

Recently I suggested that perhaps the best way to decide how you want to make a living was to simply ask Who Needs Your Gift Now? The implication of that question is that your Gift is something you both love (it’s your Passion) and are good at (it’s your Genius). For many that is easy — some people I know have known what their Gift is since they were old enough to talk. For others it has been elusive, either because they feel a mis-fit between their Passion and their Genius, or because, for whatever reason, they have yet to discover their Passion or their Genius. This article is for them (or perhaps I should say, for us).

The chart above is a more elaborate version of the Venn diagram I have used in several recent articles. I use this chart when I review the important-but-non-urgent projects on my Getting Things Done list, to decide which of these projects to work on each day. I had originally planned to flag each of these important-but-non-urgent projects with a number from 1 through 7, depending on which area on the chart above it fell into — and then focus on the projects in area 3 first. But I discovered it isn’t as easy as that (it’s never that easy, is it?), because of the six questions that I’ve now added to the chart:

  • Does it pay enough? Some of my pet projects don’t pay enough to meet my financial needs, so although I love doing them, I’m good at them, and they’re needed, I can’t do them (at least until my pension kicks in).
  • Do you have time for it? Some of my pet projects are enormous, full-time projects, that would require me to stop doing a lot of things that I cannot or don’t want to stop doing (yet).
  • Is your ability recognized? Some of my pet projects are things that I know I am good at, but lack the formal credentials to have much credibility doing (that applies to a lot of environmental work, and even some professional writing work, that I know I’d do well, but with a background in financial and professional services it’s hard to get a hearing when so many biology, environmental science and journalism grads are vying for the same work).
  • Is your ability appreciated? Some my pet projects are things that I know I am good at, but others don’t particularly appreciate. This is a particular challenge in providing innovation consulting services to clients — many potential clients really need these services, but want to hire someone who has been doing very similar work for decades (or, they believe that, with minimal facilitation, they can ‘do innovation’ themselves).
  • Is the need recognized? Some of my pet projects are things I know customers need, but (because I’m too far ahead of the curve) they don’t yet realize they need (and as we all know, the customer is — almost — always right).
  • Is the solution affordable? Some of my pet projects are things I know customers need, and they do too, but they can’t afford them. Many of these customers are not-for-profit organizations, and they’d love to have me working with them, but I’d have to reduce my rate by 80% to fit within their budget.

So how do I categorize these projects — career options really — when because of these ‘hitches’ they aren’t really area 3 projects? And what do I do about the projects that are area 1, 2, 4, or 5 projects — but might become, or be changed to, area 3 projects with time or dedicated effort?

Let’s take the questions one at a time:

  • Does it pay enough? If your answer to this is ‘no’, then I would suggest that ‘what’s needed’ (someone to do this work for little or no remuneration) is not what you have to offer, and this is in fact an area 2 project. You want a six figure income for organic gardening? Area 2.
  • Do you have time for it? If you don’t, what are you spending your time on? If you, like most of the world, are spending most of your life doing area 5 work (which probably means you’re underemployed) maybe it’s time to ask yourself whether you should stop and do some area 3 work instead. But ask yourself the six questions first, to make sure your alternative is really area 3 work. If it is, make time for it!
  • Is your ability recognized? If your answer to this question is no, then either you need to build the personal credentials so it is (if your job and other time commitments will allow you to), or change jobs for one that does recognize your abilities. In the meantime, you’re probably actually doing work you don’t love (area 5 work) and which perhaps isn’t what you’re good at either (area 7 work).
  • Is your ability appreciated? This one’s easier — if there’s a disconnect between what you’re doing and what you know is needed, you’re in area 2.
  • Is the need recognized? Same answer — if you’re ahead of the market, anticipating its needs before the market is ready for your gift, you’re doing area 2 work.
  • Is the solution affordable? Same as the ‘Does it pay enough?‘ answer — area 2.

Let me be personal for a moment and tell you how this applies to the projects in my Getting Things Done list.

  1. Most of my writing projects (other than this blog, which is a hobby and therefore easy to qualify as an area 3 project) are in search of a paying audience, so they are area 2 projects, which I’m working hard to move to area 3 by improving my writing, getting an agent, writing compelling proposals etc. 
  2. Next on my list are a set of projects relating to teaching natural entrepreneurship, life skills, and how to make the world a better place; my AHA! project is part of this set. I am both ahead of the market for these projects and lacking in credentials to offer them, so they are currently area 1 projects (but we’re all allowed a few self-indulgences). 
  3. Third on my list are innovation consulting projects, some of which I really enjoy, and others not so much, and some of which I have excellent credentials for, while others are a real stretch. So they are variously in areas 2, 3, 5, and 6. 
  4. Fourth on my list are various knowledge management projects, which are often area 5 projects, but have their moments of area 3 zen. 
  5. And fifth on my list are the things I have no skills or experience for, but would love to learn: Setting up an off-the-grid model Intentional Community, doing research on interspecies communication (“if I could talk to the animals”), inventing delicious non-animal substitutes for animal-based foods, etc. They’re area 1 and 4 projects.

I’ve said before that if you can’t find work in area 3, you haven’t looked hard enough. That may be harsh, but I think it’s true: It takes courage and perseverance and a lot of self-knowledge to find (or create) that ‘perfect’ job, but it’s out there waiting. But if asking the question Who Needs My Gift Now? doesn’t get you there, is it really possible to ‘move’ a project from one of the other areas to area 3?

My answer to this question, which will probably be controversial, is probably no. Things are the way they are for a reason, and if the potential customers of your pet project just aren’t persuaded, or aren’t ready, for what you have to offer, chances are all the brilliant sales pitches in the world won’t change that. Set your area 2 projects aside and wait for the market to catch up. If your work has you disengaged, and you’ve started to hate getting up in the morning, it’s time to give up on this area 5 work and find something you love. And if you love your work and it’s important, but your co-workers and customers have no confidence in you, chances are training and study and more experience won’t change that (unless you’re brand new in the job, in which case stick with it for awhile) — shelve the area 4 work and find something that’s a better fit for your capabilities.

It’s the same way with relationships. If the love goes, or your partner ceases to appreciate what you have to give, or you just can’t seem to make it work, to the point you feel it’s more trouble than it’s worth, it’s really hard to get it back on track. Often the wisest thing to do is walk away and build a new relationship with someone else you love, who values your Gift and who you are just right for. Just like the perfect job, the perfect partner is almost certainly out there, waiting to be discovered, and a less-than-perfect relationship, like a less-than-perfect job, is incredibly difficult to improve by sheer will power and self-sacrifice.

How do we get in these situations? Sometimes we just take the easy road, accept the first job offer that comes along, so we never know what we might be missing, and suddenly wake up to the realization that life is too short to work at something you hate, or can’t do well, or which just isn’t appreciated. And sometimes what seemed to be the perfect job turns out to be something less than perfect, or else something changes to make it less than perfect (the market moves on while you stay behind, or new skills are needed that you can’t seem to master, or it just become routine and all the joy goes out of it). It’s really hard to turn that around. It’s usually better, I would argue, to start from scratch and search for the project that, right now, falls in area 3. It could take a long time and a lot of work to find, but it will be worth it.

We each have our Gift (our Passion and our Genius), and our Purpose — allthat is required is to discover what they are and where they meet.

Now if only I could learn to take my own advice.

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12 Responses to Finding Where Your Passion, Your Genius and Your Purpose Meet

  1. Martin-Eric says:

    This one summarizes the previous articles on finding your gift and who needs it quite well. Excellent! I myself repeatedly live all the cases you mention about work and about relationships: I always feel 20 years ahead of the curve in just about anything (and, as several recent events proved, I often turn out to be spot-on); I cover far too wide of a spectrum of topics to remotely have time to acquire the credentials for even 1% of what I do (many people see my talent, but generally fail to persuade those who only believe in credentials to give me a try); I continuously feel underappreciated by employers and partners alike.Getting back to finding my Zone 3, I don’t know. Recent events have demonstrated that having the right citizenship means more than anything else. Far second seems to be having precisely the right credential and background for a job. Last comes what the individual can offer and whether anyone can actually appreciate that gift. I often wonder, given how I often get thrown out of the game on counts of wrong citizenship and wrong credentials, which means that I seldom get to the step where someone will remotely get around checking out what I have to offer. Though spot.

  2. Randall says:

    Dave, Excellent article. Thanks for writing it. The one option I would add is a “Can my living expenses be reduced?” as another way to avoid Area 2. Part of the issue as incomes grow is that expenses grow to consume them. This trend is reversible. Businesses do it all the time: down-sizing, cost cutting, etc. Food for thought.

  3. Randall says:

    Martin also raises a valid point that I feel highlights a gap in the model. Your talent might be appreciated but might be undeliverable due to regulatory or legal constraints. Citizenship is extremely important, given the fact that many governments willingly allow the free-flow of capital, but strongly resist a similar mobility of labour.

  4. Dave, I’ve always liked this diagram of yours, and now that you’ve made it more detailed I like it even better. I think though that as long as I’m making a living, it’s not as important to me to be in the 3 section as it is to be happy with wherever I am, and to realize where I am and (if possible) why. That helps me make more informed choices about what I do. You boil all that down beautifully here.Randall’s point about reducing living expenses is one I’ve lived through in the past few years. But it’s not always as easy as just deciding what you yourself can do without, or doing what you love (I am). There are social issues to consider. How are your close friends and family living?. Can you live with having the least attractive house, the oldest car, the less attractive clothes? We all like to feel we fit in with our peers. Yes, I’ve proven I can reduce my living expenses, but whether I want to live that way, whether doing what I love is enough to make up for not living the way I’d prefer, and the way my friends live, is a decision each of us has to make on our own, and it’s not always a cut and dried choice.

  5. Dave – I might add to your model a description of the box in which the three circles reside (I haven’t worked this through entirely or in much depth, so take it as my first impulse and not a belief). The white space, or clear space, then also becomes significant. That space is the context for the interaction of the circles. I think that context has two potential meanings. First, you can look at the space as representing the culture in which you live and work, including issues such as Martin raises. Second, you can view the space as representing the “personality”, meaning the sum total of what the person has learned, including resisitances, attitudes, values, etc.So, looked at in the first way, the model describes how passion, genius, and purpose interact under the conditions in your culture. In the second way, how they interact within the conditions of the individual self.The model then accounts for such discrepancies as what happens when your own values conflict with cutural norms or when your own values conflict with one another.

  6. cindy says:

    Hello Dave,I have been itching to figure out if I am cut to be my own boss (a very small knitting project). Your postings of the past few days are helping me to see. They help me to see where I am landing, and I hope it would be a positive one. Thanks!

  7. kerry says:

    Dave, seems to me that you have the uncanny ability to read my mind…or is it the other way around? Either way, I do appreciate you!

  8. kerry says:

    Er – to qualify that last message:The sentence that leapt out for me in your post was your query as to whether we could talk to animals. In my experience, with my cats, the answer is a definite ‘yes’. But, just as with humans, its a matter of humility and respect. For example, I can’t tell my cat not to scratch me, she won’t listen. Its perfectly normal for her to scratch in play. I can, however, request nicely that she try to be gentle because I am a human with certain limitations. When I do that, she responds with a lick to the scratch and very gentle paws for the rest of the play session. Its just a matter of not being condescending and not being authoritarian. I was wondering, a few days ago, whether such a direct communication would be possible with animals that I don’t know well. I think it would involve their feeling your love and humility – something that can’t be faked. If it isn’t 100% authentic, they will not listen. And we all know that authenticity is the hardest thing for humans to achieve :)

  9. lugon says:

    Could this be taught to children? Does it need to be?

  10. Martin-Eric says:

    Found an article that confirms the impossibility for citizens of some countries to deliver their talent because of visa red tape as increasingly becoming a globalization showstopper.

  11. Martin-Eric says:

    This article sheds a very positive light on the genius-finding process. It describes how to recognize signs that one’s life has finally achieved the synchronicity that can support’s one growth to their full potential.

  12. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks, everyone. Your thoughts were my inspiration for the Feb.8th follow-up post which explores how to find your Passion in a little more detail, and contrasts some older and less successful methods with Dick Richards’. And to answer lugon’s question, I think this would be quite easy to teach to young people in schools. What an idea: show the young how to figure out what they should be doing with their lives and how to make it happen, instead of just dumping them out into the work world to grab any job they can get.

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