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Follow your purpose for long-term success

June 28, 2022
UBC MEL MHLP - Follow your purpose for long-term success

There’s a lot of well-meaning career advice focused on the importance of following your passion. However, new research suggests that we need to adjust that advice and follow our purpose.

The experience of alumni confirms that focusing on your purpose is a good strategy for building the skills and experience to take control of your career. UBC’s Master of Engineering Leadership and Master of Health Leadership & Policy gives you that opportunity.

Passion versus purpose

The difference between passion and purpose isn’t just one of semantics. We’re all familiar with the advice to follow our dreams and “do what you love.” But the truth is, when it comes to your career, passion often develops after you’ve built up your expertise. It’s not until you’ve become proficient in a specific area that passion can bloom.

As writer Jessica Stillman explains in an online article in Inc., “hard work makes us passionate for a field rather than the other way around. We develop passion for what we do over time, rather than starting out with a clear, defined passion for a particular career path.”

So if you’re not necessarily sure what your passion is, that’s ok – even if you’re several years into your professional career. Jon Jachimowicz, a professor at Harvard Business School, has conducted extensive research on why people struggle to even identify their passion when it comes to a job. His takeaway? “It often takes time to develop one’s passion for a job, along with the skills, confidence, and relationships that allow one to experience passion for work.”

He encourages us to see our passion as something to be developed over time. In the short term, if you aren’t quite sure what your passion is, researchers suggest you should think about your purpose and your deepest values.

As Stillman summarizes: “By focusing on purpose, you align your work with your deepest values, and also relieve yourself of the expectation that the long slog of a career will be all (or even mostly) happiness and sunshine.”

From purpose to impact

If you’re wondering about your career direction, ask yourself what you really care about. Having a better understanding of your values and purpose can help you identify new options or lay the groundwork for a position that better suits you.

For example, Margaret Lin, a graduate of the MHLP in 2021, knew she was making a difference in her gerontology work with patients and colleagues as a bedside nurse, but wanted to have a bigger impact on seniors’ health.

And while she wasn’t quite sure about what specific area she wanted to work in, she recognized that a master’s degree would give her the opportunity to gain skills aligned with her purpose and values.

From the first semester of the program, Margaret actively pursued opportunities, connections and research in areas she was curious about. Following her purpose led her to attend workshops, reach out to experts whose ideas interested her, pursue research on the side, and take on a volunteer position with a research project at a health authority.

A few months later, Margaret was offered a project leader job with the group – and she’s now leading several innovative initiatives to support healthy aging for older adults. It’s work she’s passionate about.

“The MHLP is a good time to explore different areas of your specialty,” she says. “Don’t rush it: take your time to explore. If something interests you in an article or class discussion, take the initiative yourself to pursue it and connect with people working in the field. Your curiosity will take you a long way!”

A clear path forward

Shifting the focus from passion to purpose can also give you a framework for deciding on your next steps to advance your career. Chris Gan, an aircraft structures engineer, recognized that the manufacturing sector needs integrators – people who combine technical domain expertise with project management, communication and business skills.

He saw the MEL in Advanced Materials Manufacturing as a way to expand his knowledge of composite materials and additive technologies, and deepen his abilities as a communicator and leader.

The degree could be a stepping stone that would enable him to contribute to the evolution of the aerospace industry. As he says, “It’s a hybrid degree for those like me who want to be technical leaders in complex corporate environments.”

Chris is now working as a production and manufacturing engineer for Eviation Aircraft, a company creating all-electric commuter airplanes. He says that the combined technical and business skills he gained in the MEL have empowered him to pursue his purpose as an integrator.”

For large and complex projects, you need integrators who understand not only how things work technically, but also understand how people work so that you can bring teams together and achieve results.”

Honour your purpose

It’s not always feasible to follow our passions when it comes to our careers. But we can do something even better: follow our purpose and values.

That could mean choosing a graduate degree like the MEL or MHLP where you have the opportunity to sharpen your knowledge, deepen your expertise and reconnect with your strengths.

As the experience of our alumni shows, when you invest in yourself by pursuing a master’s degree in an area aligned with your purpose, you are setting yourself up for long-term success.