Alister Cameron // Blogologist

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If you don’t have passion and purpose, greater productivity won’t help you!

compassIf what you do with the best hours of your day is not also the thing you’re passionate about, stop right now!

Stop right now and confront the cold hard facts for what they are: no amount of effectiveness training, time management skills, productivity tips and tricks or goal setting know-how will replace the critical missing ingredient of your life: passion.

Until you discover your “fire within” you will remain condemned to a life only endured, not lived; to delicacies only tasted, not devoured; to joys only imagined, not experienced. And in old age you will lament the days of your youth, when fears about money and security kept you from taking the leaps of faith and courage in the direction of your dreams.

A life lived in moderation is not the stuff of stories told to grandchildren with a twinkle in your eye.

When Goal Setting Hardly Matters

Robert Allen wrote a book a few years ago about making money online. I have forgotten most of what I read (the stuff about making money!) but I have always remembered a point he made about how people who do what they truly love don’t have to set goals the same way many of the rest of us do.

Please take the time to read this rather long quote about financial goals, because it really drives the point home well:

Many years ago, before I understood why goals don’t always work, I was teaching in Dallas on the power of goal setting. A woman came up to me afterward with a puzzled look on her face. “Mr. Allen. I’m a full time real estate investor. I get up in the morning excited. I love to make deals. I have so much fun making money, I hate to go to bed at night. And yet, I’ve never written down a financial goal in my life. What am I doing wrong?”

I was stumped for a moment. She didn’t fit into my picture of the successful person (since all successful people have financial goals, right?) I stammered something about how much more successful she’d be if she did set goals. She nodded, wisely. And I shrugged off the whole incident.

About this time, a good friend and fellow real estate investor, told me that he was going to liquidate his small portfolio of properties and concentrate on his painting. I said, “But Sam, if you stick with real estate for 5 more years, you can retire and be free to paint for the rest of your life.” His answer was mildly unsettling. “Bob, I’ve discovered I don’t like real estate. But I love to paint.” I walked away shaking my head at this soon-to-be-a-poor-and-starving artist. But a year later he was doing rather well financially. And loving every minute of it.

Then, I read an article about how billionaire Donald Trump spends a typical day. He arrives at the office, talks a lot on the phone and does deals… whatever deals he feels like doing that day. No written goals. No specific agenda. Just a passion to do deals… the bigger the deal, the better. How could this be? I wondered. Don’t all successful people have written, financial goals?

And then, one day all of these seemingly unrelated incidents coalesced into one gigantic AHA! It happened while I was watching a golf tournament on T.V. featuring Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Fuzzy Zoeller and Arnold Palmer. As they asked these four great golfers why they golfed, I suddenly knew why they were so successful: “I love the game of golf.” “I love the competition.” “I love to try to beat the best players in the world.” “I love the people you meet in the game of golf.” “Challenge is important to me.” “I could play golf every day, all day long.” “I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world. There are very few of us who get to do what we love and make a lot of money doing it.”

That was it! These guys weren’t playing for money! They were playing because they loved to play. Sure, maybe in the beginning money was a part of it… maybe a big part… but money was never the primary motivator. First and foremost, they were passionate about the game of golf. I doubt any one of them had a written financial goal, “I want to become a millionaire playing golf before my 35th birthday.”

When you’re doing what you love to do, the money comes naturally. Maybe not at first, but eventually… if you stick with it. Do you think Bob Hope started out with a goal, “I want to become a millionaire by making people laugh, then I’ll retire to do what I want?” I doubt it. He just did what he did best. And the money came. Slowly at first, but then in truckloads. After he became extraordinarily wealthy, why didn’t he retire? When you’re living your dream why would you want to retire?

Are you hearing what Robert is saying? Concerns about effectiveness and productivity are well and good, but you have to get the bigger questions about passion and purpose answered first. And you need the courage (the “guts”) to create a life out of doing what you love.

I heard someone else once put it this way: discipline is the ability to consistently say “no” to the wrong things. But it takes one big fat compelling “YES!” to make it clear what you must say “no” to, and to give you the discipline to say it consistently.

Allen continues:

I read a study where the employees and executives of a major company were asked what they would do if they won a million dollars in a lottery. 80% of the rank and file employees responded that they’d immediately quit their jobs. Then they asked the executives the same question. Only 20% of them would quit. Why would 80% stay even though they were now financially independent? Because they find a lot of happiness and fulfillment in their day to day activities. They love what they’re doing. They’re not leaders because they make so much money. They make so much money because they love to lead.

If Bill Cosby won the state lottery, would he retire from show business? Would Barbra Streisand quit singing? Would Shaq O’Neil quit playing basketball? Not even if he won the biggest lottery in the world. And almost nothing could have kept George Forman out of the boxing ring.

If you won the lottery next week would you quit your job? If you would, what is that saying?

Finding Your Passion and Purpose

Robert Allen has this very insightful way of unpacking what your purpose is all about:

Purpose is knowing what you want and doing it because it expresses who you really are. Billy Graham, Julio Iglesias, Lee Iacocca, Mother Theresa (when she was alive). They’re “on purpose.” They’re living the life they were born to live. It’s hard to imagine them doing anything else. They don’t need goals to motivate themselves. They’d do it anyway. And if they do set goals, it’s just to keep score.

I’ve spent a lot of time studying highly effective people, including graduates of my various seminars, and I find four threads that run through all of their conversations:

Passion: They love what they do. If they weren’t making so much money, they’d be tempted to do it for free.

Values: Their daily activities are extremely important to them.

Talent: They’re good at what they do. Call it talent or ability, they’ve got what it takes to be one of the best.

Destiny: They have a sense that they are doing what they were born to do. They are making their own unique contribution. It’s almost a spiritual thing. They’re following their intuition and feel they are fulfilling their destiny.

So how do you uncover your true passion and purpose? Allen continues on with a series of worksheet-style exercises (which I’m sure many will find helpful), but I want to suggest a slightly different approach… take it or leave it.

See, my problem with the worksheet approach is that getting cerebral and analytical about it is likely to take you down precisely the wrong path. You can’t analyze your way into your passion and purpose. You need to “journey” there in a deeper way. And as Allen hinted, “it’s almost a spiritual thing.” Well, I think it is a spiritual thing.

So, please bear with me as I get a little spiritual with you and give you some keys that I’ve been given that may help you too. (I should add that this is very much a journey for me as well, and as such I speak as a fellow “traveller”, not as someone who has arrived.)

As a Christian, it has been my experience over the years to talk to God pretty much all the time and to discern his voice saying something in response from time to time. Nothing audible, but discernible nonetheless. The premise that prayer (and life) is conversation with God (not monologue) is foundational in my life, as it is to Christians everywhere.

Anyway, one way I discern the voice of God is seeing patterns and emphases emerge in my journalling (something I try to do daily but typically do a few times a week). One very clear thing that emerged a few years ago was a challenge I wrote down in this way:

Alister, if you give me Sabbath, Solitude and Simplicity, I will give you Clarity, Courage and Conviction.

Let me unpack these, because they have been — and continue to be — foundational principles for my life, and the means by which I have been discovering my passion and purpose (and the courage to make the required changes in my life to say “no” to everything else):

  1. Sabbath.
    Taken literally this is the (Old Testament) command to cease from all work one day out of every seven. In my life this is being expressed both as a determination to stay away from work on weekends, and to do more and more “fun” stuff. See, it’s one thing to have a “Sabbath rest” but quite another to have a “sabbatical restfulness” about your entire life. The latter for me is about refusing to worry needlessly, pursuing fun (often with my kids) for its own sake, etc. I have discovered that prioritizing fun, family and “restfulness” has had the serendipitous effect of uncovering my passions a lot more clearly than ever before.
  2. Solitude.
    Never mind whether you’re an extrovert or introvert or anything in-between; you need to turn the noise off if you’re ever going to hear clearly what’s going on inside your heart. So solitude for me is about getting time alone and in silence to journal, pray, meditate, walk, sit and ponder, and so forth. If you’re not used to it, it’s hard. Silence can be deafening! But don’t be afraid of it. Especially if you spend a lot of your day in the frenetic world of the Web, you need to turn stuff off. The fruit of this for me has been a much greater sensitivity to when I’m losing my sense of calm and “inner equilibrium”. It’s also in the solitude when God speaks.
  3. Simplicity.
    For me, pursuing simplicity has meant systematically draining myself of the consumeristic lust for more stuff. It has also meant culling my life of all the things I’m committed to, subscribed to, attending and enlisted for, that are not directly in line with my passion and purpose. (I should immediately add that this is very much a work in progress and a matter of continuing to take steps to boldly and decisively eliminate the distractions.) As a web guy, I’m regularly unsubscribing from mailing lists, removing software from my computer, deleting blogs from my newsreader, and trying to perfect the art of “intelligent neglect” of the things that don’t really matter. In my mind, this commitment to simplicity challenges me to carry fewer “burdens” and worries, and to trust God more like a child.

Now, if I was faithful to offer God these things, he promised in return to give me:

  1. Clarity.
    I know when I’m not doing well because my mind goes all foggy. As an adult with ADHD I know all about mental fog and the “life fog” that enough end-to-end mental fogs create. So how precious then to hear a promise from God that I would be given a capacity to see my life and future with clarity! And of course, the clarity that I have sought most of all is the clarity about my own passion and purpose: to know with real clarity what the longings of my own heart are, and to see clearly what my life’s purpose is. Add to that the longing to see God clearly, but I don’t want to get too spiritual on you!
  2. Courage.
    What a terrible thing it would be to see clearly what your passion and purpose were, but not have the courage to make the tough decisions and take the risks to step out in faith in the direction of your dreams. This issue of courage has been particularly acute for me because I grew up in a climate of fear that has been very hard to escape. But “perfect love casts out all fear” and that has indeed been my experience.
  3. Conviction.
    Assuming you see clearly what’s ahead for you, and have the courage to make the needed “course adjustments”, you could still be in trouble unless you have a deep conviction about what you need to do. To me, conviction is about the strength of your resolve, and since change is never easy, you’re going to need all the resolve you can get to see your way from the life you live now to a life lived in passion and on purpose. Conviction is the accellerant on the fire of your passion!

I would be a liar if I told you I knew how this “exchange” actually happens; how giving God sabbath, solitude and simplicity is returning me clarity, courage and conviction. I have no idea!  Nor am I saying outright that your faithfulness in pursuing the “three Ss” will deliver the “three Cs”. So take from these what you will, but I would be delighted if in contemplating these principles of mine, you sensed a similar tugging on your soul.

I must further cloud this passion and purpose thing in mystery by explaining my reservation with the “worksheet” approach a little more. See, I think your very life is the worksheet. I think passion and purpose are such “sacred” and “holy” things that no pen-and-paper exercise can do them the honour they deserve. Rather, the rich tapestry of your life, your relationships, your work and play… these are the things through which your passions are revealed, over time. You’re not to blame for failing to “get it” when you’re young. But give life time… with its trials, temptations, successes, failures, friends, foes and hardships… and your passion will rise to the surface. As long as you’re honest and as long as you stay true to virtues and principles like sabbath, solitude and simplicity.

What’s This Got To Do With Blogging?!

ultimate_guide_prod.jpgThis post is Ben Yoskovitz‘s fault. He tagged me. He’s invited me to contribute to the Ultimate Guide to Productivity Group Writing Project Meme thingumy.

But all I could think about as I considered what I might have to say, was that point by Robert Allen about first doing what you love. So I went with it!

Ben also tagged Adam Kayce, Chris Brogan, Guy Kawasaki, Andrew Wee, David Armano, Tony Clark, Mike Sansone and Chris Cree. Some of these guys have now posted and tagged others.

I’m tagging Meg, Lorelle, Brent, Derrick, Sarah and Jason. Liz has already been tagged but I’ll second it!

adhd, deep-thoughts, faith, family, general, productivity, work, ultimate guide to productivity, passion, purpose, clarity, courage, conviction, sabbath, solitude, simplicity, effectiveness


Note: Commenter website links are not no-followed, in case
you were wondering... I believe in rewarding commenters!

  1. Posted 10 years, 6 months ago // Permalink

    It is 3:30 am right now, and I feel blessed to have come across this post. I totally concur with everything you said. I quit a high-paying job to pursue a dream and couldn’t be happier. The funny thing about goals in my situation is that I had a vision and a drive but didn’t have a super-concrete plan. My vision just started to take shape with the 3 C’s you mentioned that I know I got because of my faith in God (3 S’s). Thanks for such a reaffirming post – I am going to share this with all of my friends!

  2. Posted 10 years, 6 months ago // Permalink

    Sometimes we all need reminding of what is important, spirituality on what ever level you choose is I believe important in maintaining balance in our daily lives. A great read, thank you.

  3. Posted 10 years, 6 months ago // Permalink

    I read Robert Allen books once. He really is a great man. The wonderful thing to read his book is that you can observe the matters in hand without knowing it at all.

  4. Posted 10 years, 2 months ago // Permalink

    This article is cool. Now I’m wondering what really is my passion. But i know that when you have this great enthusiasm about something you do means that you are passionate about it. Enthusiasm that seems never fade away no matter what is what passion is all about.

  5. Posted 10 years, 2 months ago // Permalink

    Thanks Alister. I like this approach although I must admit I did a fair bit of soul searching exercises to find my own purpose driven life path. Perhaps the way we determine our purpose is moot because at the end of the day, the important thing is finding it…

  6. Posted 10 years, 2 months ago // Permalink

    I love this post! Thankyou. Passion in the day to day is what I’m going for….

  7. Rob
    Posted 10 years, 1 month ago // Permalink


  8. Posted 10 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    Passion is powerful. Purpose is enduring. Together, they can help you move mountains. Or build another World. And make meaning while you do.!

  9. Posted 10 years ago // Permalink

    I used to know an old guy who preached about passion and “real living”. He used to say “If you can’t give a sh*t, don’t expect to get sh*t”. Not the most eloquent way of putting it, but very truthy.

  10. Posted 9 years, 10 months ago // Permalink

    I completely agree– all the productivity in the world doesn’t matter if you haven’t connected to the deepest and truest part of yourself (the part that is connected with God) and discovered your true passion and purpose in life.

    I created a simple questionnaire that has helped lots of people discover their own passion and purpose for themselves. It is available for free at:

  11. Anup
    Posted 9 years, 10 months ago // Permalink

    What a fabulous post really inspirational about life
    Thanks Alister
    Good Work..!!!

  12. Posted 9 years, 6 months ago // Permalink

    I accidentally found this post, and I just wanted to say it was great! I got alot out of it, even though I’m not a christian.

    Thanks from Norway 🙂

  13. Posted 9 years, 4 months ago // Permalink

    No doubt about it! You can’t take all the money with you that’s for sure. I think so many people get so caught up with making money they forget about actually living their life. I love having goals but it is never the end of the world if I don’t meet them.

  14. Posted 9 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    A motivated individual with passion and purpose can get a lot done and do some damage. It’s hard to find people that not only care about what they’re doing but also care about the effect of their work on others. There’s not many true craftsmen left in this world and finding someone who is passionate, productive, and has purpose is rare these days so when you come across someone with all these traits – hold on to them!

  15. Posted 8 years, 12 months ago // Permalink

    It seems very right. If you don’t have proper resources but you have passion still you can do better. The courage to do better is very important whenever you are going to do anything. If you have to climb on the mountain which is very high then only you need to have the zeal, keep faith on yourself and do the work. You can see the positive results.

  16. Posted 8 years ago // Permalink

    That really is the “secret sauce” for having a fulfilled life…having passion about our jobs, family/friends, and our faith. Enjoyed the post, Alister!

  17. Posted 7 years, 4 months ago // Permalink

    Nice Post !!! I will refer this to my friend. I subscribed your blog for more information and updates..

  18. Posted 5 years, 8 months ago // Permalink

    Amazing stuff. This was written a good 8 years ago, and here I am consuming and devouring it. It is amazing to me that all authentic people who talk about Purpose almost always end up talking about God, and that is what has really drawn me to you. I love the approach of Life itself being the worksheet to use to get clarity in terms of Purpose.
    Personally, I have never had such a relentless pursuit of any other thing other than Purpose all my life. No wonder I ended up here.

    Thanks for writing….8 years down the line!!!

4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] If what you do with the best hours of your day is not also the thing you’re passionate about, stop right now! That’s Alister Cameron’s admonition in If You Don’t Have Passion and Purpose, Greater Productivity Won’t Help You! […]

  2. […] If what you do with the best hours of your day is not also the thing you’re passionate about, stop right now! That’s Alister Cameron’s admonition in If You Don’t Have Passion and Purpose, Greater Productivity Won’t Help You! […]

  3. […] Passion breeds ideation, and exceptionalness; a life well lived; an extraordinary career. And it’s all due to one reason, just one– you accepted no one’s rules. You made your own. And you had the confidence to live by them. The hell with convention. Or even the false positive of the Coney Island State of Mind. […]

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