Purpose Before Passion

Why Creativity Begins With Purpose (Not Passion)

Photo by Khara Woods on Unsplash

Reading Time: 8 Min

I used to think when I was making a new film or creative project that all I needed was passion. But, upon reflection, turns out passion might be the fire that ignites the flame and gets you started, but it's purpose that will carry you through to the end.

Without purpose, any creative process will come to a complete stop.

 

 
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Passion without purpose will fizzle out

How many creative projects have I started with immense passion, only to see them dashed aside once I hit a bump or two. 

Had I known then, when I know now, I might not have made that film.

 
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Chasing Life.

 

 

 

For example, when I made my first feature film, Chasing Life, I had a deep burning passion for getting my project made. But, oh the school of hard knocks, obstacles and mountains I had to climb and learning curves I had to face.

Made on $20,000, which is a very small sum for what was ultimately achieved at the time, turns out, it wasn't that original passion that got that film made.

It was purpose.

After I graduated with my MFA in Acting, I was facing 33 years old in an industry that told me time and again they didn't want me. So, I was faced with a challenge. Make something and SHOW them I was valuable. I wasn't about to waste my last three years at drama school. 

Too many of my friends and peers went home after six months. They tried and failed to a) land an acting job, b) get famous, c) pay rent.

I stubbornly learned the hard way.

Eventually, at the end of the project my personal life spun out of control. Putting too much pressure on myself to succeed meant I almost landed in the hospital from exhaustion. I walked out of my job (literally), became financially destitute and subsequently homeless.

But I had a completed film!

As if that was a conciliatory prize.

Some might consider it a failure. Why? It never made it's money back. I never won an Oscar. I didn't get another picture deal from a studio or another acting job from its efforts.

I was told all of these things matter.

To me, just getting the film made was a personal win.

But, the point is - purpose got me through those many challenges. Not passion.

I realized, some years later, that the amount of time and effort I would have to have to put into making a film the same way again, isn't worth it. Why? Because my purpose wouldn't be strong enough. I was laser-focused then.

I'm still very passionate about making films. But my purpose has changed a lot over the years.

But there are many things I've been very passionate about, but never got that far because I didn't have a purpose for it to serve.

Over the years since, I've gone on to make other creative projects, but not with the same purpose. I've been passionate enough, but not on fire like I was with my first.

 

Learning From Failure

To be honest, I wasn’t devastated that my life fell into shambles after making this film. It was a terrific achievement and a whole, hell of a lot of fun. Would I have liked to gone on and done all of the things I mentioned above (another job, film, Oscar, et. al). Yes. Maybe. Well, actually...

That 'failure' forced me to really ask myself what my purpose was. Did I want to stay in Hollywood and play the game, audition endlessly for projects I didn't care about? Or did I want to create something uniquely my own that gave me a reason to get out of bed everyday? Something that combined both my passion and purpose.

Everything I do, whether it's a creative project, coaching, teaching, consulting I do with excellence. I've learned to let go of control and learned to embrace the 'unknown'. I thoroughly enjoy embracing and adopting all things new.

When I decided to leave Hollywood - which my identity was completely wrapped up in - I felt like I died. Everything, my hopes, dreams, blood, sweat and tears; all of it I felt was for naught.

But that was then.

 
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Right now, those early (hard) life lessons have changed my present day life into something with purpose first, then creativity flows out of that desire to make something that has real impact and will continue in the future.

This is teaching.

My PhD opened up a world that I never knew existed. And better yet, it gave me the confidence to rekindle that original passion for storytelling. Just in a different form.

I use storytelling in my blogging, in my classrooms, online in my courses. I have all the digital tools to craft creative projects on my time and on my dime.

Does filmmaking create real impact.

Absolutely. And I intend to continue writing and making films that serve my purpose and my passions.

But teaching others to serve themselves has taken on a bigger challenge and serves a bigger purpose than my own.

So many things have changed since 2004 when I embarked on my first passion project.

But the biggest change, has been me.

 

In the last year I’ve learned to really focus on projects that I’m not only passionate about, but also have a purpose that can carry me through the difficult times and to be able to face all the obstacles in the creative process.

I’ve gone from a passionate creator, to a purposeful creator. And it’s made all the difference.

 

Grit and the powerful finish

Perseverance, tenacity, doggedness. I would even add 'moxy' to that list.

“GRIT” is a buzzword right now, where Professor Angela Duckworth, one of the leading researchers in the field of Grit, has made waves. Duckworth analyzed a [Catherine Morris Cox] study of 300 recognized geniuses and found two specific qualities that she believed to be a better predictor of high achievement than anything else:

  • The tendency not to abandon tasks from mere changeability. Not seeking something because of novelty. Not “looking for a change.”
  • The tendency not to abandon tasks in the face of obstacles. Perseverance, tenacity, doggedness.

Duckworth called the presence of these two qualities, Grit. Her (and her colleagues) devised a short test to measure an individual’s “Grit Score”. What I find fascinating about her work is how “purpose” can be a driving force behind a person’s grit. A recent New York Times article summarizes her work (and findings) this way:

People who accomplished great things, [Duckworth] noticed, often combined a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take.

Passion without dedication often leads to nothing. As I mentioned above in my story, passion is not enough. When I look at what creative projects I’ve successfully finished and published, they come from a similar equation:

Inquiry and Innovation  – I was passionate about making films but never could create a new one on that same level, until I found a true purpose for committing my time and passion. My purpose had to outweigh my passion, because I knew from that one key experience, that there would be many obstacles along the way, and I needed a strong purpose to see it to the end.

Passion with real purpose gave me the “grit” to finish what I started in the creative process.

 

Passion and the outcome

How often do we tie passion to the intended outcome?

For example, how often is the only “purpose” for learning tied to grades? How often is the only “purpose” for work tied to money? What happens to learners who don’t care about grades, and workers who want more purpose in their job than just a paycheck? Chances are they stall out, fail to move forward, and move on to something else.

 
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If we want creative passion, we have allow ourselves to choose a purpose for the the very point of getting the outcomes we desire. If we want creative teachers and leaders, we need to allow for purposes other than financial compensation.

The creative process can not be forced and it cannot be fake. It must contain purpose or it will never be finished.

What project are you passionate about?

Does it have purpose to get you to its intended outcome?


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Jodi Nelson-Tabor

London

Creative consultant and key media strategist with global experience as academic researcher, lecturer and professional trainer/facilitator, in the areas of creative and professional development, digital innovation, creative enterprise and its impact on the creative economy.

A professional Creative Practitioner with over 20+ years of experience in film, tv and theatre from LA to NY, Brazil and London.

Born and raised in Oklahoma, I hold a Masters of Fine Arts in Acting from the prestigious California Institute of the Arts and a Bachelor of the Arts in Journalism and Public Relations from the University of Oklahoma.  My PhD is in Film and Media Studies from the University of Sussex in Brighton, England.

Actively involved in the education and arts communities, I also spend a significant amount of time mentoring fellow artists by giving time and expertise to organizations that support arts for social change.