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Tapping Into Your Values, Passion, or Purpose to Guide Your Career

In today's fast-paced workplace, it can be all too easy to lose sight of what really motivates us and drives our career decisions. As the world of work continuously evolves, organizational leaders emphasize the importance of employees finding meaning and fulfillment through aligning their work with their deepest values, passion, or sense of purpose.

Today we will explore how tapping into what truly matters can help guide career choices and decisions.

Research Foundation: The Importance of Values, Passion, and Purpose

Values refer to the principles and ideals that are important to us and that guide our actions, judgments, and career choices (Johnson, 2019). Research shows that living congruently with our values is strongly associated with greater well-being, higher work performance, and career satisfaction (Andersen et al., 2020). When we operate according to what we truly believe in, it leads to increased meaning, engagement, and flow at work (Bunderson & Thompson, 2009).

Similarly, having a strong sense of passion about our work - a fervent enthusiasm and interest in our field or job tasks - drives motivation. Passion fuels engagement, perseverance, and creativity on the job (Cardon et al., 2009). Studies have found passionate workers to be higher achievers who provide better customer service and experience lower stress levels (Lavigne et al., 2012).

Lastly, having a clear sense of purpose - understanding how our work contributes to something larger than ourselves - is vital for inner fulfillment and commitment to our job duties. Research finds that employees who feel their work has a meaningful impact are 50% more likely to consider themselves thriving at work compared to those lacking purpose (Gallup, 2017). A strong sense of purpose translates to 30% higher job performance ratings and 15% higher productivity scores (Pratt & Ashforth, 2003).

Centering our career decisions around our core values, interests, and purpose translates directly to superior work outcomes and quality of life. The following sections will provide practical examples of how individuals have discovered their true motivations and allowed them to positively guide their career path.

Finding Meaning Through Nature: An Environmental Consultant's Story

Maria was an environmental consultant working long hours at a large firm but feeling disconnected from why she chose this career path in the first place. Like many professionals, she found herself catering more to billable hours and client priorities than her personal values. That is, until she took time for self-reflection and remembered her deep appreciation for the natural world, sparked during childhood nature hikes with her family. She realized protecting the environment was not just her job - it was her life's purpose.

Maria chose to leave the corporate world and launch her own environmental consulting business with a focus on sustainable land use and conservation. By getting closer to nature through farm and wilderness projects, she found renewed passion and meaning in her work. Meeting landowners and helping them be good stewards of the land while turning a profit was immensely fulfilling. Being her own boss also allowed flexibility to spend more quality time with her young family exploring the outdoors. Redirecting her career based on her values of environmental protection and time with loved ones led to much greater work-life harmony and satisfaction for Maria. Her story shows how reconnecting with what's truly important can inspire positive career change.

Fulfilling a Calling: From Academia to Ministry

John was a respected university professor who enjoyed teaching and research but felt something was missing from his work. Although he loved sharing knowledge, he sensed a yearning inside to help people on a deeper, more spiritual level. John had been involved with his church for years but never considered pastoral ministry as a career path until he took time for self-reflection. He realized he had a true calling to serve others through his Christian faith.

After prayerful consideration and conversations with his pastor, John transitioned from academia to seminary school to become a Lutheran minister. The challenge of leaving tenure-track academia was balanced by the fulfillment he found helping congregants through life's difficulties with compassion, counseling, and scripture. Preparing and delivering sermons allowed him to merge his loves of teaching, research, and making a difference in people's lives through faith. By discerning and following his sense of purpose, John's career transition brought meaning, satisfaction and the confidence that he was fulfilling his divine purpose. His story illustrates how listening to our internal callings, however unexpected, can guide us to vocational harmony.

Finding Flow as a Chef

Claire had worked her way up in the restaurant business from server to manager yet still felt something was missing. No matter how much responsibility she took on, a sense of disengagement remained. That is until she took time off for self-reflection and recalled her joy creating delicious dishes for friends and family as a hobby. Back in culinary school, she fondly remembered the focus and flow she experienced while cooking complex recipes. Through introspection, Claire realized her true passion was in the creativity and artistry of food preparation itself.

Deciding to redirect her career, Claire left restaurant management and enrolled in advanced culinary courses to hone her cooking skills. She then took a job as a private chef, designing and preparing meals for busy professionals needing home-cooked nutrition. As a private chef, Claire finally felt fully engaged and present in her work thanks to the optimal experience of "flow" she experienced in the creative process of cooking. Through deep self-awareness, Claire discovered how to fuel her intrinsic motivation by pursuing her passion for the craft of culinary arts. By aligning her career with her greatest enthusiasm, Claire found optimal work fulfillment. Her experience highlights how tapping into passion can guide us to vocations that support flow and peak performance.


In today's fast-paced world with frequent career changes, it is critical we take time for deep self-reflection to understand our core motivations and values. As these real-life organizational examples illustrate, connecting to what truly matters can empower transformative career journeys and guide us to work that is optimally fulfilling. Whether discovering a newfound sense of purpose, acting upon internal callings, or honoring deepest passions, each individual found fulfillment by redirecting their path according to their authentic interests and motivations.

Focusing inward to understand what drives us can be the first step towards taking ownership of our careers and living more harmoniously. Tapping into our values, purpose, or passions holds potential to fuel peak engagement, performance and life satisfaction at work. By grounding our choices in self-awareness, we empower ourselves to design working lives optimally aligned with who we are. Our careers no longer need to simply be jobs - they can become vocations that fulfill our core motivations and support our well-being and contribution.


  • Andersen, J. A., McCarty, J. A., & Zhao, H. (2020). Living and leading by one’s values: Examining the relationship between value congruence and well-being. Journal of Business Ethics, 165(2), 247–259.

  • Bunderson, J. S., & Thompson, J. A. (2009). The call of the wild: Zookeepers, callings, and the double-edged sword of deeply meaningful work. Administrative Science Quarterly, 54(1), 32–57.

  • Cardon, M. S., Wincent, J., Singh, J., & Drnovsek, M. (2009). The nature and experience of entrepreneurial passion. Academy of Management Review, 34(3), 511–532.

  • Gallup. (2017, January 9). State of the global workplace.

  • Johnson, R. E. (2019). Meaning making at work. In P. L. Perrewe, J. Halbesleben, & C. C. Rosen (Eds.), Research in occupational stress and well being (Vol. 17, pp. 1–45). Emerald Publishing Limited.

  • Lavigne, G. L., Vallerand, R. J., & Crevier-Braud, L. (2012). The fundamental need to connect: On the role of relatedness in close relationships. The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 29(4), 493–518.

  • Pratt, M. G., & Ashforth, B. E. (2003). Fostering meaningfulness in working and at work. In K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton, & R. E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline (pp. 309–327). Berrett-Koehler.


Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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