What’s the difference between passion and fulfillment? Is there a difference? As you noodle on that, let me tell you a story. Tamara loved what she did. She lived in the Caribbean and held a prominent marketing role for a large company. Her job was to bounce from island to island, building relationships with locals, tasting their local cultures and promoting her product. Not a bad life, huh? Given the description I laid out, would you describe Tamara as “passionate” about what she did? Probably a fair statement. Here’s the kicker, Tamara’s product was tobacco. Given that important tidbit, do you think Tamara was “fulfilled” in what she did – spreading cigarettes throughout the Caribbean?

This brings us to a very important distinction – the difference between passion and fulfillment.  Passion and fulfillment are two different, but equally important components in our jobs and lives.


Passion can be loosely defined as those things that give us energy. And while there is tremendous value in getting energy from what you do, passions are amoral. In other words, just ‘cause your passionate about doing something, it doesn’t mean that it is a good or healthy thing to be doing. Here are some examples of different “passion” statements:

  • “I love winning”
  • “Getting recognized charges me up”
  • “Proving people wrong is exhilarating”
  • “I’m passionate about never having to work again – that’s why I work”
  • “Serving people energizes me”
  • “I love to build things”
  • “I’m passionate about finance… marketing… accounting… (you get the picture)”

We all want to find something that we are passionate about – something that charges us up.  However, the downside to passions are that they tend to be fleeting and they tend to come from an external force (someone else recognizes us, we beat someone else, etc…).


Fulfillment is closer aligned to meaning. It is the “why” in what we do whereas passion is more closely related to the “what we get” when we do it. While both are important, I love having fulfillment in my tool box because it helps me to keep my passions in check. Here’s a great example of passion without fulfillment. In Tony Hsieh’s book “Delivering Happiness; a Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose” he talks about his journey to becoming the CEO of Zappos. Initially Tony had tremendous success building a company and selling it before he joined Zappos. Flushed with cash, Tony bounced around from hosting legendary parties to hitting the poker circuit. As he puts it, one day “I realized that I needed to be doing something more fulfilling, that maybe I was no longer playing the right game.” (p. 69) Tony was passionate about what he was doing (parties, poker, etc…), but it was fleeting. Today, at Zappos he describes himself as both passionate and fulfilled. Here are some great examples of “fulfillment” statements:

  • “This is what I’m meant to be doing”
  • “I feel like I’m making a difference”
  • “I’m building something meaningful”
  • “My life has meaning”
  • “I’m meeting a need in the world”
  • “I’m making a difference in the lives of the people I serve”

Unlike passions, fulfillment tends to be less fleeting and is internally driven. The downside to fulfillment by itself is that you run the risk of not getting recharged enough on a daily basis to keep yourself going.

Now onto you. Are you passionate about what you do? Are you fulfilled by what you do? The trick is to get both. Don’t be the tire guy.  Start asking yourself the tough questions and get moving.

Next up: The 5 questions to finding fulfillment at work. Good stuff!