In 2012, Zach Houghton sat in a plain, gray cubicle on the 55th floor of a Hong Kong office building. As the sun set, he looked out at the smoggy harbor, knowing that his 80-hour work weeks were going to break him if something in his life didn’t change soon. He felt stuck. He wasn’t living the life he’d hoped for.
A few weeks later, Zach handed in his resignation. He’d decided he wanted to travel the world to meet up with friends, strangers, and creatives whose personal journeys inspired him.
Fast forward a few years, and Zach created Passion Passport. The site didn’t launch overnight, however (in fact, it started with a single blog post and a hashtag). It evolved slowly from a purpose project to the full-fledged platform it is today. But that’s precisely why the idea worked — Zach was able to bring his passion to his work every single day and build the site one step at a time. Even when he was met with discouragement or setbacks, he’d simply remember his days in Hong Kong and remind himself of the new path he had embarked upon.
So, what are Purpose Projects?
A purpose project — also known as a passion project — is that thing you work on, often outside of your chosen career path, that gives you a sense of satisfaction and excitement, while also putting you into a state of flow. In short, they’re the projects you turn to when you want to escape and create. Think of them as your tiny (or huge) contributions to the world.
The reason purpose projects have grown increasingly popular in recent years is that the way we view careers has changed. Jobs used to be seen as transactions, but today, we believe in careers imbued with passion. We want to find meaning in our work. But the path to finding that meaning isn’t necessarily “go to school; get a job; find success; be happy.”
In fact, we’re moving away from one career per lifetime, and more toward seven. Why? Because making things that we care about is ingrained in our generation’s DNA. We want to build, prototype, rebuild, and see a finished something. We want to fight for our own ideas, and do something that matters to the world and to us. We’re sick of “or” and pushing for “and,” many of us choosing to keep the 9–5 and be creative after hours, or vice versa. And that is where purpose projects provide a unique solution. These projects can provide an outlet, an opportunity to get ahead, a way to round out your current job and pursue the things you’re passionate about, or a possible bridge to a more satisfying career, as was the case with Zach.
Whatever the situation may be, the value of purpose projects lies in their ability to help us live more fulfilling lives.
What are some examples of Purpose Projects?
Though you’ll find countless examples of purpose projects floating around the Passion Passport community, here are a few you can turn to if you’re in need of a bit of inspiration or guidance.
Réhahn and The Giving Back Project
Working as a travel photographer, Réhahn saw the harmful effects caused by the “one photo equals one dollar” approach to compensation, which encourages children in developing countries to remain on the streets. So, he set out to establish a new philosophy: photography as a vehicle for social responsibility.
The French photographer officially launched his personal passion project, The Giving Back Project, in 2011 as a way to turn this vicious photography cycle into a virtuous one that promotes human connection and “conscious photography.” Through this work, Réhahn makes a connection with his subject and captures their portrait, and once the photograph achieves a certain level of recognition, he retraces his steps, finds his subject once more, and tries to make a meaningful contribution to their lives. He sees it as a win-win situation: his models receive the personalized help they need, and he gets to enjoy the feeling of being part of a global family.
Annapurna Mellor and ROAM Magazine
Annapurna Mellor is a freelance photographer whose work has been featured in the likes of National Geographic and Lonely Planet. But after years of contributing to other people’s publications, she had the idea to create her own platform. It would showcase creative, travel-related work and feature the incredible people she had met through Instagram, who were posting pictures but not sharing the stories about what was behind those moments. From there, Annapurna and her sister got to work on the project, simultaneously achieving their dream of working together. Their efforts resulted in ROAM Magazine, a creative outlet for international travelers, writers, and photographers.
When Annapurna looks back on what it took to get their purpose project off the ground, she notes that the most important thing was to “just do it.” From her perspective, anyone can sit on their ideas and do nothing with them. In order to create something interesting, you have to take the first step and make whatever it is you want to make — then see it through. “If you have a really good idea, you have to put everything into it,” Annapurna says. “You have to do it for the passion, not for the money.”
Andrew Parker and Flying High For Kids
Visitors to Andrew Parker’s website are greeted with the question, “Do you dare to dream?” — a provoking thought that encapsulates his message to children around the world. A hot air balloon pilot from New Zealand, Andrew decided to turn his passion into a mission and embark on a journey across the globe. His aim? To fly in 100 countries with the goal of inspiring children to realize their own hopes. This venture had been an aspiration of his since he was in his early teens, and a hefty amount of research, outreach, and shots in the dark, he’s now chasing his dream.
Though Andrew has faced his fair share of obstacles since launching the project, small moments along his journey have kept him going. Seeing children across borders celebrating and sharing their talents has been more rewarding than he could have ever imagined. From the spectacular mountains of Kyrgyzstan to the chilly plains of Finland, Andrew has floated into 70 countries so far, packing a message of hope and perseverance in his basket.
Laura Bailey and The Scrapbook
The roots of Laura Bailey’s purpose project sprouted when she was just eight years old. Her parents, who were both chemists, had talked about taking a sabbatical and trekking around Europe for much of her and her sister’s upbringing, and they finally decided to chase their dream in the summer of 1968.
Laura’s family kicked off their adventure in Paris and took the winding side roads out of the city, eventually passing through southern France, Spain, Italy, Austria, and Germany, before heading back by way of the British Isles. To make the journey affordable, the family rented a Volkswagen bus and camped along most of their route.
Throughout the months that passed, Laura created a massive scrapbook that detailed their entire trip. Filled with ticket stubs, receipts, and drawings, the travel journal became a roadmap of their most memorable moments. Looking back, Laura can vividly remember the excitement of that first exploration and her desire to share her family’s journey with others — it was a feeling that never quite left her.
The rest was history. The adventure ignited Laura’s passion for travel, as well as her love of writing. Since then, she’s expanded her collection of passport stamps and launched a blog for Capital One associates — a project that discusses the intersection of her personal purpose and professional mission, paying homage to her first travel scrapbook and bringing readers along on her journeys.
Andy Navarrete and One America (…the Beautiful)
Andy Navarrete has always loved to travel, but his youth was confined almost entirely to the East Coast of the United States. When a work obligation took him to Phoenix, Arizona, for the first time in 1999, he decided to take a side trip to the Grand Canyon. This outing marked the beginning of his relationship with the U.S. National Parks, and during that trip, he encountered a moment that can only be called an awakening. The experience changed him and the way he viewed both nature and conservation. After visiting another nine parks, he felt the draw of a quantitative challenge and decided that he needed to see them all.
Andy has since been to 32 parks, leaving 28 to tackle in the years to come. While he says there is certainly clarity in his objective, he doesn’t want his quest to be reduced to a mere checklist. The reasoning behind this pursuit is not just to finish, but to relish in the quiet moments along the way and see how each place alters his perspective.
But like the parks themselves, Andy’s purpose has continued to evolve. While he believes that seeing our nation’s greatest treasures is a wondrous experience, sharing them is something else entirely — it creates meaningful connections. As he puts it, “The rich diversity of America’s natural wonders is exceeded only by the rich diversity of Americans.” As a Capital One executive, Andy is challenging his fellow colleagues and associates to follow their passions, embark on their own purpose projects, and share their own purposeful travel stories through an initiative called The Purpose Project. “Traveling with purpose is not just about picking a particular destination,” he explains. “It’s also about undertaking a lifelong journey.”
How can I get started on my own Purpose Project?
While everyone’s process will look different, here are a few simple tips you can utilize when trying to get your purpose project off the ground.
Say yes to what you’re drawn to
Remember: the purpose of these projects is to explore your passions, so don’t pick one based on what you think you should do or what other people are pressuring you to do. Chances are, you’re already undertaking those tasks at your current job. So, focus in on the things that bring meaning to your life — return to that idea or dream you’ve tucked away, and go for it.
Commit to your project
As with a New Year’s Resolution, it’s common to come out of the gate strong, but sticking with your project past the first week can sometimes be difficult, and any lapse can feel discouraging. We suggest committing to it for at least a month — as that’s a short enough time to see results — and seeing if it’s still something that lights a fire in you. From there, keep at it and move onto to the next step!
Think of your purpose project as an experiment that will give you valuable knowledge, especially if you’re learning a new skill or exploring a different industry. You won’t know what it’s like until you start, and it’s only from that experience that you’ll know what to do next. After committing to your project for a month, you’ll be able to see what’s working and what isn’t, and make adjustments before trying it again. Make sure you’re moving in the direction you want to — after all, this is about doing what makes you come alive.
So, follow your passion, keep your eyes set on that initial spark, remember to view your project as an experiment, and take note of the meaningful moments along the way.
Do you have any tips on how to start a purpose project, or do you have a success story of your own? We’d love to hear them! Share yours with us in the comments below or by using #MeaningfulMoments.
As Capital One Purpose Project partners, we are excited to be a part of the conversation to showcase how people are rethinking the power of travel. Find more tips on how to travel with purpose on the Capital One Purpose Project Hub, in collaboration with The Points Guy.