Passion is Overrated

“Chase your passion and success will follow.”

You’ve probably heard it said at a graduation speech, or read it on an Instagram post or some motivational chalkboard art, or here it is as a title for an article from Investopedia.

I call bull.

Listen, I’m not saying passion is bad or unimportant, but I don’t believe it is the MOST important ingredient for success. Read on, and I’ll share a delicious recipe for success pie.

But first, lets talk about the problem with Passion Distraction.

What’s wrong with “Passion?”

For starters, it’s a feeling. It’s a strong feeling. And feelings can be fleeting. Just ask my 5 year old.

How we feel about something, and the intensity of our feelings can fluctuate with our blood sugar level, or the weather, or hundreds of other factors outside of our control.

Something that really fires us up today might leave us feeling cold tomorrow. Like a Krispy Kreme donut.

Our emotions and out attention spans do not last long. Especially today with a constant barrage of pictures, and messages, and Marvel movies, and crises, and stress, and funny hamster videos, and AI, and gurus pitching the latest way to make millions of dollars, and TWO Prime Days because companies know that we just can’t be satisfied with what we have. Not for a minute.

But I digress.

We live in a click-baity, sound-bitey endlessly scrolling world. I forced myself to actually read through that Investopedia article I mentioned earlier, and you know what? They actually make some good points, and it’s a lot more nuanced than I assumed. But why did I make assumptions in the first place? Because more often than not we don’t actually read the articles. We just skim the headlines and our preconceived notions to fill in the rest.

So with all of these pithy quotes about passion being the key to success and other surface level blips of pop wisdom filling up our feeds, we’re creating a lot of opportunities for confusion and, let’s call it incomplete thinking.

Incomplete Thinking

One possible outcome of incomplete thinking is a wave of aspiring entrepreneurs who are underprepared to actually achieve the success they dream of; who not ready or not willing to take action on a really great opportunity because it doesn’t pass the passion test right now (even though it could pave the way to a joy and purpose filled life in the future). I know lots of people who are passionate, and ambitious, and have really interesting ideas for what they want to be a business that will allow them to live a certain lifestyle, but they don’t have a plan. They only read the headline, and they haven’t fully considered everything it will take to get from here to there.

And I’m worried for them, because this is what I see happen sometimes:

Failure to Launch

They hit a snag. “No big deal.” They’ll just tap into their passion to keep going… and tap into their savings to make it another month. Rinse and repeat. And run out of money and run out of steam and now they are in a difficult spot. And it’s not a matter of just needing a little more runway and a little more fuel in the tank; this plane was never getting off the ground.

Donald Miller in How to Grow Your Small Business uses the analogy of a plane to describe the the different components of a successful business. You need wings, engines, fuel, competent people in the cockpit. And everything needs to work together and be held in balance.

But if you don’t understand this and all you are blindly relying on is passion, I’m just picturing in my head someone jumping a chainlink fence and Tom Cruise running down an airport tarmac scream singing “I Believe I Can Fly” with the TSA hot on their heels. But at least they are smiling.

And let me be clear. I’m not trying to be the passion police, telling you to not live your dream life. Quite the opposite. I want you to be successful beyond your wildest dreams. But you need more than dreams to get you there. Let’s hop down to the kitchen.

A Recipe for Lasting Success

  • 1 cup of passion (you can substitute this for enthusiasm or deep interest if you have some in your pantry),
  • 2 cups of talent (or skill if you’re allergic to talent)
  • 2 farm fresh revenue streams,
  • 3/4 cups of warm market interest (Because in order to make dough – you need people who are willing to pay you!)

Combine ingredients, pour into a greased loaf pan, and bake at 350º F for 12 months to a decade. Serve hot.

If this recipe sounds familiar its because it’s been around for over a thousand years. It’s a take on the Japanese concept of Ikigai.

Ikigai is a combination of the words iki which means “life” and kai which means “benefit” or “worth”. And together it refers to the thing that gives your life value and meaning.

Now, this doesn’t just fall in your lap. You have to do some work, and not only the work of chasing what you love. That’s just one part. Ikigai is the intersection of what you love, with what you are good at, with what you can be paid for – enough to make a living, with what the world needs.

Passion vs. Purpose

If you can find a way to combine these four ingredients: Love, Skills, Money, and Needs, you have the recipe for a life full of joy and purpose. And I believe purpose is so much deeper and richer than passion. In fact, I think that’s what we really mean when we talk about passion. “Follow your purpose and success will follow” – I don’t disagree with that one bit. Run a search and replace on all of these quotes and now we’re talking.

Am I splitting hairs. Maybe a little bit.

But I think it’s important to be more precise with our language. At least when it matters. And when you’re trying to chart a course for a life well lived, if we’re telling ourselves and telling other people to pursue passion, when we really should be pursuing purpose, we are short changing ourselves. Do you want a life of passion, or do you want a life of sustainable passion and purpose and joy?

Don’t just read the headlines. Dig deeper, make a plan, and do the work. But until people start actually reading again, I’m going to fight fire with fire and use a click-baity title and thumbnail that makes people think I don’t want them to be happy.

But just so you know, I do. And if there’s anything I can do to help you along your journey to true, sustainable success. Feel free to reach out, because self-employment doesn’t have to be by yourself employment.

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