Recently I read an article entitled “Why Veteran Entrepreneurs Laugh at You for Following Your ‘Passion”. It really annoyed me. The author believes:

  • Articles about “loving your career and working with passion”, “nine ways you can profit from your passion”, “simple ways to turn your passion into a paycheck”, “why you should let passion drive your success” are nonsense, of course.
  • Any long-time business owner will tell you passion is overrated.
  • If everyone followed their passion who would take out the garbage?
  • That when you dig deeper, that passionate entrepreneur has a bunch of family money in the bank that’s propping up her business. Or he’s a celebrity. Or has a rich uncle. Or a bunch of low-paid workers working many hours. Or a supplier from China.
  • Passion is about doing something that fills a market need and makes you money.
  • The smartest business people are passionate about what pays for a nice house, a vacation, a child’s education, a good dinner, a new TV.
  • That you don’t have to be passionate about what you do as long as what you’re doing is contributing something that the world needs – and a profit can be made.
I think this is rubbish, and the worst kind because:
  • It adds to the growing pool of negative ‘noise’ that destroys people’s lives.
  • It provides an easy out for you to blame something other than yourself if you fail.
  • It tells you that you can’t follow your dreams or whatever you are passionate about.
  • It tells you to put money/profit first (which worked really well in the Global Financial Crisis – NOT!).
  • It reeks of those parents who tell their children to stop dreaming about being an artist (or musician or actor or …) because there is no future there – be a doctor or lawyer or accountant instead because they make money.
What do I know about following one’s passion?

I am a business owner following my passion and have since 2008 when I started my accounting practice. It’s not glamorous. It’s bloody hard work at times. But I wouldn’t change it.

I work on average 50-hour weeks and sometimes I don’t spend as much time with my family as they want. I don’t take many holidays. And sometimes what I’m doing is boring – like checking bank statements against data in computer software. I make okay money – it pays the bills and gives room for bonuses like good food, family holidays, a roof over our heads and being able to pay off the mortgage quicker. But the money is secondary to what I do.

My passion is to help small business owners do better because the world is full of people and things that are either pulling us down or getting in our way as small business owners. And I believe that, as a small business owner myself and having survived over ten years now (when up to three out of four businesses that began in 2008 are now gone), small business owners need all the help we can get. Why? Because there are a lot of people, information, so-called experts, and governments constantly making life harder for us.

Following my passion has nothing to do with my parents. There is no family money propping up my business. I am no celebrity. I have no rich relatives. I have no lowly paid workers working long hours. And I have no supplier from China. I have done it by hard grit and knowing that what I’m doing is ‘right’… one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, one year at a time. I know I will have ups and downs – if it was easy everyone would be doing it.

Why is passion important?

As a business owner and someone who works with small business owners, I can tell you passion is UNDERRATED. My passion is what helps me keep going on those days when I may not feel like it. Without it I probably would have gone back to working for another accountant because it’s fewer hours and more money (sometimes). I believe we need more people following their true passion as opposed to more people living lives to make money or profit.

To do what I love, I understand and accept I have to do the hard yards, the boring stuff. It’s part of the deal. Much like parenting. You have to change the pooey nappies, clean the puke, dry the tears … to raise a healthy, happy child. You take the good with the bad. If you’re not prepared to do the non-glamorous stuff then I suggest that whatever you think you are doing that’s following your passion, isn’t!

That’s how I KNOW, without a doubt, that if everyone followed their true passion then the garbage would still get collected, the drains would still get unclogged, and toilets will still get cleaned because they would be part of someone’s passion and accepted as such. There are many examples of this. For example, Mother Teresa followed her passion not to make money but to help the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for. She worked in the slums of Calcutta aiding the city’s poorest and sickest. Very unglamorous. But she was passionate about it and nothing stood in her way.

Passion and money

Unfortunately passion has been bastardised by the cliché, positive spin, success is defined by being happy leprechauns proclaiming to be experts in business. You know the ones I mean – the ones with pictures of themselves with cheesy smiles on the beach with buff looking people drinking nice drinks, doing exciting things, in exotic places. Supposedly they know the secret to a successful business (it’s never one thing, by the way).

If you are passionate about what pays for a nice house, a holiday, a child’s education, a new TV, then I would argue that’s not a passion, but a want. I accept you can be passionate about making money. However, there aren’t many successful people in the world whose passion is about making more money. Most made money doing what they were passionate about … and that never happens overnight. There’s always a backstory and in most cases it was never anything to do with luck.

Yes, following my passion in business makes me money. But there is a difference between filling a market need that results in making some money, and filling a market need to make money. Filling a market need to make money puts money first, not your customer. Filling a market need that results in you making money puts your customer first and the money is secondary.

It is true you don’t have to be passionate about what you do as long as what you’re doing is contributing something that the world needs – and a profit can be made. But do you seriously want to be part of a world where money comes first, before people? I don’t.

An example of people who put money before passion includes many employees. Depending on the statistics you look at, over 50% of employees are dissatisfied with the work they’re doing. Because they are willing to jump jobs if the opportunity presents itself, they have put the necessity of earning a wage over and above following their passion. A person who was following their passion would not jump jobs so willingly. Now what if these dissatisfied employees worked for businesses or started their own businesses that followed whatever passion they had? What kind of world would that look like? I would argue a world better than we have now.

How do you follow your passion?

Following your passion can be tricky because sometimes it can be difficult finding your passion. Sometimes you may not know what you’re passionate about, and sometimes what you think is your passion may not be.

To give you an idea of what I mean, I know I am following my passion in small business and helping other small business owners. I know because I like what I do, I wouldn’t give it up, and I’ve done it even when times were tough.

But it’s also true that what I’m doing is just one way of expressing what’s important to me and I know there’s more to it than what I am currently doing. I’m reasonably sure I’m on the right path (for me) … but I’m also sure I’m not there yet. I hope that by gaining greater clarity of my TRUE passion, I can share that to help make the world a better place for as many people as I can.

So how can you find your passion?

  • For starters, passion matters – it’s your ‘why’; its what’s important to you, its what you care about, its personal to you. Never let anyone tell you your passion is dumb or stupid.
  • You’ll know your true passion when its non-negotiable – i.e. you won’t give it up even if someone is pointing a gun at your head. Don’t be afraid to stand up for your passion.
  • Your true passion can be expressed in many ways – that means you can use your passion to do many things … which you should … until you get on your feet properly. You have to start at the beginning and ‘earn your stripes’ if you want to fly.
  • If your passion is space, and you can’t be an astronaut right now, then find a different way to be an astronaut. Learn from others who are passionate about the things you are. Or find something else you can do that’s to do with space instead. If your passion is strong enough, you will always find a way.
  • People who are passionate fail sometimes. It’s not a reflection of following one’s passion ends in failure. The trick is to fail small, learn from it and do it better next time. And if you’re not failing then you’re not trying hard enough.
  • Passion can be perception-based – you can view bricklaying as laying bricks, or putting up a wall, or building a cathedral for people to come together and worship in love. That choice is yours.
  • If you give up your passion, then was it really your true passion? Much like treasure, you have to dig deep to find the real treasure … and most of us are too lazy to dig deep into ourselves.
Never let your passion blind you

Once you think you know your passion, do not think that means you have found the holy grail and you can have everything you want. That’s not necessarily true. You can get too passionate about something to the point you annoy or put people off. You can also get so fixated on whatever you’re passionate about that you stop paying attention to other things happening in life around you – possibly to the point where your life may be in danger (either figuratively or literally).

It’s like the story of the drowning man I once heard:

A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help. A man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you”. The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me”. The rowboat went on. Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety”. The stranded man replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith”. The helicopter reluctantly flew away. Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss the situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why”. God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”

Finding and following your passion is just one part of what is your life. It is not the answer to any great question. It will not solve all your problems. Life is complex, as is being in business. There are many moving parts to each of our lives. Some parts work well. Some parts don’t. But the more parts we get working ‘well’ (finding and following your passion is just one part), the less difficult your life need be.

So what’s your passion? And more importantly, are you following it or are you sacrificing it? If you don’t know then I challenge you to start by taking some time out to find your passion and what excites you. Once you know that, then find ways to blend it into your life whether you are working for someone else or running your own business. Start by taking baby steps before you run. And if one day you live your passion, share with everyone else how you did it and the lessons you learned. That way we can prove that following your passion is not nonsense.

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