You often hear advice from successful people that you should “follow your passion”. That sounds perfectly reasonable the first time you hear it. Passion will presumably give you high energy, high resistance to rejection, and high determination. Passionate people are more persuasive, too. These are all good things, right?
Here is the counterargument. When one of my friends was a commercial loan officer for a large bank in Nairobi, he taught me that you should never make a loan to someone who is following his passion. For example, you don’t want to give money to a photography enthusiast who is starting a photography business to pursue his passion for all things photography. That guy is a bad bet, passion and all. He’s in business for the wrong reason.
My friend’s boss, who has been a commercial lender for over thirty years, said the best loan customer is one who has no passion whatsoever, just a desire to work hard at something that looks good on a spreadsheet. May be the loan customer wants to start a dry cleaning business or invest in a fast food franchise – boring stuff. That’s the person you bet on. You want the grinder, not the guy who loves his job.
Business Mogul Jay Abraham through his writing and seminars always says that one of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is falling in love with their own product or service. A business person should fall in love with their client.
So who’s right? Is passion a useful tool for success, or is it just something that makes you irrational?
As a flashback, I never went to school because I was passionate. I went there because my mother took me there, and as I grew older I was expected to stay in school and complete my education. My passion at that time was playing with water, dogs, cats, bike riding and reading colorful books. Only once I was older did I look back and see the paramount importance of school. (And also, now I dislike cats.)
My hypothesis is that passionate people are more likely to take big risks in the pursuit of unlikely goals, and so you would expect to see more failures and more huge successes among the passionate. Passionate people who fail don’t get a chance to offer their advice to the rest of us. But successful passionate people are writing books and answering interview questions every day. Naturally those successful people want you to believe that success is a product of their awesomeness, but they also want to retain some humility. You can’t be humble and say “I succeeded because I am far smarter than the average person.” But you can say your passion was a key to your success, because everyone can be passionate about something or other. Passion sounds more accessible. If you’re dumb, there’s not much you can do about it, but passion is something we think anyone can generate in the right circumstances. Passion feels very democratic. It’s the people talent, available to all.
It’s also mostly bullshit.
It’s easy to be passionate about things that are working out, and that distorts our impression of the importance of passion. I’ve been involved in several business ventures over the course of my short life, and each one made me excited at the start. You might even call it passion. The ones that didn’t work out – and that would be most of them – slowly drained my passion as they failed. The few that worked became more exciting as they succeeded.
In hindsight, it looks as if the projects I was most passionate about were also the ones that worked. But objectively, my passion level moved with my success. Success caused passion more than passion caused success.
Passion can also be a simple marker for talent. We humans tend to enjoy doing things we are good at, while not enjoying things we suck at. We’re also fairly good at predicting what we might be good at before we try. I was passionate about table tennis the first day I picked up a bat (or whatever it is you call that thing you hit the balls with – look, I said balls) and I’ve played all my life. Same with basketball. Same with books. I fell in love with books and words the first time a story was read to me as a toddler. There’s a tale my mum likes to tell about when I was a baby and she would read to me: I would cram the sentences that she would read, connect them to the pictures on the page, then ‘read’ to my father when he would come home. Of course I wasn’t really reading. But I knew in an instant that these were things I wanted in my life, and that desire has only grown stronger as the years pass. I felt I could be good at these things, unlike the millions of things that I suck at. So sometimes passion is simply a by-product of knowing you will be good at something.
If you ask a billionaire the secret of his success, he might say it is passion, because that sounds like a sexy answer that is suitably humble. But after a few drinks he’d say his success was a combination of desire, luck, hard work, determination, brains, and appetite for risk.
So forget about passion when you’re planning your path to success. Perhaps in future I will describe some methods for boosting personal energy that have worked for me. Perhaps not. I don’t even know what I’m going to be doing in the next few hours, therefore don’t rely on my promises concerning the future. Most of the promises I make in my writing I have absolutely no intention of keeping. Yes I’m just being honest. Or not. But I digress.
You already know that when your energy is right you perform better at everything you do, including school, work, sports, theatre, love, and even your personal life. Energy is good. Passion is bullshit.