Why Follow Your Passion is Bad Advice For Entrepreneurs Arielle Kimbarovsky | April 13th, 2016


Aspiring entrepreneurs are often told to start a business by following their passion. Richard Branson of Virgin agrees that passion is the fundamental reason behind his company’s success:

When you believe in something the force of your convictions will spark other people’s interest and motivate them to help you achieve your goals. This is essential to success.

Richard Branson has been immensely successful and it’s natural for you to respect what he says about entrepreneurship. In theory, following your passion appears to be a great foundation for a successful business. The reality for most aspiring entrepreneurs is quite different.

Most people do not feel true passion. Sure, many feel the need to be passionate and to speak passionately about their ideas and startups. But there’s a very important difference between feeling the need to be passionate and actually being passionate about an idea. Richard Branson WAS passionate and has continued to inject his passion into every business he started. But, even his passion hasn’t fail-proofed his startups. There have been plenty of failures along the way.

Passion is exciting, contagious and interesting. We celebrate people who appear passionate – and we should. But passion can also be fleeting. Here are three reasons why passion might not be enough, in the long run, to help you launch and sustain a successful business:

1. Passion does not compensate for no expertise.

I could be very passionate about building passenger rockets. It could be my dream to launch a company that can send people to space – much like airlines do across the world. But not matter how much I am interested in passenger rockets, that doesn’t mean that I know the technical, financial, or logistical aspects. There are billions of people in the world and many are passionate about space. Who other than Elon Musk is converting their passion into an a for-profit company looking to solve the space travel problem?

Lack of expertise leads many aspiring entrepreneurs to believe that their product is great. Reality can be harsh. Too many aspiring entrepreneurs fall in love with their idea and ignore the problem. Ideas are shiny, new and interesting. But often, they don’t solve an actual problem.

2. Passion is fleeting.

Passion is a powerful feeling of extreme love or hate, and is classified as an emotion. Here’s the problem: whether we like it or not, emotions aren’t permanent. They appear just as quickly as they fade.

According to a series of four studies conducted in 2014 on finding a career based on passion, or developing passion in a career chosen by skills, researchers found that “both facilitate success”. However, the same researchers noticed that there were differences in the motivational and productive patterns of the workers. The most interesting finding: those who found passion in a career they chose based on objective reasons ended up being slightly more successful than those who simply just followed their passion. Think about it – if the passion disappeared (as it nearly always does), what else will motivate you to continue pushing forward with your idea?

Don’t kid yourself that your startup will be a rocket ship. Few are. Even the most passionate entrepreneurs hit a wall. After all, startups are like roller coasters and while the highs are great, the lows are equally depressing.

3. Passion doesn’t replace a strong work ethic.

Some of the most passionate people I know are also some of the laziest. It doesn’t mean that all passionate people are lazy (in fact, most are not), but it does suggest that passion does not always result in a good work ethic.

A good work ethic reflects a person’s resiliency, discipline, and desire to do a good job. They have to be willing to put in the time and effort to start a business, to take a pay cut, to push through times when they face failure. Passion will not get them through it, because it will most likely disappear in times of trouble. Elon Musk, CEO/CTO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors agrees:

Work like hell. I mean you just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week. [This] improves the odds of success. If other people are putting in 40 hour work weeks and you’re putting in 100 hour work weeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing you know that… you will achieve in 4 months what it takes them a year to achieve.

Even though Musk believes in passion, and is quite passionate about his companies, he reveals that the reason behind his success is because he put in the work to do it – not because he loves every second of what he does.

I’m not suggesting that entrepreneurs should ignore their passion. Passion does play a large role in starting and growing companies. Passion is often the reason why we take risks. But passion clearly isn’t enough to keep a business afloat when you hit the entrepreneurial wall – and you will. Find your passion, but also be sure you know what else can motivate you to move forward when your passion starts to fade.
Image credit: darkday

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  • Dr. Gwen

    I think that you’ve confused the issue of passion and skills. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In fact people cannot be passionate about something they have never experienced. They can, however, have a great desire to experience it. That is not passion. Passion is a fire in your belly fr something that your inner soul yearns for. It is not emotion. For those of us who’ve experienced it, we can attest to what it is. What it isn’t is a fleeting emotion.

    Yes, your passions can change and even in the midst of that, there is an underlying theme that runs your life that doesn’t Which would be better? Doing something you are passionate about, if only for a brief moment, or doing something you are not passionate about? It seems that the passion will always win out. If you are not passionate you could also just as well give up on the journey, couldn’t you?

    The very reason you’ve espoused about the challenges of entrepreneurship is the very reason why people really need to be passionate about what they do. Passion gives them holding power, for much longer than if they didn’t have it. Sure the passion could end and they walk away, but so likewise if they didn’t have it.

    Being ‘passionate’ about something that one doesn’t have the skills for is not passion at all. That’s a strong desire. Passion, by it’s very nature is something that you have already experienced always internally first. It’s that fire in your belly. And a passion test (that I can give) will help to discover it. There was a time when I was confused and didn’t know.

    Another thing is that having passion and lacking skills isn’t the end of the world. People will find the time to learn what they need to to do the things that they love to do far more than if they did not love it. So then again passion wins for endurance and going after the extras that’s needed to succeed.

    In my business I empower women to actually discover their Top 5 Passions and then through my special techniques, they work through a process of identifying a business that aligns with their passion. Of course they may need additional training for doing it, and I don’t know a single successful entrepreneur who didn’t. At some point you’ll have to learn new skills, hire a mentor or enroll in some training or class, especially to scale up the business.

    I can tell you that it is quite exhilarating working on a business that you are passionate about. If fuels energy even when the times are tough. I agree with Steve Jobs whose words I quote:

    “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” As with all matters of the heart you will know when you find it and as with any love relationship it just keeps getting better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking don’t settle.”

    Finding your passion is a matter of the heart and not merely fleeting emotions.

    Dr. Gwen

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