Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ Is Awful, Flawed Advice
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Entrepreneur and author
With a job being something that we can no longer count on and more demands than ever on our time, we seem to be in constant search of balance and fulfillment. This has created a huge “follow your passion” movement, which suggests that you should earn a living by creating a livelihood from your greatest life passion.
But getting intoxicated by the passion story is akin to “business beer goggles.” You aren’t thinking clearly or seeing the reality.
For businesses to be successful, entrepreneurs need to think about opportunities from their customers’ perspective as much as from their own perspective.
While I do believe that successful businesses have leaders — and often employees, by the way — who are passionate about the business opportunity and their customers, you do not need your life’s passion as a starting point. If you were passionate about the television show Dexter, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t translate into you starting a serial-killer business — despite being amoral and illegal, I don’t think the market opportunity is that large. But seriously, why do so many people think that you need to earn a living from what you love to do the most?
Passion isn’t a starting point.
Zappos.com is a business where passion followed opportunity, but wasn’t the starting point. I can’t imagine that Tony Hsieh is more passionate about shoes than most of the women that I know. He is, however, completely passionate about customer service, which helped take that business to the top of its game.
But people’s life passions generally aren’t around concepts like customer service, which drive successful businesses. Kids grow up wanting to be firemen, ballerinas, baseball players or Star Wars characters, not community builders. If you ask someone their passion, I can guarantee that 99 out of 100 times or more, you will get answers like golf, dancing, wine, scrapbooking or sex before customer service, community building and customer loyalty. If you start with passion, Imelda Marcos or Sex & the City’s Carrie Bradshaw end up running Zappos.com before Tony Hsieh.
Successful businesses identify a customer need or want — an opportunity. When the entrepreneur is incredibly passionate about filling that customer need and is uniquely positioned to be the best person to do so in some way, that’s where business success happens.
And here’s the brilliant part: As long as entrepreneurs aren’t a bandwagon hopper trying to jump on whatever is hot, they will likely find an opportunity from an area of interest. For example, if you have no interest in green technologies, it’s not likely that you will notice a customer need in that area. On the other hand, if you are a foodie, it’s quite possible that you will run into an opportunity in or around food.
The reason work is not called ‘fun’ or ‘hobby’.
One of the ways to truly have some semblance of balance is to try to keep your work life from seeping into the rest of your life. If you have something that you do to relieve stress or add joy to your life, do you want to layer on the requirement of earning a living from it? Once you depend on something to put food on your family’s table and to pay your mortgage, it changes the entire nature of the relationship. Sometimes, work can be fun, but it’s not called that for a reason. Plus, we weren’t designed to always be “on.” We need time to recombobulate and relax.
Passions are magical, but businesses are grounded in realities. Do you remember when Dorothy and the gang peered behind the curtain to find out that the Wizard of Oz wasn’t an all-powerful being, but rather, kind of a loser? Or when you found out that Santa Claus wasn’t real? Or when you figured out that your parents weren’t superheroes, just people with flaws? It sucked, right? Our hobbies are about escapism. There is a bit of magic and fantasy in them. When you make that your business, you are privy to the nuts and bolts. That tempers the magic.
It’s not all about you.
Having a hobby is a total self-indulgence. It is something that you can do that is mostly — if not entirely — you-centric. While you may think that you can have a business that is all about you, you would be wrong. A business is about your customers. In your business, you only get a say if it jives with your customers’ wants. Otherwise, they don’t buy from you.
We need to educate entrepreneurs that by approaching a business from what you are lacking or missing or passionate about, you are completely ignoring those who allow you to have a business: your customers. Again, our environment is fraught with competition. Customers, whose attention spans are contracting, are bombarded with messages and are harder to reach than ever. You have to make the customers the most important part of your business.
If you want to fulfill a passion, do it. That’s what hobbies and free time are for. But if you intertwine that desire with a business, remember that your passion does not pay your for goods or services.
While you may find an opportunity from things that you are passionate about, I don’t think it’s the best starting place to create a business. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. However, the exceptions don’t make for a good strategy. It is possible to win the lottery, but that doesn’t mean that you should invest all of your money in lottery tickets.
While you absolutely need to be passionate about making your business a success, you don’t need to make a business from your greatest passion in life. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Find the opportunities that ignite a passion within you- that is where the success will happen.