Finding Your Passion Is Overrated. Do The Work Instead.

Let’s stop worrying about Passion, and do the Work instead.

The buzz of finding your passion, as a means to a happy and motivated work life, has flooded personal blogs, self-development sites, and motivational posters since the days of dialup.

Just because something is a commonly held belief does not make it true.

The idea of passion implies there is something inherent in us. Or that it is something we stumble upon along the way, hopefully at a young age.

For instance, a child obsessed with building blocks, Lego and creating something new could be well suited for a career in industrial design or architecture. But this does not preordain the child to become the next Norman Foster (the architect responsible for some of the most iconic buildings of the last four decades).

Even then, there still remains the gruelling effort, hard study and sleepless nights it takes to get a degree, let alone become world class. Still then, there is no guarantee that you will leave university propelled by a strong sense of the motivation, inspiration and “purpose” to endeavour upon a life of loving what you do. I’m reminded of a quote from Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

“Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you in your quest to become, in the words of my favorite Steve Martin quote, ‘so good that they can’t ignore you.’ ”

So, if simply being passionate is not enough to get us the occupation or business we want, then what are we to do?

Finding passion

If you, like me, and so many others out there, aren’t one of the lucky ones. The guys and girls handed a plastic stethoscope, at age four, and knew from that moment onwards they were destined to become the next Chris Barnard (South African surgeon who completed the first successful heart transplant in humans).

If that’s not you, what needs to be done to discover what you want to do or what business you want to start?

Start by finding out what you love and what you are good at.

“You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” – Jim Carrey

As we get older we forget what made us happy when we were younger.

Ask your parents what you loved to do and/or excelled at as a child. Were you always fond of camping and the outdoors? Did you shine at a certain subject, English or geography, perhaps? You still might have a spark of enthusiasm for that activity or subject, or at the very least for something similar. This can indicate a direction to finding a line of work or a business you love.

Look at what you enjoy to do now.

I hate the “what do you do?” question, by the way. How does our means to make money define us in anyway?

When we start working and, as often is the case, become consumed by what we do for a living, our other interests take a backseat. Riding bicycles, something we did as children from 6am until the street lights came on at night, is reduced to when we have the time on weekends and public holidays. Our love of cooking is side lined to when we have the inclination and when work finishes at a reasonable time.

So how do we spin this into something valuable to use as a career or business idea?

Innovation can be found at the intersection of two different disciplines.

“I think the biggest innovations of the twenty-first century will be the intersection of biology and technology.” –Steve Jobs

We have to think, and for that matter do business, outside the box. Finding an intersection between two of our interests can identify a means to cultivating a career or business we love.

finding passion


So if we are to use the example above. A childhood love of writing coupled with an adult love for mountain biking, can lead to a blog about mountain biking or a smart phone app describing the best trails and tracks in your location. Business outside the box.

(Those are the only ideas you get, go and do the damn work!)

Now we have found a business idea we love and can really sink our teeth into the work is over. We can start-up, sit back and wait for VC (venture capital) to roll in. Right? How about no!

The only way to truly differentiate yourself from all the others is to become truly great. To become world class.

Don’t hate The Digging.

How do you become truly great, at anything, if you do not put in the long hours to build up the skills required to outshine your competition? This is where our friend “passion”, once again, falls flat on its face.

Here is an excerpt from Cal Newport’s book that I mentioned previously.

“The traits that define great work are rare and valuable. Supply and demand says that if you want these traits you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. Think of these rare and valuable skills you can offer as your career capital. The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you,” is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital. This is why it trumps the passion mindset if your goal is to create work you love.”

What Mr. Newport is referring to here is deliberate practice. A concept I like to refer to as The Digging!

finding passion

Mindlessly doing the same thing over and over again is not deliberate practice. It is a sure fire way to boredom and as Tim Ferriss says “the opposite of happiness is boredom.” We are looking for work that we love, remember. It’s difficult to love something if it doesn’t make you happy!

So how do we make what we are practicing, not only deliberate, but enjoyable?

1. Get Uncomfortable.

We are all familiar with Neale Donald Walsch’s words, often terribly paraphrased:

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

This may seem counterproductive. Why would anyone want to knowingly do something that makes them uncomfortable? Getting out of our comfort zone is intimidating and can make us anxious, so much so it may cause us to not to act at all. We then get stuck in “safe mode”. The problem with the cautious route is that we end up doing things we already proficient at. This is even enjoyable, for a while at least. When we repeatedly do what we already know how to, what happens? Boredom, and we know what happens when we get bored!

Even when we force ourselves to try something new and uncomfortable soon we will get good at it. Then this new thing will become boring too. The key is to keep digging, get feedback and dig some more (much like the Shewhart Cycle, Erik mentioned in his post on Accretion). This is where long term happiness lives. When you continuously dig, get feedback and dig again you give yourself the means and motivation to achieve your loftiest goals. Imagine how much you’ll love your work when you sell that first app or e-book and all the effort to get there becomes worth it!

2. Dig in!

Ask the experts, read books and take action. I’m going to say it again to be sure you heard me, take action!

Getting stuck in a research trap will kill the excitement and motivation that creating something new brings. This is the time to act and to get something, anything, out there. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be viable (perfectionism is another progress trap). The online business community calls this the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Without putting that out there you won’t know whether it’s something people actually want.

Yes, we are looking for a business that excites us so much we have to pull ourselves away from it. But if it’s not making money it’s not a business at all, it’s just a hobby.

The reason I am so hard on passion is because it has been idolised so much it makes going after what you want, without it, a seemingly impossible task. It makes the process so daunting it can be used as a scape goat. People often don’t go after what they want because they don’t feel “passionate” enough about it.

I had this mentality in the past. It blocked my progression because there was no point in starting without passion, like it was some sort of magic potion or something. But once I realised that all you need to do is dig in, do the work and, as Cal Newport put it, “Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you” I knew I could create passion, no voodoo required.

This is one of the most liberating mind shifts we can experience, the realisation that your progress it is completely within your control, you just need to dig in.

Now you don’t have the “passion excuse” for not going after what you want. What do have to do?

Do the damn work!

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Andrew Mack

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