Why Passion Won’t Build a Business

What I’m about to tell you isn’t the typical passion-drunken advice. No one really cares if you’re passionate about what you do, and no one cares if you do what you love for a living.

This isn’t the typical romanticized post about passion-filled work. Matter of fact, you probably won’t like what you’ll read in this article. You might just want to not read it.

But if, for some strange reason, you’re curious about the truth about “following your passion,” read on.

Why it doesn’t matter if you’re filled to the brim with passion

Whoever said “do what you love and the money will follow” was pretty off-base. Not only that, but they inadvertently have caused a lot of people a lot of heartache and confusion. Many people set out to do what they love, thinking if they just work at it enough someone will come along and pay them for it. If they just become ridiculously amazing at what they do, the money will follow.


No one cares how passionate you are about what you do. They want to know what’s in it for them.

No one can be bothered to pay anything without a clear and tangible benefit communicated to them. The hardest thing you can get someone to do is to take out their wallet, and they’re not going to do it just because you’re really enthusiastic and follow your heart.

That’s because, deeper than that…

Following your passion alone is selfish

Simply doing what you love is not enough. Aiming to do what you love for a living has to be more about just blindly doing what you’re passionate about.

But that’s what most people do. They start a “business” pursuing their passion, and sometimes if they’re smart they try to provide people value while they’re doing it. They share their experience, or if they’re even smarter they’ll package their experience in a way that people can easily extract value from.

Even that’s not enough.

If you don’t start out filling a desperate need or solving an urgent problem from the start, you’ve already lost. It doesn’t matter if you’re absolutely overdosing on passion. It’s not enough.

Here’s what else:

  • Sometimes your passion won’t align with what other people need. If you’re passionate about 13th century architecture, but no one is interested in contracting you, it’s game over. You’ll have to find something else, or not pursue your passion as a means of income.
  • Sometimes your passion is too personal to turn into a business. If you play a style of music or create a type of art that only appeals to you, it will be hard to create an income from it. And sometimes the pressure of turning an art into an income will make you feel stifled.

The other major problem is that the call to follow your passion only looks at half of the picture. Choosing to change the work you do isn’t enough. In order to really find meaningful fulfillment, you need to change the way you approach work itself.

This might mean…

  • Adjusting your attitude toward work. Showing up excited about the work you do instead of just seeking exciting work.
  • Changing your beliefs about work. Looking at it from a different perspective and re-framing the way you see work, not simply as a chore (which is most often the reason we avoid it), but as a way to make a meaningful contribution to the world.
  • Choosing purpose, not just passion. Often most of the meaning and fulfillment from work comes not just from being passionate about it, but from specifically choosing and being intimately connected with a deeper purpose.

The passion work call to action heralded on high from most gurus fails to point out this missing part of the picture. Simply doing what you love isn’t enough.

Meaningful work is often different than passion-crazed romanticism. When you’re working toward a cause you deeply believe in, your tolerance for doing work that isn’t super exciting increases dramatically. You can feel purposeful doing the work because you can actual relate to the purpose behind it.

The reason many people are dissatisfied with cubicle work (as I was) is caused by a major disconnect between the work that you actually do, and the result it produces in the world. When you’re blindly following instructions handed down from high that are loaded with corporate jargon, whether you’re passionate about the actual what you’re doing becomes irrelevant.

A graphic designer working on an interoffice media campaign that supports cryptic objectives that are out of context will probably feel pretty damn bored with what they’re doing, even if they have a deep passion for design.

On the flip side someone that has no passion for tedious transcription of endless video footage can find a lot of meaning in it if it’s supporting a message they find incredibly important.

Obviously, the ideal situation would be an intersection of passion and meaning. But in most cases, meaning trumps passion.

Alignment of your values over passion

While value-based passion work should be inherent in whatever path you pursue, it’s not always the case. If you’re passionate about engineering and innovation working for a military weapons design firm and one of your core values is non-violence, there’s a major value-conflict. Whether or not the work is exciting is irrelevant if it does not agree with your character.

If you’re passionate about design and one of your core values is sustainability, you’ll probably feel a huge disconnect designing SUVs and Hummer-like gas guzzling vehicles.

If programming and simplicity turns you on, but you’re working for Windows, you’ll probably find that this hurts you inside. ;)

Making sure your values align with your passion is just as important as doing work that makes you come alive. Sometimes even less passion is better.

Entrepreneurship as dogma

Most people will tell you in order to do what you love for a living, you’ll need to start your own business, freelance or some other autonomously structured work life. I’ve certainly said this many times in the past. But it’s not right for everyone.

The truth is, working for yourself is not a walk in the park. You have to think about a lot of aspects of business that would otherwise be irrelevant to you as an employee. You have to consider things like accounting, marketing, administrative and legal concerns that can sometimes be a bit overwhelming.

And even if you are committed to the entrepreneurial path, building a business can take quite a while. In the meantime, you’ll have to find something else to pay the bills and make sure you don’t end up in a van down by the river.

And still, for some people, the entrepreneurial path just doesn’t appeal to them. That’s perfectly fine. You can live a life of passion-filled meaning by consciously choosing to partner with an employer that has similar values, alignment of purpose, and can utilize your passionate skills.

This is a perfectly valid path, and anyone who tells you otherwise is full of shit.

Community and culture fuels passion

Another often overlooked matter the passion proclaimers don’t mention is the importance of community you’re involved in, and the people that you work with. Working with and/or for people you resonate with, admire and like makes a world of difference in the quality of work you experience.

It’s irrelevant how passionate you are if you work with a bunch of dicks that you can’t stand. On the other hand, you can probably grind it out a lot easier if you’re working with people you have fun with and resonate with.

Community and culture creates belonging and the feeling that you’re a part of something. And no level of excitement in your work can replace that.

It’s important to note here that culture is not passive either. It’s not enough to just search for the right culture, you have to be actively engaged in creating the culture that you want to participate in.

There is no magic formula

To say that passion is the most important ingredient to fulfilling work would be misleading. Sometimes you find passion by pursuing meaning. Sometimes you create fulfillment when you find a community and a shared purpose. Sometimes it’s just a matter of changing your limiting beliefs about work.

The only way to make this happen is to take responsibility for designing your ideal work. The perfect business or job will not fall out of the sky. You will probably have to create it.

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