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.

Wrong.

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. Get started here.

Sharing is caring!

Enter your name and email to be notified when the 365 Days to Freedom program opens for enrollment.

Leave a Reply

74 Comments on "Why Passion Won’t Build a Business"

avatar
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Jarrod@ Optimistic Journey
Guest

I agree with you wholeheartedly. As well as having a passion to do what you love it takes a business/entrepreneurial mindset.

We have to consider what the people are looking for. You make a great point if we’re in a market where no one wants our service then we’re doomed to fail. Unfortunately. We have to do our homework prior to going into business.

Great article!!

Luke @ simplifi.de
Guest

“Culture is not passive…you have to be actively engaged in creating the culture that you want to participate in.”

This really resonates with me. I think way too many people just piss and moan about what’s going on in their own culture, rather than doing something about it. It’s a lot easier to do complain about a culture than it is to change it.

Mars Dorian
Guest

Mmmmmm, interesting point of view, Jonathan

but I have to disagree. While it’s true that passion alone won’t build you an empire; it really should be at the core of it.

“…No one cares how passionate you are about what you do….”

I hate wine, I never drank it, and I don’t care a single percent about it. Nevertheless, I have watched COUNTLESS hours of Wine Library TV, just to witness that crazy-passionate Gary V. And so have many thousand others. Having a firing passion does infect, and of course, the more useful your work to society, the better.

Girl Startup
Guest

I agree with Mars! Passion is important…for some. I don’t think you can lump everyone into the same basket Jonathan.

Like what you said in your article, “there is no magic formula”, so what works for some wont work for others.

I personally need some sort of passion, to get fired up. I have tried the,” just get a passive income”, idea and it just didn’t resonate with who I am…but for some others that really works for them.

Some people need passion, others don’t.

Girl Startup
Guest

ps- my above comment sounded quite abrupt…sorry that was not my intention, but can’t edit post ;)

Mars Dorian
Guest

Hey,
I think I’m a passionate extremist – if you witness all the (wo)man-made miracles on earth, you can see that there was true passion involved. And I don’t think you can find it; you are either have in you or not.
Since you’re in the process of a start-up, I’m pretty sure you have endless fire inside !

Girl Startup
Guest

It’s true I do have endless fire inside – ha ha! And I hope in all hell it lasts ;)

Alexey
Guest

Car needs fuel to take me from point A to point B. But i don’t need a car that cannot me bring from A to B, even if it’s fueled.

Barb Chamberlain
Guest
This provides a great counterbalance to Gary Vaynerchuk’s “Crush It”, which I just read a couple of weeks ago. I do meaningful work that I love for an organization that I believe in and one that is doing things to make the world a better place (higher education). That’s what I’ve always looked for in my work and I’ve been lucky enough to find it every time so far–or else that’s the value I bring to any job I do, that I’ll believe in it passionately and give my employer my best energies and talents. Vaynerchuk’s book suggests that each… Read more »
Robert-Jon
Guest

I’m pretty sure Gary doesn’t say we should all be getting out of our current jobs. He says one thing and he says it a lot: in this era there is absolutely no reason you should be doing a job you hate.

He does not tell you, encourage you, or imply you should leave your job if you love it.

Andrea|Empowered Soul
Guest

I agree whole-heartedly. I don’t care if you’re passionate when I hire you … I want to know that you’ve already accomplished something that I myself now want to accomplish.

Blessings,
Andrea

Michael
Guest

Hi Andrea,

Wouldn’t that attract people doing the same things over and over again? How can you have innovation ni your business then?

Thanks,
Mike

Tony
Guest
This guy Jonathan is a drop-out, by his own admissions, no offence intended Jonathan. He dropped out of high school, then college, then a job and claims to have learned a lot over the past year and yet his entire article is totally lob sided and unfounded. He is a kid with very little life experience, certainly not enough to make statements like this with such conviction (and given that he has no training). The truth is that to get through life one needs energy, energy is a depleting resource, we need to rest and nourish ourselves everyday in order… Read more »
Alexey
Guest

@Tony, as for me you expressing the same thing as Jonathan, but in other words. Why are you offending him then?

Joey K
Guest

“I want to know that you’ve already accomplished something that I myself now want to accomplish.”

Well, then you should be working for them… Not the other way around.

Kate England | Marmalade Moon
Guest
YES! I so agree with what you wrote about passion not building a business on its own, because people want to know what’s in it for them, and that’s exactly why it’s easy to sell the idea that you should “do what you love and the money will follow”! That’s what people want to hear… Something else that struck a chord with me in your post was the idea that everyone has to be an entrepreneur, and hey, everyone doesn’t want to be that, and you can find happiness with your work either way. However, like you said, it’s easier… Read more »
Puerhan
Guest

Great article. Thanks Jonathan.

Keiran
Guest

Wise words! People looking to make changes in their lives should read this and think about the points made here. The passion thing comes up a lot when trying to explain why we want to do something, but that definitely doesn’t always make it the right thing to do.

Jared
Guest

This is probably one of your best posts Jonathan. You said just about everything I would of said (had I written it).

Great job man!

Brian Gerald
Guest
I’m not entirely sure I agree with you exactly on this one. Passion, alone, won’t build a business, but then again neither will skill or even market demand. I do think a business can be built around any passion though. If 13th Century architecture is your passion, I bet you could find a way make a living with that as a core part of what you do with your life. You are right on when you say working for yourself is not for everyone and that there are ways to pursue your passions while maintaining income-generating work elsewhere. Ideally, you… Read more »
Christine (Blisschick) Reed
Guest

I think you nailed it by bringing in Purpose.

But Passion is still just as vital.

It is at the intersection of the two where our Great Work is to be found.

Robert-Jon
Guest

This is a lot of text. Also, starting of with mocking articles about passion in your work and that I probably won’t like this article really isn’t that much of a great start.
I don’t understand how people only try to get their point across by saying other stuff is wrong and although I agree with most of the content, I didn’t get past 1/3 of the article.

Jason
Guest

I think passion and meaningful purpose are generally going to be one in the same. If you feel that your work has meaning and purpose…you’re going to feel passionate about it.

Alexey
Guest

I don’t think you are right. E.g. I quite passionate about playing soccer. With the same probability i could like volleyball, but i just don’t care. There is not specific purpose or meaning in both of them for me – just fun and physical activity.

Jason
Guest

Perhaps the purpose or meaning behind such activities is that they make you feel fitter, healthier, more sociable, more confident. Your purpose in doing this activity is because you gain enjoyment, fulfillment and health – thus you are passionate about it.

Trish Jones
Guest
Sorry Alexey, that response is irrelevant. In the same way that this article used the typical, “they’re all wrong” approach from the beginning, creating confusion, you’ve done the same in your response. What Jason said was that “if you feel that your work has meaning and purpose ….” What’s your meaning and purpose for playing soccer? If there is no purpose behind your passion except personal enjoyment, of course, this won’t build a business. Yes I agree that passion alone will not build a business but I don’t believe that this is what most people mean … BUT it is… Read more »
Lisa Gates
Guest
I’m on the fence here, mostly disagreeing, but I think it might be semantics. In my POV, if you don’t have passion, you can’t design and market or stand in someone else’s shoes, because you’re not standing firmly in your own first. It takes a selfish passion and commitment to be able to know yourself first. Then you can reliably and authentically answer, “what’s in it for me,” or “how can I solve their pain/problem” — which is really what marketing is all about–when who you are and what you offer becomes outwardly directed in a congruent way. So one… Read more »
Tony
Guest

I totally agree with you Lisa.

Julius
Guest

I still think that passion is important in succeeding in what you’re doing. But I agree that you should also see if people would benefit from the work you are passionate in doing. If we put our mind to it, we can even package our ideas in a way that would deeply interest people, making them prospective customers.

Sonicsuns
Guest
It’s true that following your passion won’t necessarily make money. As Chris Guillebeau says, you have to find the spot where passion and money-making coincide, at least enough to feed yourself. But as for the rest of the post, you’re playing with definitions. When people say “Follow your Passion”, they’re not talking about a superficial passion that disregards meaning, values and community. Rather, these things are *part* of the passion. If you’re passionate about design, and then you work as a designer in a company that you hate (with “cryptic objectives that are out of context” etc.), then that’s not… Read more »
Jeremy M. Bennett | Purpose Without Fail!
Guest

Working with definitions are an interesting thing – sometimes all we need is a shift in what we “think” something means to be able to get more value out of it; to see a perspective that we didn’t see before; a way of being in the world that perhaps we weren’t aware of before.

Shifting definitions, while being clear about what those definitions are, can be that catalyst.

Cheers!

Jeremy

Alexey
Guest

Putting everything into definition of passion will not help one to understand the problem and what to do. Passion is emotion, while e.g. meaning and purpose is conscious decision, and values is believe. It’s true that they are related (though everything in Universe is somehow related). So if you don’t have adequte definitions there is no point to write anything at all – it will be not knowledge but set of letters.

Boris
Guest

You deliver a vary valid point. Passion may be overrated. However, if you keep hating what you are doing, you will be spending a very miserable life, regardless of the meaningful purpose of your work.
All the best,
Boris

trackback

[…] éxito y que a veces impide vislumbrar cuándo abandonar. Efectivamente, desear no es suficiente, la pasión por sí sola no es suficiente, e incluso puede ser contraproducente. Probablemente sea más útil encontrar significado, trabajar […]

trackback

[…] ello, a veces hay que saber cuándo abandonar. Efectivamente, desear algo mucho no es suficiente, la pasión no es suficiente. Probablemente nos sea más útil encontrar significado, trabajar con personas con las que […]

Moon Hussain
Guest

Passion might be overrated but it needs to be at the heart of whatever you’re trying to do if you want to be happy. It can’t be the only thing obviously ;)

Kenji Crosland
Guest

This is a nice break from the regular “do what you love” rah rah fluff. It’s cool to follow your dreams, but we best be sure we don’t abandon reality in the process.

Jonny | thelifething.com
Guest

I once heard this great idea for business philosophy:

How can I do what I do to help more people, more often and more cheaply.

I now ask it every day for my projects, blog and businesses.

Alexey
Guest

perfectly right philosophy :)

Street Saint
Guest

You are right about this. I think it’s important for people to follow their dreams, but you must be practical. Especially if following your dreams means starting up a business from scratch.

Yes, I chose a career for myself I new I would love, but if I threw myself into it expecting hand-outs, I would have gotten no where. Luckily, part of the fun for me is coming up with ways to make what I do more interesting and compelling to others.

Great post!
-Saint

Craig Thomas
Guest
I don’t agree. Passion itself may not build the business but the perks gained from passion will. Be it motivation, hunger for success or whatever, it will get you there. The post seems as if its in an angry tone with short answers, “wrong.” etc. Who are you trying to prove to, us? or yourself? It seems you’ve missed the ball and your angry at people who didn’t. My passion alone fuels my daily motivation to reach my goals. Everyday, I succeed. But, I suppose it all comes down to what you believe. If you believe passion is all it… Read more »
Paul M. Watson
Guest
I take out my wallet for enthusiastic people a good few times a week. I’m doing it more these days. When I see something beautiful, something inspired by passion, I’m happy to tip the creator. Much of the time it provides nothing more than fleeting aesthetic pleasure to me. If you want to be the next Apple then sure, you need to be a cold blooded business person selling your passion. But not everyone wants to be the next Apple anymore. Big business is not what all of us want to become through our passion inspired work. (Of course this… Read more »
Alexey
Guest

I like the article and comment because they show how opposite opinions about necessity of passion for successful business. As my passions prevent me from being focused I have to confirm that passion should not be the only deal-maker.

Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com
Guest

ooh controversial topic. I think you have to find an overlapping area where your strengths, others gaping needs and financial certainty can come to one. We all have that place somewhere.

outstanding
Guest

passion is doing what you love and it’s important thing to succeed in any thing but passion itself is not enough to achieve what you want , you must have great strategy to achieve what you want and take massive action in order to succeed wether it’s in business or any thing else.
great post i really enjoyed thanks for sharing this

Rebecca
Guest
I think people get lost in an all or nothing attitude. “If you love it so much, how come you’re not making a living from it?” In general, it seems the only way making a business from your passion is legitimate is if it’s your complete source of income. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can have a straight 9-5 job that’s perfectly decent and happily paying your bills, plus make and sell a painting here and there. I’m sure you can think of a million examples to illustrate this. We also seem to be living in a… Read more »
Susan
Guest

Agreed. It took me awhile to figure this out, why I couldn’t get published b/c I was certain I was very passionate. And special!

Then I realized neither mattered. What mattered is a publisher, magazine, newspaper, website selling an idea and content. Once I wrapped my head around that I started selling articles and worked on 5 guidebooks in less than a 2 year period. My writing career morphed rapidly.

Too bad it took nearly 10 years to figure all that out.

Brian Franke
Guest
Some good points in here and some flawed ones in my view. A definition of what the author means by passion would be good. It means different things to different people. Passion is not aligned exactly with money unless your passion is to make money. For example, I have worked in the non-profit sector and never did it for the money ever. I agree that passion is an emotion but really you need to use your head. People lose their common sense and then are shattered when they’re passion doesn’t lead to anything. The idea that people “don’t care” about… Read more »
Pete
Guest

I am totally for passion… But, Passion is the begining
With out it you have nothing… But if a person does not
Learn to next step.. Passion can be a Huge let down..
Your example of working on a weopons project really hit
Home… Absolutely! The only way to take it to the next level
Is to have fundamental ethics…with out a REAL foundation
Passion is nothing but a childs dream.

Mary Avalon
Guest
I like the discussion but also think there are other words to describe our “interest” re: passion in a thing. Because passion (for ones work) seems a bit cultural-centric. I doubt if many of the working class in St Petersburg Russia for example, have the opportunity to “follow their passion.” Actually, possibly the only places on the planet where one indulges in a passion may be here, and in other ‘western and/developed’ countries ie Europe, Canada, etc. simply because we have more resources to do so. Yes, unfortunately not everyone has the luxury of indulging in their passion, also abilities… Read more »
Larry Mitchell
Guest

Well I guess I am doomed. I work with a bunch of “dicks that I cannot stand” and most of which are the very management who should be leading effectively. If I had passion, I am sure it was certainly sucked right out of me.

trackback

[…] along with “stay positive” and “fake it until you make it.” There are a few dissenters, but they seem to underscore the ubiquity of the “passion” dogma – in a market […]

trackback

[…] form.  And this is rare stuff.  Before even taking this leap of faith you warned me why passion alone won’t build my business, illustrated how to beat limiting beliefs and informed me about the benefits of being lazy.  You […]

Myrko Thum
Guest

Checking on Crush It! from Gary Vaynerchuk, he says: Passion is Everything. I liked his book and look what he has done in the Wine Niche… while not really being that likable at first sight ;-)

It’s never that simple, but right, its the ONE and First Necessity.

Carole Marek
Guest

Great article with many ideas that will help people to keep their ‘feet on the ground’ I especially like that you mention how in business we need to keep focussed on the benefit to the client / customer as that is all they really care about. I do think though [through law of attraction] , that potential clients / customers can pick up as to whether there is any real passion behind the business, as a person’s passion [or lack of it] will permeate all marketing materials and actions.

Steve
Guest

Great article…I think you have to focus on what people are buying…hen bring them a lot of VALUE!!!

allysamarquez
Guest

Parents themselves who never uncovered their passion or who did not pursue it because they didn’t think they could make a living pursuing their passion or purpose. And what are their Problems or Challenges?

Marg
Guest
There is a lot in this article that I find I agree with but not everyone has ‘passion’ per se. Many years ago I was put through a personality test to find that my emotional character was was almost flat lined – with an occasional blip up or down for ‘passion / emotion.’ Essentially I am all numbers and straight line with not much in the way of passion. Artistic flare non-existent. That does not mean you cannot build a business or grow yourself. I think purpose first, focus next and being aware of the needs of others will often… Read more »
Tunjung
Guest

The problem in your stance is that you define people’s “passion” as a narrow impulse of wanting to do something. For many people, “passion” means idea, certain situation and condition that they wish so badly to achieve that they’re willing to go the distance and do almost anything, much more than just wanting to do one or things for the rest of their life.

Carlos Saba
Guest
I ended up reading this article because I strongly disagreed with the title. Further reading then converted me to understanding Jonathan’s point of view. It’s true that passion on its own does not create a successful business or fulfilling career. However, a business or career without passion is an empty pursuit that will inevitably end with some kind of existential crisis. There are loads of successful and rich people who did not follow their passion. But were they happy? Anyway, while I agree that you can’t necessarily build a successful business just by being passionate, passion definitely matters… and whether… Read more »
anonymus
Guest
Dude you are totally lost any features of your identity passion is not to bring you money you do something because you have to do it as it helps you with existing in artificially created reality plus your non passionate type likes to lie your self. If you know what passion is you can easily transpose it to any activity in your life of course if you got imagination :D. Passion is pure state of mind allowing to hipper focus and optimize brain activity , plus who cares about what others think if is happy with him self that what… Read more »
Dilpreet Bhatia
Guest

Wow… What an eye opener. I am a musician – and for last 6-7 years I have been struggling to create a stable revenue stream from music. Did a feature film too and jingles (which were not that satisfying, as making my own songs.) and even won International Award for one of my songs, but thank god, I have full time job to pay the bills. All these years, this is the first time I have read about something which is more towards the realistic side of things.

trackback

[…] not money” into Google the majority of articles that popped up were contradictory, such as Why Passion Won’t Build a Business and 3 Reasons Following Your Passion Will Send You To The Poorhouse.  These articles suggested […]

Salvador Jr.
Guest

the only “sure” business model based on passion that will work, without a doubt, is if your passion is in helping others because you care a whole lot. Anything else will have limiting success. And most businesses fail because noone really cares about what you know unless they know you really care.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”—Dr. Seuss

Tom Southern
Guest

Bang on @Andrea! You want to know that this person offering you access to your desired outcome has already got that very same outcome.

You want to know that that same person is a fellow sufferer; who’s been through the problem, understands and empathises with your plight, and is now ready and able to give you access to the solution.

If they do this in a way that instils you with a sense of excitement trust and confidence for what they’re about to experience, then you’ve won a thousand times.

Previous post:

Next post: