Killing Your Passion
Following your passion isn't all it's cracked up to be.
2019 was my “2020”.
In April of 2019, I quit my decent paying, reliable corporate job to pursue a “passion” and start my own business.
I had convinced my wife—and myself—that remortgaging our house to pursue this passion was a good idea (more on that in another post).
I had convinced myself that I would be able to replace my income within a year of starting this business.
I had zero customers.
I had zero plans.
All I had were some skills—and a “passion”—I thought I could monetize.
And after 5 stressful and challenging months, I quit.
I quit my own job. Passion turned into misery.
I had spent more than double what had earned over those 5 months starting that business. But the lesson I learned was priceless.
“Follow your passion” is bad advice.
I recently read two books that help explain why I failed at following my passion.
I would recommend ANYONE dreaming of following their passion and looking to start a business.
Book #1: The E-myth Revisited by Michael Gerber.
Book #2: So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport.
THE E-MYTH REVISITED
I won’t get overly bogged down in details for this book, but you should know that “E-myth” is short for Entrepreneur Myth.
Fitting for me—I longed to be an entrepreneur when I left my corporate job and pursued my passion.
“How cool it will be to answer to no one, call my own shots and do what I want?! And I can call myself an entrepreneur!”
Well turns out I had fully bought in to the E-myth. The myth that an entrepreneurial spirit and mindset is all you need to succeed. For me, it was sexy, simple, naïve and profoundly ignorant.
In fact, according to Gerber, there are 3 types of business personas required to successfully start, build, and operate a successful business:
The Entrepreneur: the dreamer, the visionary, the Big Idea guy, full of passion and charisma.
The Manager: the orderly, the organizer of the entrepreneur’s dreams, discerning the priorities, and delegating action.
The Technician: the specialist, the one who makes the widgets, and cares little about vision, direction, or priority.
As it turns out, I was merely a technician. I loved doing the thing: designing and building the widgets. I didn’t like organizing them, planning for the future, or forecasting my financial situation.
While I did dream and envision myself as s successful business operator, I was never a visionary. And soon, my dreams turned into nightmares as I was steadily building things without managing priorities and ignoring sales, strategy, costs, vision.
While I enjoyed calling my own shots—it turns out that not having anyone to answer to left little accountability and zero guidance. A bad combination for a new business operator.
SO GOOD THEY CAN’T IGNORE YOU
In Cal Newport’s book—named after a famous Steve Martin quote about success: “Be so good they can’t ignore you”—he makes the case that following your passion is bad advice for finding work you love. Instead, he argues that working right trumps finding the right work.
This is powerful so I’m going to repeat it: When it comes to finding work you truly love, working right trumps finding the right work.
We are so obsessed as a western society—and one might argue, globally—with the notion of über passionate work = happiness.
The problem with mixing working and passion—as I learned—is work is exactly that: work. Which means you have challenges, problems needing solving, deadlines to be met, stress to endure, constraints, hardships, conflict.
Instead of quitting my corporate job and diving head first into my passion project, I should have built up some career capital. I should have instead invested some of my spare time into building my skills. I should have maybe worked as a technician at another company instead of trying to be an entrepreneur at my own.
If you’re still not following me, let’s use an example.
STAY WITH ME HERE
Let’s say your passion is woodworking.
You have some tools and like building things and think, “Hey, I really enjoy this. I should consider doing it for a living.”
Instead of quitting your day job and starting a woodworking business, you get a job working in the industry.
You’ll have zero career capital and most definitely will be starting near the bottom of the pyramid, working lousy hours and doing a lot of grunt work—which is exactly where the learning and skill-building takes place.
Start working right, though—and with patience—you’ll begin to earn that career capital and work your way to an intermediate position.
Dedication and perseverance get rewarded.
A little more patience and hard work, more career capital gained and you’ll ascend to a middle management role learning more about the entire business as a money-making operation.
At this point, you’ll have a strong sense of how a successful woodworking business operates. You’ll know the jobs that need to be done to get a piece of raw wood into a beautiful piece of furniture or cabinetry. You’ll know the cost of materials, the cost of labour, the time—and, therefore, cost—it takes to create an end product, and how to sell it.
(Maybe you won’t know the accounting or marketing sides of the business, but you’ll know enough to hire specialists in those areas for your own woodworking business.)
But then at this point, something has clicked. You realize that you’re doing the right work.
Your passion is right in front of you.
It wasn’t starting your own woodworking business. Rather, it was about managing a team that’s creating beautiful pieces of wooden furniture. It was about being around the shop floor, hearing the saws, helping with furniture design and creating custom pieces for happy customers.
And you’re doing it—without diving straight into the deep end of entrepreneurship. Without necessarily “following your passion.”
The best part about this strategy? You’d learn pretty damn quick if woodworking wasn’t for you.
And so none of this would have been in vain!
You find out you actually hate working in the woodworking industry?
Ignore the sunk cost fallacy, you just got paid to learn a lesson that could have cost you remortgaging your house.
The whole point of “being so good they can’t ignore you” is to eventually get to the place where what you’re doing becomes your passion. That’s why Steve Martin worked his ass off in his twenties to become a damn good stand-up comedian.
He invested in himself, worked in the craft, in the industry.
You can too.
To sum it up, you can become passionate in your work, but starting your career journey to merely fulfill a passion is a backward approach.
Take it from a former woodworker.