Is Passion Enough?

One of the most overused words in business is the word passion. It seems that everyone has it, but is utterly convinced that no one knows that they do. 

This is evidenced by the ubiquity of the word on countless websites and in statements that entrepreneurs make about their attitude towards their work. It reminds me of what Queen Gertrude said in Hamlet: “The lady (and it could just as easily be a man) doth protest too much . . .”  In other words, some people fuss so much about how passionate they are that you get the impression that they wished they were.

That’s not to say that everyone is like this. Indeed, many feel strongly about their work. The problem is that for all the passion that so many claim to have, there seems to be far less enthusiasm for the effort you’d expect to see with it.

Why is that?

Why is it that those who say they have passion for their work, fail to do it?

The answer may surprise you.


Received wisdom

The received wisdom is that passion drives effort; that people won’t work hard on something if they don’t love it. That’s the modern view.

Unfortunately, history proves otherwise. 

Something like 80% of Americans, for example, are stressed by their jobs, and 70% are bored. So more than half of the employees in the US are both - stressed and bored. Their jobs are uninteresting, and yet they’re working as hard as they can because they’re afraid that if they don’t, then they’ll lose the jobs they have.

Or look at the factories in the Industrial Revolutions of the 18th century (England) and 19th century (United States). The people employed there worked horrendous hours. 

We complain of having to work 40 hours per week, and many hanker for the time when their online business will let them work for half that; but factory workers were on the job for 16 hours per day. It is said that the beds never got cold.

So clearly, hard work occurs in the absence of passion. People do it because they have to, whether they’re passionate about it or not.


What about workaholics? Aren’t they passionate about their work?

Some are, but if you look into their personal lives, then you’ll often find that there’s so much strife at home, that the office is preferable.

The truth is that passion and effort may occur simultaneously, but it’s just as likely that one will occur without the other. And that’s what we often see among entrepreneurs who are just getting started. They have intense, positive feelings for that part of the work that they like, but equal, dispassionate feelings towards the part that they don’t - viz. the effort that’s required to make it happen.

And this is why passion is insufficient to produce the results that many beginning entrepreneurs want.


 A different perspective

You will have heard it said that entrepreneurial success comes from doing the opposite of what is considered to be received wisdom. That sounds like a terrific idea, though such things usually are expressed so badly that it’s impossible to understand what its pole was. Instead, you have to take it on faith that the “new” discovery is the opposite of something.

The received wisdom is that passion drives effort, but because passion often exists in the absence of effort, and effort usually is required whether passion exists at all, we have to think about what an opposite approach might look like.

In a recent study of more than 50 entrepreneurs, scholars discovered that effort can have an impact on passion. In other words, effort intensifies passion. That’s not to say that passion doesn’t increase effort. Only that the opposite is also true.

This has an important practical implication for all entrepreneurs, especially for those in the information space because it’s here where effort seems to be lacking the most.

That’s why accountability is such a strong motivator. The isolation that comes with building an online business makes it easy to excuse our lack of effort on any given day. That’s not to say that there aren’t bona fide reasons why we may be unable to work; only that it’s much easier to find them because we’re on our own.

If you struggle to regularly put in the effort to develop your business, then one reason may be that you’re not as passionate about it as you would like to think. Nevertheless, if you develop the discipline to work on it regardless, then this will strengthen the passion you have already, and when that passion grows sufficiently, then it may be enough to override your propensity to leave it for another day.

As we’ve seen, passion does drive effort for some people; but for others, it’s an insufficient motivator. In such cases, it’s necessary to increase the effort first, because by doing so the passion to carry on will follow.

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