Much has been written about the importance of passion in our entrepreneurial journey. Entrepreneurial gurus and entrepreneurs alike will tell you that without passion, our entrepreneurial journey is less likely to succeed. With passion, those dark days are more likely to result in a decision to persist, rather than a decision to raise the white flag to the pain.
I agree with them.
Let’s be honest
Let’s be honest. The majority of successful entrepreneurs we are exposed to in the media – who talk about how they are expressing their passion – find themselves in some of the more “sexy” industries, such as tech. While we’re being honest, let’s talk about all those people who are incredibly passionate about what they do and who are battling to make ends meet. I have met an equal number of people who are extremely passionate about what they do and cannot make ends meet, as I have met people who are not passionate about what they do and are making fortunes.
What role does the media play in giving us a skewed understanding and personal expectation of the concept of “passion”? How many millionaire industrial drain-cleaner entrepreneurs have you heard saying, “I am passionate about unblocked pipes”? How many millionaire window-frame manufacturers have you heard saying, “When I was a little boy, I knew that someday I would be making window frames. Window frames are my passion; I used to day-dream about making better window frames every day.”
The backbone of entrepreneurial activity in all countries is made up of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of mundane salt-of-the-earth type businesses that provide a solution to a local problem. Some are successful, some are not.
“I got into drain cleaning ‘cos I couldn’t get another job” does not make for sexy TV. “I don’t know how I became a millionaire; probably ‘cos I worked hard and kept my overheads down” doesn’t either. I think that the media’s packaging of the role of passion has created an unintended consequence, particularly in the youth.
One of the more common consequences of “knowing” that you should be passionate about what you do is the entrepreneurial disease of Passionus Retrofititus. This is where an entrepreneur simply retro-fits their declared passion into the type of business that they conduct. An example of this is the funeral home entrepreneur who answers “dead people” to the question “what are you passionate about?” (True story!)
Now this might be true, but I sincerely doubt that it is. Perhaps he is passionate about giving the dead some dignity or perhaps it’s about consoling the families. But it sure is not dead people.
The issue I have with Passionus Retrofitus is that once the entrepreneur has labelled a retro-fitted passion that is even semi-plausible, they fail to do the important work of spending time understanding what their true passion might be and how to connect that passion to what they do on a daily basis. As a consequence, they live a passion lie.
Nonresonatus Movonus is an entrepreneurial disease mostly contracted by the youth. They might set up a business and, when the money doesn’t flow as expected, they become concerned. The customer chakras seem blocked. So they work on unblocking those chakras, but it is often hard to completely unblock these chakras. This business is hard, harder than they thought it would be to become profitable, and in flow. Oh, dear.
Spiritually, “hard” is the universe telling those afflicted with this disease that there is no personal resonance and that this is obviously the wrong business for them. They need to move on.
So they start again. And guess what, that business too is hard. And the pattern repeats. By the time they are in their forties, they have built little depth (time in the saddle) in any one industry. They move from business to business waiting for “the one”.
The three levels of passion
Like most things relating to the entrepreneurial journey (and life for that matter), there are no neatly fitting models that emulate reality close enough for my liking. I would like to put forward a perhaps slightly more complex idea than the popular “in order to become successful as an entrepreneur, you have to be passionate.”
I think there are three types of passion to include in our definitions of passion.
1. Obsessive passion
Now this type of passion is the one that movies are made about. It’s the passion that is inherent in many billionaires. “Little Jonny was passionate about computers from a little boy; we could not get him out of his room,” the proud parents tell the BBC presenter.
There is a very blurry line between passion and obsession in this category. Do we think Howard Hughes was passionate or obsessed? Was Rockefeller passionate about the oil industry or obsessed about monopolising it? Does it really matter? For the outcome is the same – the drive, the determination and the ambition that comes from this results in magnificent successes (and disasters).
There is a heat that comes off those afflicted with this passion that you can almost see. Their laser-focused eyes tell you that these are the ones to back. They are rare, and magnificent to watch as they masterfully manipulate the seen and unseen resources around them to achieve the high-fidelity pictures in their mind.
2. Connected passion
I think a large category of successful entrepreneurs fall into this category. This is the category of entrepreneurs who have managed to connect what they are truly passionate about into what they actually do. So, people who are passionate about people development and happen to be in the drain-cleaning business will tend to work more with their employees and spend more time developing and training them.
The result of all this training is a more professional team, and a more motivated team. More professional, more motivated staff result in better-serviced clients, which results in more clients through referrals and repeat business. This, in turn, results in a more successful business.
Those inflicted with Passionus Retrofitus never get the chance to weave their true passion into their businesses because they have succumbed to the ease of the retrofit. It is only in the tough days on their journey that they might work out that they have been bullshitting themselves all this time.
This brings me to the third type of passion.
3. Success passion
One’s passion is often treated like a 20-something treats a soulmate; a relationship with someone (something) that is singular, unchangeable and received through divine intervention. I don’t know about you, but I have had more than one soulmate, especially in my twenties as I experimented with love. That sense of connection you feel, the connection you cannot explain, is labelled “soulmate”. Then you break up and a year later you feel the same thing again, just with someone else. (Apologies to all those who have had only one or none.)
Passion is seen to be God-given. But what if it were not?
My nine-year-old son is passionate about soccer. He is obsessed with it. He plays every moment he can. In the house, in the garden, in the pool, in his mind. He can name every player, recall every score.
Let’s go back to his first game ever. He scored a hat-trick. I believe that this played a major role in shaping his passion. I strongly believe that if he had had a bad game that day, perhaps even been humiliated, there would be no passion for the sport. Success created the passion and not the other way around.
I see this every day with the entrepreneurs I work with. When they start and generate early successes in their business, they immediately become passionate, even obsessed with their businesses. The opposite is also true. I see those entrepreneurs who come to me expressing their passion for their business, their industry, their clients and then become despondent and bitter about their businesses after months of economic drought. The passion dried up with the dissolving balance sheet.
So perhaps the aim is early success, continued success. Perhaps you just like the feeling of success and that is what makes you passionate.
My dreaded conclusion
The problem with models is the need to comply with them. I don’t think that entrepreneurs need to fall into any one of the aforementioned (I’ve wanted to use that word for the longest time; watch out for the use of the word “concomitant” in one of my future pieces) categories of passion. My experience is that we might fall into all three at one time, or move from one to another over time. I think the most important thing, for me, is that entrepreneurs are clear as to what is driving their passion and are then able to tap into that particular source. The source of passion is irrelevant, as long as it is understood and true. There should be no internal judgement, no belief that there is a hierarchy of passions. A passion for success is no better or worse than a passion to save mankind, as long as you are able to understand that passion and use it as a driving force toward your desired end targets (notice I never used the word goals).
Fade to black.