Photo credit to the cover art of the book by Kass McGann (whose book I have not read, but whose title was perfect for this post ). NOTE: The opinions expressed in this post are not reflective of Kass McGann and are only my own.

Screw Your Passion: A Brief Homage to a Derek Sivers Quote …and A Better Solution

Perhaps I am a contrarian. Perhaps I’m just too exasperated by this incessant mantra “You have to find your passion!” Either way, here’s a new take on the most regurgitated phrase in the entrepreneurial space.

I knew of Derek Sivers, but his recent comment on the James Altucher podcast resonated with me on such a deep level that I was inspired to write about it and share it. Derek spoke about the overwhelming response to his previous podcast with Tim Ferris and the fact that he gladly responded to over 6000 emails. When James Altucher asked him about what the thrust of most of those questions was, Derek named a couple of ideas — but the theme of “I haven’t found my passion” seemed to be among the zeitgeist.

His remarks really epitomized how people (and most especially budding entrepreneurs) can take hold of an idea so literally that they become paralyzed or fail to launch because of how those who have “made it” continue to reiterate a singular point. He shared how so many people were beating themselves up because they couldn’t find their passion and landed in a place of struggle, which further prevented them from embarking on a new direction or project.

The emerging theme was that the wholesale fear of “not finding your passion” was actually more detrimental to people than it was helpful. I found this to be very true in talking with several other people. Many of those looking for “purpose” or “passion” described themselves as lost and downtrodden by this ‘lack’. Many felt that if this “all important passion” didn’t consume every fiber of their being in the way the successful people described that they were somehow radically off track.

Derek’s example about this hypocrisy was classic, in every sense: he shared the example of real love being defined solely through the lens of Romeo & Juliet. Think about this for a moment. If we all defined love strictly by the drama that this play depicts, it would require falling off balconies, family fights, poisoning, death and ultimately, suicide. In other words, the fact that you met your significant other at Starbucks and really ‘hit it off’ and you’ve been together for a year isn’t REAL love. Where is the threat of death? Where is the drama? Your little one year rapport has none of these Romeo & Juliet elements, so by definition, you don’t have love at all have something that is so much less that you can’t even dare to call it love!

Although the example may look ridiculous to us, this is, in large measure, how people end up stalled over “not finding their passion.” People get very caught up in successful people trumpeting the vital importance of “passion” such that they get paralyzed by trying to define it in their own lives. This phrase has been so overused by so many successful people that the rest of us can often feel like we can’t go forth without discovering this magic element that continues to elude us as we live out our cubicle-based lives. I submit that aggrandizing the need to discover one’s ‘sole passion’ has been a larger obstacle than it has been helpful.

My contention is simply this: what if success ISN’T about your singular passion? What if my invention or idea doesn’t keep me up for weeks at a time? Does it make my pursuit less worthy? Should I give up until I find that one thing that makes me tingle all over in the throes of some entrepreneurial orgasm?

While Derek and I completely agree about the overemphasis on passion and how its larger than life definition has confounded so many dreamers and entrepreneurs, there is a simpler and less talked about idea.

Here’s a paraphrased tidbit from Derek Sivers that posits another option:

“Instead, if you just follow the little things that interest you…you just notice on a day-to-day basis what you’re drawn towards more and you just keep doing that more and more and you find that you get kind of driven by it eventually…”. All of our lives may not have some overarching, obvious passion at all, but with self-awareness we can spot trends or themes of those things that we are drawn towards. As those themes evolve and we become thoughtful about those themes, we can guide and direct our efforts in a more cogent fashion that gives us greater levels of satisfaction and ultimately lead us into a profitable, fulfilling pursuit.

I love this idea largely because it is a bit of a contrarian view. Instead of pursuing the Holy Grail of a Singular Passion, we can become more thoughtful about the themes (plural) that interest us and emerge over time. As a fellow entrepreneur, it can be daunting to find that ‘one thing’ that you’re wholly devoted to night and day…all the time. That’s not real to me. There are days when the thought of promoting my own idea can be exhausting. And if we’re honest, every business owner has those days that mere ‘passion’, in and of itself, cannot necessarily overcome feelings of exasperation.

Some days I loathe the weight of growing my business, but when I put some thought into it, invariably there is an element within that growth effort I can identify that I actually will enjoy. For example, I may not be psyched to attend an event (especially if the attendance is much lower than projected!), but I can find joy in getting into discussions with people who aren’t aware of what makes my product different.

At a macro level, in other words, attending ‘yet another event’ can be daunting, but my own brand of fun lies in the micro activity of discussing my product with a few individuals who I can educate to help see its value. It may not be defined as my ‘throbbing passion’ in the traditional sense, but it is a theme that I gravitate to — even in the midst of tasks or activities that may not be in my wheelhouse.

I believe that there is an evolutionary process for those of us who didn’t magically wake up in successful entrepreneurial shoes, just as Derek Sivers so eloquently shared. Moreover, many of us may have a few things that we gravitate to and the marriage of those themes help to uncover where we can point our efforts in creating something new, be it a project or new business.

So if you don’t wake up full of passion and excited to do that ‘one thing’ every day, fear not. Your own keen observations of what draws you to certain things are the clues to becoming fruitful and fulfilled. With time and self-awareness, we can each discover our themes and begin to hone (and monetize) them as we experiment with what we uncover.

Screw passion…look for your themes.

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