Is Passion Enough?

“Follow your passion.”

I don’t know how many self-help junkies I’ve heard say that, as if it was a deep, actionable insight that escaped most people.

The problem I have with people who say “Follow your passion” isn’t that it’s bad advice (it is) or that it’s skin-deep pseudo-philosophy (it’s also that). My problem with people who tell others that all they need to do is follow their passion is that they hurt people.

Passion is a wonderful, critical component to success and a fulfilling life. But a component on its own is useless, and passion by itself is simply not enough.

Prescribing “follow your passion” as a complete life philosophy is like teaching a young person to drive by saying “push the gas.”

Image courtesy of Unsplash

The 3 Keys To Turn Passion Into Success

Passion is simple. It’s powerful, to be sure, but on its own it’s not enough to create the career and life you truly want.

If you want to translate your passion into an actual career and life, then you need to begin by converting your passion into a process that leads to success that has these three elements:

  • Commitment To Your Goal. This means proper goal setting, both long and short term.
  • Discipline With Your Process. Motivation doesn’t get results, discipline does.
  • Eagerness To Learn. If you don’t enjoy getting better, success will make you miserable.

Let’s look at each of these in a bit more depth.

1. How To Set The Right Goals — And Commit To Them

Goal setting is funny. The people who obsess over it tend to have one thing in common — they don’t actually have goals.

What they have is a pipe-dream, some fantastic vision of what life could be, and no real road between their current life and their dream.

That’s not goal setting, that’s fantasizing. If you want to set goals in a way that actually improves your life, you have to get systematic about it. You need your pie-in-the-sky goal, but to stay committed to it, you need a system that puts your goals front and center every day, such as this example from my article on how CEOs set goals:

  • What is the most basic intent of my long-term goal? Break it down. If a company’s 24-month plan is to grow revenue by 25%, the basic intent is to grow revenue.
  • What action will best help me to achieve my intent today? Without putting limits or minimums on it, what actions best drive revenues?
  • How can I build upon the actions I took yesterday to further my basic intent? You get the picture.

The secret to powerful goals is to stop thinking about your grand vision and simply commit yourself to today’s goal. Get out of bed and think, “I’m going to smash this one goal today,” and if you need extra motivation, think about how today’s short-term goal will ultimately achieve your long-term goal.

2. How To Condition Yourself With Discipline

The difference between riding your bike for fun and taking your passion and translating it into a career as a professional cyclist is that your intention from cycling is no longer to simply have fun. Now you’re a professional, if you want to eat, you must compete and win.

Do you see how quickly following your passion can turn into a nightmare unless you are willing to see your passion also as a craft in which you excel through discipline?

I know this path all too well. Following my passion to Do What I Want, with a vision to share what I had learned over 10 years of research, I jettisoned from my career on Wall Street only to land behind my desk “trying” to write a book on the topic.

While on the one hand I was following the greatest passion that I had ever found in my life, on the other, I was forced to do a bunch of things that I had never been passionate about, let alone was actually any good at, such as, well, writing a book…

Quickly I learned that passion for these ideas was insignificant relative to the enormous discipline that it takes to write a book and build a business. And with my passion evaporating in the face of thousands of pages of mess, I was forced to develop a disciplined approach to the craft, as well as to “train passion” for the tasks that I wasn’t passionate about.

Now, don’t get me wrong. While it is certainly true that passion alone will get you about as close to success as a slap on the back, it is also true that great passion is the essential element of being alive, and will keep you motivated to take powerful action long after others have fallen away.

3. Why You Must Be Eager To Learn

Pain is a part of growing. Nearly every tool I’ve written about or invented has come from a place of pain in my life. I wanted more for my life, and it hurt me, so I developed a system to overcome it.

That pain never goes away. I’ve written before that success is empty, and it’s true. On it’s own, success is never enough. Even when you achieve your version of success, you’ll quickly reset your goals and want more.

The secret is to love the feeling of growth. This goes back to the first point about committing to your goals. If you’re focused on the step right in front of you, and you love that step, then all the pain that comes with growing will roll right off your shoulders.

Passion Makes It All Possible

Passion is your basic motivation. Your passion for something is what starts you on your journey. Without passion, you won’t have the commitment, the discipline, or the eagerness for learning required to succeed.

Passion is necessary, but not sufficient.