“Find something that you are passionate about” is absolutely the worst advice anybody can give to an entrepreneur or a job seeker. People get a job for one reason only and that is to earn a living. Otherwise it is charity or a hobby. Sure, you want a job that is not horrible and maybe even pleasant but how much are you willing, let alone able, to sacrifice financially to find something that you are passionate about?
Similarly an entrepreneur wants to build a product or a service, to acquire clients by innovating. Being en entrepreneur in the end means delivering a superior product or service and/or a better price. These are commercial goals and they come first.
Do not misunderstand, a person’s mental and emotional health is important and should not be ignored in chasing financial rewards. The myth, however, that passion at work is not only attainable by most job seekers and entrepreneurs but that it leads to career and business success is plain wrong.
Passion is a compelling emotion. This can mean positive emotions, such as love, as well as negative emotions such as hate. The pro passionate crowd clearly mean the positive emotional side of passion. The idea here is that if you are passionate about your job then you will feel strongly positive feelings when you perform your job.
There are two major problems. First is that if your job evokes a lot of emotion, even if it is joy, then you are less likely to make commercially rational business decisions. Your strong, passionate emotions will always override any logic.
The second problem is alignment of interests. Businesses go to great lengths to develop compensation policies that align the interests of employees with that of the company. People passionate about their jobs, on the other hand, enjoy doing their jobs for the sake of the job. In other words, passionate employees care more about the job than they do reaching a goal. Can you imagine a surgeon who enjoys surgery more than anything else? Would you not prefer a surgeon incentivised to prioritise your health?
What about all the people presented as examples of how passion leads to commercial success? The main examples are Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. The first steps towards commercial success for each was selling somebody else’s product, Gates bought 86-DOS from SCP and sold it to IBM as PC-DOS, Jobs took his friend Wozniak’s invention the Apple I and sold it to the world. These are great commercial insights but have little to do with passion.
What Gates and Jobs do is give us insights into what underpins their success: drive. Drive is behavioural, not emotional. As such drive is much more amenable to control than passion which in turn means the driven person is in control of his behaviour whereas the passionate person is controlled by their emotions. This is the difference between a leader and a passenger on a voyage not of their own choosing.
Drive is connected to goals, not the experience of performing a job. A passionate person will do the job regardless of commercial viability simply because they enjoy doing the job. The driven person will select work towards their chosen goals, whatever those might be.
Drive clearly is what delivers results. You may know it by its other names: motivation and ambition. In any endeavour that you have embarked upon what is it that you wished for: drive or passion? Is it drive that will get you the promotion you want or passion? What about a fit body? Owning your own home? Paying for your children’s education?
In passion’s defence it has a place in your life. With passion comes emotional fulfillment, unlike the physical and financial fulfillment that drive gives you. The idea is not to strip passion from your life but to resist the temptation to try and commercialise your passion. Commercializing your passion will lead not only to financial loss but also the loss of your passion as you are forced to constantly decide between the competing goals of passion and drive.
The only commercial success that I have seen regarding finding passion in your job is by the authors of the books that promote such an idea. Successful business people have drive. Never forget that your goals in business are commercial.
You may also be interested in: Discovering the Meaning of Entrepreneurship.
This article was originally published in The National.