Follow your passion – is this good advice?
How often do we hear the phrase “follow your passion” in talks, books and blogs? In a connected world where people can easily start a new business it is common advice. But is just saying “follow your passion” actually good advice?
“Lisa, isn’t this is what you talk about all the time?” I hear you say. Yes! I wholeheartedly believe people should be passionate about the work they do. As an entrepreneur and business coach I know people can create a business that excites, supports and fulfils them. But the ‘follow your passion’ mantra is over-simplistic and often doesn’t help people get started. Let me explain.
Interests are not your passion
When we talk about passions sometimes we confuse them with things we’re interested in. We focus too heavily on the topic and not the processes that we actually have to perform day by day. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that people enjoy work for more nuanced reasons than simply matching it to an interest they have.
For example, you might be interested in health, foreign affairs, tech gadgets, essential oils or kittens, but underlying your work will be a love of solving problems, speaking, writing, managing a team, talking with people, teaching or selling products.
Pay attention to what work excites and engages you. Work that intrinsically motivates you will most likely become a passion.
Instead of thinking about an interesting area to start a business in, give some thought as to what processes are involved in it and if you will enjoy them. When I set up my previous business Puppy Tales I wanted a brand all about dogs, because I love them! But in hindsight I didn’t give enough thought to the processes it took to run an online store and if I would enjoy that work. In the end my passion for dogs could not overcome the tasks I didn’t enjoy as an online retailer.
To put it more bluntly: my passion for dogs is still big and bright, but I now know you can’t build a business on interest alone. When starting Lisa Kate I carefully looked to my strengths and what type of work I enjoyed doing, in conjunction with my interests. I know I love communicating with and helping others. Pair that with my interest in women running businesses and now when I am having a session with a client I am energised and in my element. Sure, I still love the topic but I would not say business development is my number one passion in life.
In fact for some people a love for the subject matter may or may not play a role in their business at all. They might just love to solve problems, run teams or address a need that is currently unmet.
Passions develop over time
The phrase ‘follow your passion’ assumes you already know what your passion is. Do you? This is a big stumbling block for lots of people as they feel they’re required to have a predetermined passion.
For many people passions develop over time through winding and serendipitous pathways. You need to explore life and yourself in order to find your passions, and that exploration needs to involve doing, not just learning. Those who hold too tight to the “follow your passion” mantra can often be afraid to take the wrong step, instead they take no steps. Passion is not predetermined. You have to live to find it.
I didn’t end up as a business coach in a linear way. I studied zoology, worked at a natural history museum, became part of a web team, took a role as a web project manager, worked up to product manager at a large media company, blogged about dogs and built my own business before my passion for empowering other women in business emerged.
Passions are still hard work
Some people are naturally good at their passion. Most people are not. Passions can be a lot of hard work to develop and potentially only become a true passion once you reach a certain level of proficiency. Once you are highly skilled you can leverage the value of your passion to have a greater impact, be autonomous, garner respect and control your life.
As a business coach I see people start a business they are wildly passionate about but they assume they will love it all from day one. In those first few months and years when they are building they don’t realise that living your passion is not something you always love every day. In fact, the process of earning the respect, money and expertise you want can be frustrating. At the start of anything there is a tough building phase, and this is why the work must be intrinsically motivating. It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes by Ira Glass, which is long but well worth a read.
So if you have been living by the ‘follow your passion’ advice with no luck remember:
- Don’t stagnate. Explore through learning and doing. Start that business or take that job. Then focus on the work that engages, excites and empowers you.
- Don’t expect the start of anything to make you immediately happy. Once the initial excitement has gone stick at it and do the work.
- Look at your strengths to see what you might like to do. Hone the skills you have.
- Career decisions are about the life you want to create not just what you want to do most.
- Living a life where you can choose to follow your passion is a privilege, so be grateful and do it the best you can!
If you want to talk more about this topic leave a comment below or send me an email. If you are trying to germinate an idea that leans on your passions for a new business, that is one of my favourite things to chat about, so get in touch.
Above image from College Prepster.