When it comes to building a business, you’ve probably heard you should follow your passion and the money will come. It’s been said (and written) by countless bloggers, writers and coaches. If you dig deep enough into my 10+ years of published work on the internet you may even find a piece where I insist it’s true. I apologise for that, because it isn’t. Passion is (sometimes) a positive thing, but sometimes a dangerous one, and building a business around something you’re passionate about is no guarantee that the money will come.
A few things to keep in mind about passion:
It wanes. Most of us have many passions over a lifetime. What were you passionate about as a child or a teenager? Collecting Pokemon cards? Your first boyfriend? Where are those passions now? Still strong? Or long abandoned?
Passion can be hard to monetize. Many of us are passionate about sport, art, music, or nature. There are jobs to be had, and businesses to be built, in those areas, but not everyone who loves music can be a professional musician, and not everyone who loves scuba diving will build a successful scuba diving business. Sometimes it’s OK to enjoy your passions on your own time.
Passion doesn’t make work easy. Work is work. Profit and loss, and budgets, and staff issues happen, even if you’re running a scuba diving business. Work is fun and easy and flowy when you’re using your optimal skill set, not (necessarily) when you’re pursuing a passion.
Your Talents Are More Important Than Your Passions
In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport examines the evidence surrounding what he refers to as the “flawed passion hypothesis”. It seems that around the time the idea of following your passion became popular (Newport traces it to the first publication of the book What Color is Your Parachute in 1970), workers started reporting lower satisfaction with their work, and the correlation has continued.
It seems, logically enough, that the more people are encouraged to follow their passion, the less they seem able to find the perfect ‘magic’ work environment that meets all their needs and makes them ecstatically happy in all and any circumstances. Much as the people most invested in the fairy tale version of marriage find it hard to meet the perfect partner who meets all their needs and makes them ecstatically happy in all and any circumstances.
So, if following your passion isn’t the way to build a business you can’t wait to work on every day, what is? Maybe the answer lies in the subtitle to Newport’s book: Why Skills Trump Passion in The Quest for Work You Love.
Skills, unlike passions, rarely wane. They tend to get better with practice, and most of us get deep satisfaction out of doing something we’re truly good at. We may not have to take passion off the table completely. We can perhaps incorporate our passions into our work, but the core element we build our business around should be something we excel at, something we shine at, something that makes us feel world-class when we do it.
Using Your Signature Strengths
More specifically, if we want to be eager to get to our desk every morning, we should be building a business around what psychologists call our signature strengths: the things that are a natural and inherent part of our character. Not sure what yours are? You can find out by taking this survey (the free version is sufficient). It will rank you on 24 key strengths, then the trick is to incorporate 2 or 3 of your top 5 strengths into your daily work.
How you do this is up to you. 3 of my top strengths are:
- Love of learning: Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether on one’s own or formally; related to the strength of curiosity but goes beyond it to describe the tendency to add systematically to what one knows.
- Judgement: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to change one’s mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly.
- Perspective: Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself/others.
So I write. I write articles, essays and books. Specifically, I write well-researched, balanced pieces that “examine issues from all sides” and aim to “find ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself/others.” I spend as much time on research (allowing me to master “new topics and bodies of research”) as I do on writing. I strive for balance and perspective in my work. I get to use my signature strengths every time I sit down at my desk, and I’m finally building a business I can’t wait to work on, every single day.
A last word on passion:
I still write about topics I’m passionate about, sometimes. More often I write about things I’m curious about — because curiosity is part of my top signature strength: love of learning.
When I do address my passions in my writing, I don’t do it in the same way I used to, back when I thought following my passion was the most important thing. When I started out as a writer, I wrote about my passions, constantly. Most of what I wrote was a mixture of self-indulgent mush and naïve preachiness. And guess what? The money didn’t come. Now I write about topics I’m passionate about using my signature strengths, incorporating a lot of evidence-based knowledge, judgement and perspective. Which means people are prepared to pay me for my writing.
In the same way, if your signature strengths are leadership, teamwork and zest, and your passion is scuba diving, there’s no reason you can’t run that dive shop. Just remember: signature strengths first, passion second.
Whatever your signature strengths are, use them. Every day. Incorporate them into your life and work. Build a business or career around around them. Align your life’s work with who you truly are. Do what you shine at, and observe how eager you are to get to work each day.
This article was originally published on Medium.com.