Passion: Success Necessity or Myth?

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The concept behind getting rich is pretty straightforward:

  1. Acquire assets that generate income
  2. Have more assets than liabilities

Assets can be a business that generates revenue, real estate investments, stocks, or published works that you earn royalties from. Basically, anything that generates revenue without requiring you to work for it (i.e., trade time for dollars) is the road to becoming wealthy. Some of the wealthiest are the most average-looking people you’ll ever meet. They may be “rich on paper” (meaning, they have a high net worth because of the assets they own) but they don’t have much disposable income to live an extravagant lifestyle.

Current popular thinking about getting rich, however, goes something like this:

Make a business from your passion and the money will follow.

That certainly seems to have worked for J. K. Rowling, author of the immensely popular ‘Harry Potter’ series, who went from a destitute single mother on welfare to an estimated net worth of $1 billion. (Yes, you heard right—that’s billion, not million.) But does this prove that passion is a given, or even a requirement, to riches? Must passion precede riches? Even, who published the report, Europe’s Billionaire Women, marveled at Rowling’s rags-to-riches story, calling it “dramatic” and “almost as hard to believe as the fiction she spins.”

Does “Being Passionate about what You Do” Really Matter?

I have the sneaky suspicion that the passion-to-riches theory is one of the most misguided beliefs about getting rich (perpetuated by others, like me, who aren’t). I may be passionate about medieval basket weaving, but if there’s no market for it, I’ll most likely die passionate and penniless. In his ‘Rich Dad’ book series, author Robert Kiyosaki claims that the biggest obstacle to becoming rich is that it’s boring. It involves the world of income statements and balance sheets, and the things required to get rich are repetitious and not much fun.

My dad’s theory was that you shouldn’t like what you do too much; otherwise you’ll be willing to do it too cheaply—or even give it away. He believed that by not liking what you do so much, you’ll demand top dollar for it. In fact, he deliberately choose a line of work that he was good at and believed he could make money at, over one that he knew he’d really enjoy but which he doubted his ability to succeed.

For years, I thought he’d made the wrong choice, because I became indoctrinated in the “do what you love and the money will follow” philosophy. Now that I’m older, I can see how that’s not necessarily a given. I’m not saying that getting rich means doing something you hate, but I don’t believe that passionate is a necessarily a pre-requisite—and I don’t believe the money will automatically follow as a result.

In his book, Getting Started as a Freelance Writer, author Robert Bly says that you should “love what you do for a living,” but also advises: “Find the intersection of your passion and the needs of the market. What do you like that also interests other people? Therein lies your writing career.”

I believe the need for passion depends entirely on your personal values. For my dad, it didn’t matter whether or not he was passionate about his career, only that it would make money to provide for his family. For me, I can’t imagine doing something in life I’m not passionate about. But, as a career path, it also has to be something that will make me money, because I now have a family to support. (But I’m also open to finding some boring way to make money that will free me to pursue something I’m passionate about that won’t.)

The Real Truth about Passion

I’ve been writing about starting with why and making meaning, and I specifically remember both authors I quoted saying that these things must happen before you can make money. So am I contradicting myself? No, because passion is an inherently selfish thing. Let’s face it, Western culture has become more and more hedonistic, and most of us have been conditioned to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. So we bring that mindset into the workplace and assume that we must always be feeling a certain level of passion in what we’re doing. But if the ‘why’ of what we do doesn’t benefit others, then you’ll never make meaning for others, will you? Remember how I said that I loved everything about graphic design and web design? But I also said I loved helping my clients’ businesses become more successful. In other words, I’ll never be prosperous if it merely satisfies me personally (i.e., “I feel passionate”) but does nothing to satisfy the needs of the market (i.e., it makes meaning).

So it seems I’ve come full circle in my discussion. In order for the “passion-to-riches theory” to work, there must be a market for what I’m passionate about. But if I’m truly intent on making meaning, rather that just satisfying my passion, there will be times when my personal passion will have to take a back seat to, say … meeting a deadline … or working longer hours because the client asked for some last-minute changes. In other words, making meaning requires a commitment to something bigger than yourself and your desire to constantly feel the “buzz” of passion.

Passion is a wonderful thing. But because it’s also a self-centered thing, it’s easy to cross over that invisible line from passion to obsession. Although my dad was not particularly passionate about his line of work, he was passion about becoming successful and making money, which led to working long, hard hours to build his business. The price he paid was that he missed out on a lot while we were growing up—something he later regretted.

I’m all about being passionate about something in life, but don’t sacrifice your loved ones on the altar of your passion. Make sure you’re also passionate about the things in life that truly matter.

Additional Reading:
Passion: Your Key For Achieving Success
Passion for Work is a Requirement for Success
Follow Your Dreams and End Up Broke!
Stop Trying to Find Your Passion and Get to Work

John TabitaJohn Tabita
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Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.

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