“Follow Your Passion” Will Get You Stuck – But So Will Working Hard, Just for the Sake of It

If you look for advice on how to be successful and make it as an entrepreneur, you'll soon encounter "follow your passion", "do what you love most", "dream big and go after your dreams" and other variations of this same idea.

For the most part, this is awful advice. Often given by people who are either delusional or just happened to get lucky themselves.

In today's post, let's take a look at why the idea of following your passion fails and why swinging too far the other way is also not the right solution.

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More About the Passion Trap

For today's post, the bulk of my message is in the video. One thing I want to add to this is Oliver Emberton's excellent article about passion and all the ways we get it wrong.

He makes a point I only hinted at in the video and makes it more eloquently than I ever could I highly recommend you read his work.

Passion + Business Savvy

Update: a day after publishing this post I came across a video by a Romanian animation artist called Andrei Terbea which beautifully illustrates the point about needing to combine your passion with work ethic and business savvy. Check it out:

Here are a few other resources and references:

Let me know what your thoughts on this topic are, by leaving a comment below.

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About the Author Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Sarah Arrow says:

    Shame on you Shane for introducing me to Oliver Emberton, and he’s not written anything since 2014… Still there’s enough to keep me happy for a few days :D

  • Michael says:

    Maybe to understand how this works for others, we should look at how it works for musicians. It’s likely that everyone reading this message knows at least one musician that they consider to be exceptional. Yet it’s likely that they either have a day job, or have to spend a lot of time doing things they like less, such as teaching kids. For most people, this is what following a passion ends up being.

    I’ve also known a few people that have opened restaurants because they like cooking. That’s a very hard life that might well completely kill your passion, so you lose on two fronts.

    • These are great examples! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, Michael!

  • Ann says:

    Hey Shane,
    A while back I heard an actor (Nathan Fillion of firefly/Serenity-fame) make a comment to the effect that marketing is his job. And if he does that really well, then he gets to do his beloved hobby which is acting.
    That really made the coin drop for me. So yes, my job is sales & marketing and if I do that really well then I get to coach & teach my passion. And that’s ok. :-)

    • Yes, that’s a great way to think about it. I’m surprised to hear it coming from an actor like Nathan, but he is right, of course. It’s not about being a “good” actor, it’s about being a marketable actor. On the one hand, that’s a bit sad, but on the other hand, if we can reframe it and do the marketing part well, we get to do more of what we care about.

  • This really speaks to me because a while ago I watched a talk by Simon Sinek and he mentioned something very similar.

    Simon said something like, “People used to tell me to follow my passion. It’s good advice but completely unactionable.”

    After that, he goes on to talk about feeling depressed due to doing what his passion initially was but not feeling it anymore. It resonated with me because I used to feel the same way.

    Much better advice is as you mention, to follow your interests. That’ll lead to you doing something you are passionate about in different ways.

    Thank you for all you do, Shane. I wish you and everyone at the Thrive Themes team all the best. :)

  • Raul says:

    Great video. I absolutely agree. Right now, to overcome those traps, and some others I am testing with an antidote. It is to have a funnel, or “selling system”. This way I can test what works and what does not on a shorter period of time, keep focused on one thing, and to know what is really needed to have. At the end, I think that whether your are selling ecommerce (and your are not amazon) or courses, the plan should be simple. One) to create content, two) develop an audience, three) to create a good product or video course, four) make them match and finally analyze the data and scale. Ah, I like the part where you speak about videos. Everyday I am more convinced that it should be part of the whole.

    • This is good! On a more abstract level, you’re breaking a process down into a small number of steps. This helps you focus, instead of being torn about by the chaos of limitless choices and opportunities.

      Video has been a great tool for me, for sure. I don’t think it has to be part of the strategy, but it sure works for me. :)

  • Filippo says:

    Straight and realistic point of view. I definitely agree

  • Bruce Maples says:

    Thanks for the video (and all the other good work you and your team produce.) Definitely agree with the “passion isn’t enough” point.

    If I could attach an image, I’d share with you the Venn diagram we used when talking with interns and employees about career planning. Since I can’t share the image, I’ll try to describe it:

    Three Keys to Finding Your Career Sweet Spot
    =====================================
    Passion (or, what you really enjoy doing, or what gets your “kid” up, or brings you fulfillmen)
    Competence (you’re good at it)
    Financial Reward (people will actually pay you for it)

    Inadequate combinations:
    Passion plus Competence (but no Reward) is a hobby
    Passion plus Reward (but no Competence) is failure
    Competence plus Reward (but no Passion) is burnout

    We made the same point — just because you enjoy something doesn’t mean you’re any good at it, or that anyone will pay you for doing it.

    There’s a lot more to say about this, including the difference between being passionate about a topic or cause, and getting fulfillment from a certain type of activity — but this comment is already too long.

    Thanks again!

    • Thank you for your comment, Bruce!

      This is a great model, I agree. Passion, competence and financial reward. The sweet spot between those is a great place to find.

  • Gaëtan Noël says:

    Hey Shane,

    Thanks a lot for this inspiring video! You have released it with a perfect timing for me. These days, I’m struggling with a « terrible » conclusion : until now, I wrote novels that passionate me — a lot. Subjects, categories, style… I figured out some days ago that all this stuff is just all about me. Me enjoying my work, following my passion.


    And you know what?

    
It does not pay enough! Ha ha ha! Just like you say, if I want to live of my work, I have to reach people. Knowing what they need, expect, etc. If I want to bring messages to them, I cannot do it only in (my) passionate way of telling stories. It’s juste like explaining great theories in french (because I am) to a group of Chinese people that don’t understand a single word of my language.

    So I’m stuck. Passion fills up my days, but it lets my fridge empty.

    However, I’m glad to experience it by myself to understand it at a deep level — and so glad someone passionate like you are comes with the same conclusion!

    I’m working (hard) on it!

    Thank you, Shane! Have a nice day

    • Thank you for your comment! I’m happy to know that this message struck a chord with you. Coming to the realization you describe is an important step to finding a better way. And it is possible to find a way to do work you love and also fill the fridge. You don’t have to sacrifice your passion entirely, to get there.

  • nicholas says:

    Hey Shane, quick question. What theme are you using for this website? Thanks :)

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