Forget Finding Your Passion: Just Get to Work

My Passion for Pain

My Passion for Pain

Everyone talks about focusing on your passions and living your dreams. “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Of course, I believe in trying to find cool things to do with our lives, but what if passion is not enough?

Famous authors, celebrities and consultants talk about how much they enjoy their work and how great it is to be living their passions. However, I think what they are really saying is they have a passion for being successful, well paid and the enjoy the freedom to work on their own terms. They are excited because they get to work on new projects and they can meet many cool people.  Making some decent money at the whole process doesn’t hurt much either.  It is not necessarily a passion for the work, it is a passion for the freedom and results of their accomplishments.

I was passionate about my small business when I started. I had no problem working 60 plus hour weeks. It was exciting for several years because everything was new, the business was growing fast and there were so many new opportunities. After about 8 years of running the business and the administrative hassles of hiring and managing employees, dealing with problem customers and doing the same thing for so long, I have lost my excitement and it is time to move on. Passion for any one thing is temporary.

Even Great Work Has its Tedious Parts
Nothing is always fun and exciting. Olympic athletes don’t “love” training for 6 hours a day. That is frickin hard and monotonous work. Every time I run a longer race or marathon, I think,” what the hell am I doing to myself? I could be at home in bed, warm, comfortable and relaxed. Instead, I am punishing myself.” I don’t run because I am masochistic, well maybe a little. Just kidding… I think. I enjoy running for how it makes me feel when I am finished. I like feeling healthy, light and energetic. I know that I can only maintain that feeling by exercise. I hate it every time I start to run, but I always feel better when I am done.

I have a passion for accomplishment and knowing that I am capable of focus and discipline. Completing a race of any distance and at any speed shows that I am willing to put in the work and show up when it counts. That is what I value. That is what I am passionate about. I can get that enjoyment from digging holes for fence posts, painting my closets or even cleaning the house. Looking for activities and work to make you happy is a losing battle that will keep you jumping from one activity to the next. Instead find satisfaction from all things you spend your time on. It is much less stressful that way.

Not Every Passion will Earn you Money
I have a passion for playing guitar. I really, really enjoy playing guitar. However, I have little interest in traveling around in a small van with other band members, playing dive bars and small gigs until I get good enough to maybe play bigger venues. Becoming a famous musician is damn hard work and probably also involves a lot of luck. I am not willing to put in that level of effort, but I am still very passionate about music. I just don’t delude myself into thinking that the world owes me a living doing the things I enjoy.

The Danger of Passion
Many people are not really sure what they are passionate about and therefore are hesitant to start down any path. We have been told that we have to be totally passionate and truly love something in order to succeed. Unfortunately, for most people, there is not much work that will meet that criteria. Gary Vaynerchuk talks of being sick of answering questions about what wine goes with what food. Rockstars like Metallica and Nickelback have songs about the lousy parts of being on the road all the time and dealing with all the constant harassment that comes with fame and fortune. Professional athletes like Tiger Woods struggle through injuries and pain to keep playing. Work is not all joyful bliss. People at that top of their fields are successful largely because they were willing to do the crap drudgery that the rest of the world shuns. Don’t be afraid to work. Face every task ahead of you with a positive attitude and a healthy work ethic and you will be noticed. Great opportunities go to people worthy of greatness. Making excuses about why you didn’t put in your best effort only proves that you are a mediocre talent. Professionals show up and put out a maximum effort regardless of circumstances. Amateurs have a difficult time delivering good results on their best days.

Passion is Really Personal Excellence
I think a healthier way to look at the issue of passion and following your dreams, is project excellence. You are not going to find an occupational Valhalla that will keep you excited and engaged for the rest of your working days. Indefinite, perfect work doesn’t exist. It may appear for fleeting moments in your life but regardless of how much you enjoy what you are doing, you will get bored and lose enthusiasm over time. Think of your life in terms of shorter projects that you can be excellent at. People who love their work are generally engaged in a continual sequence of interesting projects.  Expect a whole series of challenging short-term projects that you will be continually propelling yourself from. You may do a long term freelancing gig with a cool company, you might write a book, you may volunteer abroad for a couple of years, you might get excited about music or sports  and you may even just get a job. Embrace every choice you make with all the energy and enthusiasm you can muster and then you will have found your passion. It will be a passion for life.

Blueprint for an Passionate Career

Step 1 Make a Decision
Chose a major career focus now. Spend a few days or even weeks evaluating different options and make the best decision you can with the information you have now. This focus could be on your existing job, it might be on your small business or it may be a new idea or dream you have. Find something with the potential to earn you more money while challenging you to learn new things and push yourself a little more. Don’t wait for some imaginary perfect time to get started. Make a commitment and start doing the work NOW.

Step 2 Commit
Put all of your energies into being great at that one idea and follow through. If you don’t have much free time, then only do one thing per day towards your goal, but do it everyday. Do it before you check your email, before you check your RSS feeds or before you turn on the TV. Actually, sell your TV. If you are serious about being great at something, don’t waste your energies on unproductive activities. Keep progressing a little every day. Don’t give up if you encounter obstacles or lose interest. Success comes with perseverance. You may have to abandon your idea over time if it becomes clear that it has no chance of success, but don’t give up until you have exhausted every avenue and put in 110% of effort. For most businesses, this should be a least a couple of years.

Step 3 Do It Again
Once your idea is successful, get rid of it and move on to the next challenge to keep you excited and engaged in your work. If you tried really hard and your idea just didn’t work out it is okay to give up and start again, but make sure it is not just a cop out because you were too lazy or made too many excuses.

Being excellent at anything takes a huge amount of effort and sacrifice. Sugar coating the work involved with phrases like “Follow your Passion” or “Live your Dreams” is a little misleading. Forget passion, how about enjoying the satisfaction of hard work and accomplishing great things? Passion comes from personal development and contribution to humanity. Don’t look for happiness from any single occupation or field. Find your passion in knowing that you worked your ass off and strived to the maximum of your ability.

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

15 Responses to Forget Finding Your Passion: Just Get to Work

  1. I couldn’t agree more John. Many run around in circles looking for their true passion and nothing gets accomplished. Your blueprint is simple, elegant and flexible. Yep picking a direction is the most difficult part because you must commit. Thanks!

  2. Nate says:

    Very cool post. I personally do think that it is possible to be truly passionate about your work and sustain that passion, but it’s very rare. For most of us you are going to have to suck it up a little bit and do things you aren’t necessarily “passionate” about. Hard work feels good and it’s great to be proud of doing something you didn’t necessarily love doing when you were doing it (that’s a mouthful!).

    Great points here, John.

  3. This is an awesome post.
    Just found your blog today and I like your style of thinking and writing:)

    It seems to be a trend having to follow your passion, but I really like how you say you should see life as a series of shorter term projects.

    Some people spend their entire life in one city working on one project or career, but those are far and few between.

    Take one thing and focus on it until you’ve gotten everything out of it that you can.

    Looking forward to new posts

  4. Greg Rollett says:

    Sweet post John – The running this is something that I can take to heart. In the last 3 weeks I have been pushing myself to get up at 6am to run 3 days a week and workout 3 days a week, before the sun comes up and before my wife even thinks of hitting snooze. I don’t run b/c I love running – but I also love how I feel after the run. I love how mentally I feel healthy during the day and into the evening. It is the reward of hard work that I love.

    There is not money in every passion, but without that first step to action you will always either regret not going for it, or living in a prison that you built for yourself. The big idea is to try. Who cares if you fail? Who cares if you look silly? All that matters is the attempt to never look back and say you didn’t try to do what you love. It’ll make for a good story for the grandkids at the least.

    BTW – did the band in a van thing and it was the greatest summer of my life. Not for everyone though.

  5. John says:

    Thanks for the great comments everyone!

    @nate Yes, I think it is possible to find a true passion also. There are just so many people that don’t know where to get started because they don’t have anything they truly love. I think the problem is that we have different definitions of love and passion. If you set your standards too high on finding the perfect vocation, soulmate, or even hobby, you will never find anything satisfying.

    @Greg Some of my best experiences were also when I lived very simply and rough. The van thing would be great for a short time, but I don’t think I could handle it for several years.

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  7. Smith says:

    I completely agree with what you’re saying. Also, I think most people sit around waiting to feel inspired before they place their energies into something. Not knowing your “passion” is an excuse to continue to sit on your ass and watch life pass you by.

    You have to make it count. Make decisions and take action.

  8. Jackie says:

    Great post! You make a lot of really good observations and points. Very interesting indeed, thanks for posting it!

  9. Justin Cooke says:

    I love the overall tone of this post. You hear quite often from people that say you have to “love” what you do, when too often those people have their heads in the clouds. It’s good to be brought back to reality and I think this post does that well. I particularly liked how you relate it to your guitar playing.

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  13. David says:

    You just got yourself a new subscriber. Awesome post.

  14. John says:

    Thanks David. Most appreciated!

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