Frustrated entrepreneurs are generally those who are “looking for their passion.” Listen to this episode to find out why the search for passion leads to suffering, and why purpose is much better than passion for building your business and your wealth.
Welcome to Rich & Thin™ Radio, the only podcast that helps you get more bank with less bulk. Today’s episode is for every listener who’s been working on “finding their passion” and is coming up short. I’m Kelly Hollingsworth, and I’m happy you’re here because looking for our passion is generally a fruitless exercise in terms of wealth-building, and it also makes us feel horrible. So today we’re going to talk about why passion is detrimental to wealth-creation and generally feeling good, and what to do instead.
I’d like to start off by sharing something I’ve noticed over the last 25 years of advising entrepreneurs. The clients who are in the most emotional pain are typically the ones who report that they are “looking for their passion” or “frustrated because they are not pursuing their passion.” These are also the clients who generally have the most difficulty getting their businesses off the ground, and they are the clients who are most likely to suffer from broke-and-bulky-behaviors like overspending, overdrinking, and overeating.
And I never really connected the dots on this until the other day when I learned the origin of the word “passion.” It means “to suffer,” and I thought to myself, if that’s what that word really means, then what I’ve seen in practice makes perfect sense. If people are out looking for passion, then they are looking for suffering, and whatever we look for, we will find. We live in an abundant universe and what we seek is available to us, so if that is indeed what this word means, I thought to myself, no wonder they are suffering so much. No wonder their businesses are suffering.
So with this in mind, I sat down and I did a deep dive into the word passion and here’s what I came up with:
What does “Passion” really mean?
According to some etymologists, these are evidently the folks who study the origin of words, the word passion historically meant suffering. This is why that Mel Gibson movie that wasn’t received terribly well, The Passion of Christ, was named as it was. They were talking about the suffering of Christ in that movie.
But these same folks who study words say that that meaning is now obsolete. Now, they say, a passion is a force outside of our control that compels us to do things.
And I don’t know about you, but in my mind this is an indication that nothing has changed much with the word passion. As entrepreneurs, when do we suffer the most? When there is a force outside of our control compelling us to do things. Last time I checked, that was called a job. A boss. Someone else’s agenda. Someone else’s timetable. The words diet and budget also come to mind.
For most entrepreneurs, all of that is the definition of suffering, and it’s also antithetical to wealth. The hallmark of wealth is freedom. Wealthy people do what they want to do. They pursue their interests on their own time and in their own way. They’d never consider chaining themselves to a power outside of themselves. They want to drive. Not be dragged around by a truck that someone else is driving. So lack of control is one of the problems with passion. It’s a reason that the word, in my mind, is still steeped in suffering.
Another modern view of the word passion is that it involves experiencing an intense desire to the point that it hurts. Under this idea, truly passionate people are those who are pushed along by desire to the point that they’re willing to experience pain and loss for the object that is the focus of their attention.
And again, this sounds a whole lot like suffering to me. A willingness to experience pain and loss for the object that is the focus of our attention sounds like addiction. It sounds like what many of us are doing with food, alcohol, other substances. With our credit cards. It also sounds like what happens we find ourselves embroiled in an extra-marital affair. We all know how great those are for one’s overall happiness, and one’s bottom line, by the way. One of the first signs of a red flag for hedge fund investors is when the hedge fund manager experiences marital trouble, because investors have learned that a divorce, separation, and the litigation and emotional upset that tend to follow, can have a big impact on the hedge fund’s profitability.
This leads me to another problem with passion, and particularly looking for our passion: the whole concept assumes that our good feelings are generated by something outside of us. Passion is the attractive person who is not our spouse. It is the grass-is-greener business that seems so much easier than the one we’re currently trying to get off the ground. It’s the fancier neighborhood or the upgraded house or the better car. We think if we just lived there, then all our self-doubt and shame and frustration would go away, and we would feel alive again.
And of course, often when we get something shiny and new, or when we’re in the early stages of romance, we do feel more alive for a little while. But it’s important to notice why that happens. Because our thoughts changed. When we’re locked in a joyful early embrace with the new and shiny, we initially think differently about ourselves and our level of attractiveness and our prospects for the future. We think that we’re capable of more than we used to be. Maybe even superhuman.
But all of this is temporary because of what psychologists call hedonic adaptation. No matter how wonderful something outside of us is, eventually we get used to it, and we see that the shiny new thing, the attractive new partner, isn’t really changing things for us. This is because our circumstances, the things outside of us, never change anything. As we discussed in the framework that we went over in episode two, our emotional state—whether we feel all lit up or dead to the world–is caused not by the circumstances outside but by what we’re thinking about the circumstances.
Those of us who chase passion don’t know this. We think we’ll feel better with different circumstances when we’re chasing passion, but when hedonic adaptation sets in, that’s when our brains, if left to their own devices, go back to thinking exactly the way they were before, and then our feelings return to their previous state, no matter who we’re with or where we live or what we drive. Eventually we discover that we’re still the “same old Eeyore.” And unfortunately, sometimes things are worse for our Eeyores at that point, because now we have additional challenging circumstances to wrap our brains around as a result of chasing a passion. And we can truly manage our minds around any circumstance, but let’s face it–some circumstances are more challenging than others, and these include things like debt, divorce, custody battles, and a whole host of other troublesome flotsam that we often find bobbing in the wakes of our most passionate pursuits.
So, long story short, my take on things is that the meaning of the word passion hasn’t really changed. For the most part, it still means suffering and chasing a passion still brings suffering, so although it has its place and can be fun at the right times and in the right contexts, it’s not terribly productive for business. It’s actually counterproductive for entrepreneurs in my mind. Here are a few reasons why:
One reason is that when we’re acting based on passion, we are thinking about ourselves. Our own needs. What we want. How we feel.
This is a horrible platform for commercial success. Entrepreneurs are people who solve problems in exchange for profits. Whose problems do they solve? Other people’s problems. Not our own. When we’re acting in our own interests, when we’re motivated by a desire so intense it hurts, in other words, by a passion, chances are very good that we’re not coming close to serving others to the best of our ability, and that’s what we need to do to stand out in today’s crowded marketplace.
Another thing about passion is that it blinds us to what our customers really want. If we’re so passionate about a certain topic that we can’t see what our customers really need is something different from the thing that happens to be titillating us at the time, our relationship with our customers will progress down a divided highway, with us going in one direction and them going in the other, and there won’t be any connection, and eventually they will deal with somebody else who is paying attention to what they actually need, rather than their own passionate pursuit.
So what I’d like to suggest is that purpose is a much better platform than passion.
When we are purposeful, that means we are resolved to do something. We have decided to do something, and as we’ve discussed in prior episodes, it’s the decision that fuels everything. We talked about the movie Hidden Figures: The US had no idea how to get to the moon, but they decided to go, and the decision is what made the impossible become possible.
This illustrates another reason why passion is a poor choice for business. The processing parts of our brains, the higher cognitive functions, aren’t really involved in passion, are they? When we’re running on passion, that’s base desire. There is no decision that tells our brain to get to work on solving a puzzle. When we’re operating from base desire, that doesn’t generally take us anywhere we’d want to remain for very long.
In contrast, notice that purpose feels good for more than just a few minutes. It feels good in perpetuity. Why? Because when we feel purposeful about something, that’s because we attach a great deal of meaning to it. In his accounts of the torture inflicted on himself and others in concentration camps during the Holocaust, Victor Frankl wrote that “[i]n some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”
So this is how purpose is an antidote to the pain that passion presents, and I don’t pretend to know nearly as much about suffering as Victor Frankl, but I think he’s onto something here. When we have a purpose, that helps us end our suffering and contribute something valuable, as Victor Frankl did with his groundbreaking book Man’s Search for Meaning.
So the question before us now is how can we stop looking for our passion and begin acting out of purpose? It starts with looking around us, and seeing what isn’t working. Where things are less than optimal. Where people are struggling and suffering and where we are uniquely situated and qualified to help. This is the lens of entrepreneurship—it’s not about finding something outside of us that will make us feel good. It’s not about looking for passion. It’s about finding something to do that will help others. And the way we find this is by looking through a purposeful lens. This is the lens that successful entrepreneurs wear, and it’s available to anyone who wants to put it on and begin viewing life through it.
So that’s what I have for you this week. Consider forgetting passion and looking for purpose. I’m gad you were here with me this week. I look forward to talking with you next time.