Why Following Your Passion Might Be Bad Advice

We’ve all heard it a thousand times, if you want to be happy in life, follow your passion. Let’s look closer at this advice. The word passion comes from the Latin root word patior, which means “to suffer.” So, when someone tells you to follow your passion, they’re saying you should do something for which you are willing to suffer.

That’s not how passion is used in today’s entrepreneurial landscape. It’s been hijacked and saddled with a new meaning tied to a financial outcome. Frankly, passion has nothing to do with earning a 10x return or building a seven-figure business. That garbage is used to peddle books and programs–it’s not truth.

Here’s the question to ask yourself to see if you’re passionate about what you’re doing: Am I willing to put in the work and never see the fruit? If the answer is no, I hate to break it to you, but that’s not your passion.

Fear not, though. In this article, I’ll lay out an alternate starting point for whatever it is you want to achieve in life. That said, I don’t want to ignore passion, so let’s first walk down the path of following your passion to see where you might end up.

The Side Hustle Culture

Let’s start with a simple question: Why has “follow your passion” become such a popular mantra in recent years? Part of it is the misconception I mentioned that riches will come if you pursue your passion, but the other piece is employee disengagement.

Worldwide, we’re showing up to work totally checked out. A Gallup study revealed that 85% of employees are not engaged at work, costing us $7 trillion annually in lost productivity. That’s more than the GDP of all but two countries (US and China).

If you’re showing up to a place you hate every day, one where your gifts, abilities, and potential aren’t being realized, of course you’re going to pursue your passion by starting a side hustle. It’s estimated that 37% of Americans have done just that.

Where Your Passion Might Lead

Side hustles don’t just represent extra income–they represent freedom; the chance to break away from a hated job and pursue a passion full-time. So, let’s say you do that. Statistics paint a grim picture for your chances of long-term success. According to the Small Business Administration, about half of new businesses make it past five years.

If you’ve tethered your identity to the twisted definition of passion that equates success with a certain outcome, your self-worth will take a big hit. You might see yourself as a failure, which isn’t true, but that won’t stop those thoughts from entering your mind. Instead of attaching your identity to your passion, let me suggest a different approach.

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” – Sheryl Sandberg

Find Your Worth Before Your “Why”

What Simon Sinek talked about in his book “Start with Why” is spot on. Before looking at the “what,” you need to figure out the “why.” But there’s a crucial step before that: You must first see yourself as worthy of having a “why.” If your self-worth has cratered after you followed your passion and failed, you might not feel very worthy. That’s why I suggest beginning here and not deferring it to the future.

Let’s keep digging. In order to see yourself as worthy, you need to answer the question: Who am I? Only once you know yourself can you see the worthiness inside you. When I set out to answer that question myself, here were three things that helped:

  • Doing something challenging
  • Making time for reflection and visualization
  • Creating “I am” statements: I am _________________

Let’s walk through each of these steps in a little more detail.

Take Steps to Discover Who You Are

The first step in finding out who you are is doing something challenging. For me, that was CrossFit. I believe that when you do something physically challenging, it opens up the possibility that you can accomplish something mentally challenging, too.

We’re building what Dr. Albert Bandura called “self-efficacy” which is our belief in our own abilities to succeed in challenging situations or accomplish a difficult task. When I do an intense workout and don’t die, it builds my confidence that I can do other difficult things, too.

However, I can’t tap into that belief if I don’t take time to reflect on it. That’s why, after you do something challenging (it doesn’t have to be exercise), you must make time to be silent and visualize yourself achieving something difficult in the future. By doing this, you’re acknowledging and reinforcing the idea that you’re effective and capable.

From there, I find tremendous value in writing “I am” statements such as this one: I am capable of doing hard things.

When you do something challenging, you’re working through the progression that ends here. You move from “I think I can” to “I know I can” to “I can” and finally “I did.” By reflecting on your thoughts, you can recognize this progression, and by verbalizing it with an “I am” statement, you’re making a clear declaration about your identity.

“The man who achieves makes many mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all – doing nothing.” – Benjamin Franklin

Using Your Gifts to Serve Others

I can say with confidence that these three steps will help you discover who you are, why you’re worthy, and what your “why” is because it worked for me. About a decade ago I was nearly broke, had to short sell our first home, and was diagnosed with postpartum depression after the birth of our fourth child (and my wife was the one who did all the heavy lifting there). In every way, I saw myself as a failure.

As I worked through this process, I discovered new things about myself, rebuilt my self-worth, and found a new “why” which turned out to be helping people find the truth that dwells within them. Now, I’m fueled by passion because I’m rooted in purpose. Instead of focusing on an outcome, I’m focused on using my gifts to help as many people as I can. If you ask me, I’m willing to suffer for that.

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