“Follow your passion” has become a modern-day mantra, one I’ve repeated countless times. But following your passion isn’t enough to create a business. I am passionate about many things – my family, travel, women’s rights and children’s rights. I also love Mad Men, reading and writing, Nina Simone and the blues, karaoke, dancing, and parties stuffed with eclectic guests.
But I’m not passionate enough about any of these to make a living out of it (though I did make a living out of travel, as a tour leader, for two years).
It’s not enough to have a great passion for something if you want to craft a business. We need to connect our passion with other people, and we need to put effort into a passion to make it a sustainable business.
I’d love to be able to do the splits. Ever since I was a kid when I bet my younger sisters a Mars Bar for the first of us who was able to have their bum touch the floor in splits. But our efforts to do the splits weren’t enough for any of us to claim the Mars Bar.
We all have passions with no effort behind them. My desire to do the splits doesn’t pull me enough to put in the hours stretching. My passion for travel wasn’t enough to sustain the effort required to keep bouncing on bad roads in decrepit buses, trying to bond a group of wildly diverse people in often-stressful circumstances.
It’s likely we have all stated our passion for something without following through with effort. We are passionate about the idea of something, but not enough to lead to effort. Effort is the currency of passion.
Because effort means you improve, which means you enjoy it more, which means that over time, you need far less willpower to do it as joy overtakes. When your effort results in talent as well as passion, you’re halfway there. Then you just need to find people to buy into your passion (and talent). Your effort demonstrates to people that you put your money where your mouth is.
A revolution in passion-based businesses is sweeping the globe. From Sydney to San Fran, Berlin to Bath, Istanbul to Ibiza, people are dropping off the corporate ladder climb to craft a living out of their passion – a 21st century equivalent of the 70s’ edict ‘Tune in, turn on, drop out’, except with income. It’s not enough for the modern hipster to follow their passion – we also want to make a viable, sustainable business out of it – better yet, an abundantly profitable one.
For ‘follow your passion’ to become a sustainable business, we need to reach out and pluck the heartstrings of our wider community. We need to connect our passion with others’ passion. Only then does passion make profit.
A great place to see this in action is crowd-sourcing – someone with an idea and passion to create something puts it to the wider community and asks for cash to make it happen. Crowds rally and respond, or … crickets.
Most of the time, it’s not a problem with the idea. Think of any random, bizarre idea and go do a Google search. I guarantee however oddball it is, there’s someone, somewhere, making a living out of it, which means there’s a tribe around them who share the same oddball passion.
But the ideas that get the crowd-sourcing funds are those that have been expressed to create impact. No matter how smart, altruistic, beautiful or funny your idea is, if you cannot express your idea and your passion for it in a concise, compelling and clear manner, you will fail to move enough people to make it viable.
Artists know that their art isn’t often ‘viable’ in a strict financial or business sense. So they apply for grants. I’ve got numerous artist friends, many of whom I help edit their grant applications, which take the place of customers. This process is still the transfer of enthusiasm – from the artist, to the institution giving the grants.
Your altruism and my altruism
Your passion may well be altruistic, either overtly or innately, but this is not enough to connect it with the hearts and minds of the wider world. Charities frequently complain of ‘compassion fatigue’ – the idea that we have a limited amount of compassion which is being expended throughout the day. Your altruism may be commendable, but it’s not necessarily my altruism.
Bringing passion, purpose and profit together
Your passion is worthy, I am not questioning that. But if you seek to make a sustainable business out of it – contributing to the economy by employing others and paying taxes, or thrive as a solo-preneur, with enough income to sustain body and soul – you need to ignite a similar passion in others.
Businesses aren’t run in silos. They are innately social because they fulfil a need, solve a problem, minimise pain or improve lives, in some way. Enthusiasm is a wonderous thing – safeguard your enthusiasm from the energy-sappers and ‘realistic’ I-only-want-to-help-ers who seek to destroy it. And know that if you are to make passion into business, you’ll need to become very skilled at igniting a similar enthusiasm in others. Which means it’s not your passion anymore, it’s ours.