Is passion the key to success? If you attended one of the many college graduations taking place these days, you’d think so. Every year around this time, impressionable graduates are encouraged by the commencement speaker to follow their passions. Don’t pursue a career for practicality or financial stability. As long as you follow your dreams and love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.
And we don’t just hear this at graduation ceremonies. When actors win Academy Awards or musicians win a Grammy, more often than not they preach to their fans (who are often aspiring stars) to never give up on their dreams. It’s a charming notion, but is it also naive? Will following our passion, regardless of what it takes, put us on the road to happiness, fulfillment, and everything we want out of life?
Passion vs. Ability
TV personality, Mike Rowe, emphatically answers, “No!” The author of “Dirty Jobs” and “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” Rowe divulges the real deal about the role of passion in a short and sweet webinar he hosted through Prager University. If you don’t want to watch the webinar yourself, I’ll summarize it in a nutshell: passion and ability have nothing to do with one another, and ability is what really counts when you want to achieve anything in life.
I agree with Rowe’s opinion, and I think it rings true for everyone, whether they’re new grads entering the job marketplace, professionals rebuilding their careers, or successful entrepreneurs and empire builders. Passion is great to have, and it can help you stick it out during the rough times. But without ability, passion can’t take you all the way. Your ability can improve with practice and hard work, but ability is necessary, nonetheless.
When I started out in the life insurance business, I had to develop a sales practice from scratch. I cold-called prospects I picked out of a phonebook. I went door-to-door to hundreds of businesses around the county. Was I passionate about calling complete strangers or knocking on the doors of businesses day after day? Of course not. But this was the first step of starting a life insurance practice. I had to get into the practice of picking up the phone and knocking on doors. Pick up the phone, knock on the door. Pick up the phone, knock on the door. Eventually, I got better at it, started seeing results, adjusted my strategies based on what worked, and I eventually learned to like it. Today, I love my career and am proud of the success I’ve achieved over the years.
The Path to Success
I’m not the exception to the rule. Take a look at how any successful person reached their status. When I was in high school, my idol was Jim Ryun, the youngest guy to ever run a four-minute mile. I was a runner myself, and I read his autobiography to learn how he trained. He shared how he had to drag himself out into the heat, rain, cold, and snow for his morning workout, and then repeat the exact same schedule after school. Day after day after day. Eventually, he got better at it, started seeing results, adjusted his strategies based on what worked, and learned to like it.
What about the the time artists have to put in to become masters? Whether it’s martial arts, performing arts, or visual arts, artists have to practice their craft hundreds of thousands and millions of times, step-by-step, note by note, stroke by stroke. In the book, “Outliers,” author Malcolm Gladwell claims that the key to achieving expertise in any skill, is a matter of practicing the correct way, for around 10,000 hours total. That’s a lot of hours. But eventually, you get better at it, start seeing results, adjust your strategies based on what worked, and learn to like it.
Mike Rowe has it right: never follow your passion, but always bring it with you. Find an opportunity and prosper. Stick with it, and with enough practice and perseverance, things will fall into place for you and you’ll learn to love it.
Where do you fall in the passion versus ability discussion? What do you think matters most for achieving success? Hard work? Inherent skill? Luck? A little bit of everything? Drop me a line and let me know your thoughts. I’d love to discuss with you!