“Passion rebuilds the world for the youth. It makes all things alive and significant.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’m a fan of passion. It’s the juice that makes the world go round. Passion helps us do extraordinary things.
But it also fools us.
It’s all too easy to associate passion as the key to success, when passion also leads to failure.
While it’s true “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” passion can blind us, bias us, and push us to take bad risks.
In the book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, Scott Adams shares his insight that the secret of success is not passion, and how passion can distort our view of success.
Passion is the Humble Answer for Success
Passion is an easy answer for success that retains some humility.
“But successful passionate people are writing books and answering interview questions and their secrets for success every day. Naturally those successful people want you to believe that success is a product of their awesomeness, but they also want to retain some humility. You can’t be humble and say, ‘I succeed because I am far smarter than the average person.’ But you can say your passion was a key to your success because everyone can be passionate about something or other.”
Passion is the People’s Talent
Anyone can be passionate. By linking success to passion, it makes success more accessible to all.
“Passion sounds more accessible. If you’re dumb, there’s not much you can do about it, but passion is something we think anyone can generate in the right circumstances. Passion feels every democratic. It is the people’s talent, available to all.”
We’re Passionate About the Things that Work Out
When things work out we like them. And that kindles our passion.
“It’s easy to be passionate about things that are working out, and that distorts our impression of the importance of passion. I’ve been involved in several dozen business ventures over the course of my life, and each one made me excited at the start. You might even call it passion. The ones that didn’t work out — and that would be more of them — slowly drained my passion as they failed. The few that worked became more exciting as they succeeded.”
Success Caused Passion
The pattern is that while we associate passion to our success, it may actually be that success causes our passion.
“In hindsight, it looks as if the projects I was most passionate about were also the ones that worked. But objectively, my passion level moved with my success. Success caused passion more than passion caused success.”
Passion Can Be a Marker for Talent
We like the things we’re good at or can be good at.
“Passion can also be a simple marker for talent. We humans tend to enjoy doing things we are good at, while not enjoying things we suck at. We’re also fairly good at predicting what we might be good at before we try. I was passionate about tennis the first day I picked up a racket, and I’ve played all my life.”
The Secret of Success
It’s more than passion. It’s smarts, drive, our ability to take risks, and a dash of luck.
“If you ask a billionaire the secret of his success, he might say it is passion, because that sounds like a sexy answer that is suitably humble. But after a few drinks, I think he’d say his success was a combination of desire, luck, hard work, determination, brains, and appetite for risk.”
While passion is a part of the formula, don’t confuse it for the secret ingredient.
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Image by Gavin Schaefer.