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Should we all follow our passions in our professions? (EPISODE 1 of the mini-series “FROM SCRATCH TO A BUSINESS YOU WILL LOVE”)

There are thousands of books, videos, TED talks and blogs about why you should follow your passion or life purpose in your profession and how you can actually do it. A couple of excellent examples are Steve Jobs’s talk at Stanford Commencement and Scott Dinsmore’s TED talk “How to find work you love” (Scott Dinsmore was the founder of the worldwide community “Live your Legend”). More recently, some articles and talks explain why you shouldn’t follow your passion and what to do instead. Titles like “To find work you love, don’t follow your passions” (TED talk by Benjamin Todd), and “Why follow your passion is essential (but terrible) advice” (a blog post by Corbett Barr) are some examples.

This is a bit confusing, so I want to give my two cents in this discussion. I am convinced that, if you don’t feel professionally fulfilled and in peace with yourself, finding your “calling” and following it is the only meaningful thing to do (unless there are more pressing needs that prevent you from realizing yourself professionally). I am saying “if”. Many people are perfectly fine having a job that they don’t love, but that gives them the peace of mind, the money and the time to do something they love when they are not working. Some other people feel completely satisfied taking care of their families and houses. If you are one of these people, I think you are lucky. You don’t experience the sense of frustration and the anxiety given by the feeling that your time on this planet is limited and you are wasting precious time doing something different from what you are meant to be doing. You are in peace with yourself and you don’t need to do anything different.

Therefore, my first message is: “Follow your passion is not a message for everyone. If you feel satisfied and in peace with yourself with an “ok job”, which allows you to cultivate your passions and interests in your free time, the best thing you can do is to continue on the same path”.

Nevertheless, many other people feel a sense of frustration and anxiety at some point in their life. Sometimes they feel it when they are young, for example after graduating, when they have to decide which direction to take. Other people are confronted with this feeling later on, after pursuing a career for 10-20 years. At some point, they look back and discover that they don’t know what they are doing with their life. Adam Leipzig, in his TED talk, mentioned that 80% of his former college mates at Yale were unhappy and felt that they were wasting their lives…. and we are talking about privileged people, who had top careers and were earning a lot of money.

If this is true, why are some people discouraging us from following our passions? One of the main reasons, mentioned by Benjamin Todd and Mark Schaefer in his book “Known”, is that starting a business or pursuing a career based on a passion is in most cases not sustainable: a business requires that we can find enough people, who are interested in what we offer and are willing to pay for it. For example, Schaefer writes that his passion is to walk in the woods, but he cannot see how his passion could translate into a business. Todd brings the example of playing hockey. If all hockey-fanatics decided to build a profession around this sport, the market would not be big enough for all of them.

This point is valuable, but there are two important considerations. First, a passion is different from a hobby, although in some rare cases they can coincide. A hobby is something you like doing, such as walking in the woods. You can have many different hobbies and these hobbies can change over the course of your life. A passion is something deeper than a hobby, something that you consider so special to you that you want to dedicate most of your time and energies doing it. If you are not sure whether your hobby is a real passion, it is a sign that it’s probably not a passion. Out of 100 boys, who love hockey, I guess that the great majority consider it a hobby, while only a small percentage are so mad about it that they feel that hockey is their “calling”. In most cases, a hobby is just a hobby and you should not try to make it your profession for two main reasons. First, it probably wouldn’t make you feel happy and fulfilled in the long run. Second, if most people decided to build a profession around their hobby, the offer of goods and services related to that hobby would probably outweigh the demand, and most of these people would fail.

The second consideration is that, if you recognize that your hobby is a true passion, you shouldn’t dismiss your dreams too soon in the name of a “sustainable business”. If you look carefully, you may find out that your passion can become a sustainable business. I would like to give you the example of my brother. His name is Daniele and he’s one of the most intelligent, funny and stubborn people I have ever met. Since he was 10, he has loved volleyball. He went to university and graduated in computer sciences and economics, but his priority has always been playing volleyball. He was good at it, but when he turned 25, it was clear that he would never make it to the first league. Hence, after graduating, he was supposed to look for a job. He started developing a profession as a sales person in energy saving technologies, but his passion for volley was too strong. After a couple of years, he started teaching beach volley for less than half of the money he was making before, then he opened his own school and started organizing great beach volley events with hundreds of participants. He now has a successful business.

Let’s analyze Daniele’s story more in depth. He was definitely a lucky guy, as he had a clear passion and no pressing financial needs. Thanks to his stubborn personality, he also had the determination and the courage to follow his dreams, but he didn’t just merely follow his dreams. He analyzed the market first. He was living in a region where beach volley is very popular, so a market for beach volley existed. Nevertheless, there were already a couple of big beach volley schools, so he had no guarantee that he could gain a market share. In his shoes, many people would have given up at that point, because of the risks involved, to look for a less risky and more “sustainable” business opportunity. Daniele didn’t give up yet: he was convinced he could attract people, who wanted more than just having fun and were willing to pay more for a physically intensive and professional training. Moreover, he had learnt many valuable lessons on marketing and sales during his previous working experience. So, he took the risk. Over the years, his personality, determination, professionalism, great ideas and the relationships he built made him successful. Not only did he earn a market share that was previously absorbed by other schools, he also created enthusiasm in people, who had never played beach volley before. His passion was so contagious that he made the demand bigger.

Based on this and other similar experiences, here is my second message: “If you are lucky enough to have a clear and undeniable passion, don’t dismiss it too soon to look for a “more sustainable” job or business, even when the market for your passion is already busy. Carefully consider whether you could do a better job than your competitors, or whether you could tap into a new market niche”.

Let’s now leave these lucky people alone. Most people are not that lucky, they don’t have a clear passion. For many years, I felt there was something wrong with me, because, in contrast with my brother, I wasn’t passionate about anything. This is the second reason why some people like Corbett Barr critic the “follow your passion” mantra. They say: What if you don’t have a passion? What if you have more than a passion? What if you have a passion, but you aren’t sure about it? Should you waste years and years waiting for “the passion” to appear?

If you don’t have an undeniable passion, I am convinced that you can find your calling anyway. It will take some time and effort, but you are very likely to find it. I had to look for my calling twice thus far. The first time, I was 22 and I was about to graduate. It took me 2 years to decide what to do: I run away from finance and embraced environmental economics. The second time I was 38 and my career in the environmental field was stuck. Hence, I started looking for another “calling” and I found it after three years, when I founded Our Swiss Business. Despite the difficult journey, the wait was worth it. If I had just started doing “something”, sooner or later, frustration and anxiety would have come back and knocked at my door.

This is my third and final message: “Investigating your calling doesn’t mean that you have to sit there and wait. You have to be proactive and take the necessary steps to find what you are looking for”.

Since I didn’t have any guidance, in both cases it took me a long time to understand what I was supposed to do with my professional life. With some guidance, I assume the process would have been shorter. Hence, based on my experience, I will give you my recipe on how to find your calling in my next blog (Episode 2 of this mini-series). If your problem is that you have more than one passion, you can devote some time to analyzing these passions and deciding which one to pursue. Again, there are ways to do that, and I will explain you one method in Episode 4.

This being said, you need to be aware that following your calling will not necessarily lead you to creating a successful business. If you don’t want to fail within a couple of years after starting your business, there are at least four important steps you need to take:

  1. Identify your passion or your calling (Episode 2)
  2. Come up with some business ideas based on your passion or calling. I will explain you a fun way to do that in Episode 3.
  3. Evaluate the business potential of your idea, and eventually choose among different ideas. This is the topic of Episode 4.
  4. Make a plan on how to go from your idea to your business and implement it, because it’s not advisable to rely on destiny or stars when your time and money are at stake. This final step is a bit more complicated to be dealt with a blog post and it’s the topic of my online course.

Now you know what you need to do if you decide to follow your passion or calling in your professional career. Nevertheless, there is one more thing that can stop you from realizing your professional dreams: your fears. Based on a survey I did last year in Switzerland, there are six main reasons that are stopping people from starting their dream business. I prepared a checklist to help you overcome these obstacles, so that nothing will stop you. You can request your free copy here. By requesting your free copy, you will also make sure to receive updates when a new episode is released… isn’t it nice?

Thanks for reading!

Gretel

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