Is Passion A Prerequisite For Success?

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Shark Tank star and real estate queen Barbara Corcoran recently interviewed Robert Herjavec about his new book, You Don’t Have to Be a Shark, at the 92Y in New York City. It was a charming, light conversation, two sharks swimming around playfully, having been recently fed and not out for the kill tonight.

The audience asked a question successful people always seem to be asked:

“How critical is passion to success?”

Robert’s answer wasn’t groundbreaking. To paraphrase, he said, “It’s important because you better have passion if you’re going to spend hours a day on a thing.”

Barbara, however, disagreed. “Passion is overrated,” she said.

“But how can you say that?” Robert asked. “You, who built the largest, arguably the most successful real estate company in New York! You have to have passion to do that, right?”

Barbara, in her wry, flip way, responded: “I couldn't give a crap about real estate.”

And with one cool wave of her hand, Barbara Corcoran dismissed the myth of passion—and my girl crush intensified.

What she fell in love with, she said, was salespeople. Creating amazing events. Searching for, finding, and cultivating great talent. And marketing—herself. Finding ways to do that, and pasting her mug all over the media. Now that was fun.

Watch just 10 minutes of any Shark Tank episode, and you’ll hear at least one of the business owners say, “I’m just so passionate about this (insert weird product here).” Great. Does that mean Barbara or Robert or Mark Cuban will sink hundreds of thousands into your idea? Nope. Being passionate is not enough.

“What about all the passionate people who lost their shirts?” Barbara asked. “They were passionate, but no one else was, and that was a problem.”

I love this fight. I love it so much I gave a TEDx talk called "Stop Searching for Your Passion.”

Why is this idea taking off? Because everyone’s sick of the same old advice. “Follow your passion” is not helpful for the person who isn’t sure what to do next. And it’s dangerously limiting. Sure, it sounds good—Oprah-good. But the fact is, for every one person who is “living their passion every single day,” dozens more are scratching their heads and hating themselves because their “passion” hasn’t zipped by and picked them up yet.

(And I’m not the only one who thinks this. See also: Cal Newport, Seth Godin, Ramit Sethi, Elizabeth Gilbert, Dilbert creator Scott Adams, and Barbara Corcoran.)

This line of thinking can result in endless bouts of self-loathing and pointless navel-gazing, not to mention greater job dissatisfaction. You begin scrutinizing your job in terms of whether or not it’s letting you “live your passion,” which is a pretty tall order.

Now, am I passionate about what I do? You bet. But I see passion differently; I see it as what I bring to the table. It’s the full force of your personality and energy, whatever and wherever that table might be—and what you use and do to solve your favorite problems. And when you enjoy solving problems, you never want for work.

What will infuse your life with passion is not drawing the “right” card but using what you’ve got to solve the problems you encounter, the ones you happen to like solving—be that creating beautiful design or making order out of chaos.

When you realize that other people need what you have and are desperate for and willing to pay for it, you’ll be blown away. Indispensable. And more passionate than you can imagine.

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