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Richard St. John: The Power of Passion (Full Transcript)

Richard St. John

Watch, listen and read the full transcript of success expert Richard St. John’s presentation: The Power of Passion at TED conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The power of passion by Richard St. John at TED conference


Richard St. John – Marketer, success analyst

The eight traits successful people have in common.

Number one: passion.

Successful people love what they do. When I asked Russell Crowe what led to his Academy Award for Best Actor, he said, “The bottom line is I love the actual job of acting. I have a great passion for it.” Successful people in all fields love what they do, whether it’s astrophysicist Jaymie Matthews, author J.K. Rowling or athlete Michael Phelps.

And not just big names, Margaret MacMillan, a history professor, says, “I spent my life doing what I loved.”

Carlos, a bus driver I sit with at Starbucks, says, “I love what I do. I’ve only missed three days in four years.”

And believe it or not, even successful dentists love what they do. Izzy Novak says, “I love dentistry. I can’t imagine being anything else.”

But what about business? Many of you are in business, and we tend to think that business is more about cold numbers than hot passion, more about logic than love, so what surprised me was how often successful business people actually use the words “passion” or “love” when they talk about their work.

When Jack Welch was CEO of General Electric, he was asked if he liked his job. He said, “No, I don’t like this job. I love this job.”

We can have passion for a profession. Kathleen Lane, chief strategist at WorkCard, says, “I’ve found a profession I love.” She also says, “Stress isn’t working 15 hours at a job you like, stress is working 15 minutes at a job you dislike.”

We can have a passion for people. Nez Hallett III, CEO of Smart Wireless, says, “I used to be in sales. Now I’m a CEO. I just love being around people.”

We can have passion for a product. James Dyson, the vacuum cleaner guy, says, “I love vacuum cleaners, and I will love them until the day I die.” Yup, when he dies, they’re just going to cremate him and suck up those ashes with a Dyson vacuum, and place it on the shelf.

We can have passion for a particular field. Anita Roddick, the great founder of The Body Shop, once said, “I love retailing. I love buying and selling and making connections.” She also said, “I don’t like systems, financial sheets or plans.” Yes, no matter how much we love what we do, there’s always going to be stuff we don’t love. The trick is to make sure the stuff you don’t love only takes up 20% of your time, and the stuff you do love takes up 80%. If it’s the other way around, we’re in the wrong job.

Passion is sometimes mistaken for ambition. People call Donald Trump ambitious, but he says, “I’m not ambitious. I just love what I do. And if you love what you do, you do a lot of stuff. And then people say, ‘Oh, you’re ambitious.'”

The cool thing about passion is it turns underachievers into superachievers. I have a long list of famous underachievers — like Albert Einstein — who people said would go nowhere when they were young.

For instance, who said this, besides me? “I was sitting in my room being a depressed guy, trying to figure out what I was doing with my life.” Turns out it was Bill Gates. Bill was such an underachiever, his parents actually sent him to counseling. Yeah, I can just hear the neighbors back then saying, “Jeez, that Gates kid. What a loser. He’s never going to go anywhere.” And he didn’t, until he discovered his passion for software.

The big problem is finding your passion. Sure, there’s the kid that knows they want to be an accountant or an architect or an astronaut from the time they’re 10, but I found a much bigger group of successful people who, when they were young, and even when they were older, didn’t have a clue what their passion was, and it took them a long time to find it or to fall into it.

Dawn Lepore, Chief Information Officer at Charles Schwab, said to me, “I fell into what I do, and I didn’t know I loved it until I fell into it.” And I hear that a lot.

So how do people find their passion? Well they just get out there and try a lot of stuff and explore many paths. Robert Munsch explored many paths. He said to me, “I studied to be a priest and that turned out to be a disaster. I tried working on a farm. They didn’t like me. I worked on a boat. It sank. I tried a lot of things that didn’t work, but I kept trying and then I tried something that did work.” And I’d say it worked; as a children’s author, he’s sold over 40 million books.

Yes, finding a job we love is like finding a person we love. Sometimes we’ve just got to go on a lot of really bad dates before we find the right one.

Now, I read a survey of 18- to 25-year-olds, and 81% said their first or second life goal was to get rich. And I thought, boy, they’ve got it all wrong. Because I’ve interviewed many millionaires and billionaires, and guess how many of them said their life goal was to get rich? Zero! They didn’t do it for money, they did it for love. They went for the zing, not the ka-ching ka-ching.

When Bill Gates and Paul Allen started Microsoft, they didn’t do it for the money. Bill says, “Paul and I never thought we’d make much money. We just loved writing software.” And with that attitude, he became the richest man in the world.

J.K. Rowling didn’t write Harry Potter books for the money. She said, “I love writing these books. I just wanted to make enough money to continue to write.” And with that attitude, she became a billionaire.

I became a millionaire by following my heart, not my wallet, and a number of times I walked away from great-paying jobs to do poor-paying jobs I loved better. Once was when I had a great job, traveling the world, making a lot of money, but I wasn’t doing the one thing I loved at the time, which was photography. So I said, I think I’ll leave and start my own little photo company. My heart said, ‘Yeah! Go for it’. My wallet, and all my friends, I might add, said, ‘Are you crazy? You can’t walk away from all the money! You’ll starve’. I didn’t listen to them. I walked away, and yeah, at first there wasn’t much money, but it didn’t matter, because I was having fun doing what I loved. And eventually, the money came, and much more than if I’d stayed in my old job.

So I learned it’s true, what they say: If you do what you love, the money comes anyway. So I’d say if you really want to get rich, put money at the bottom of your goals list and passion at the top. And why does it work that way? Because if you love what you do, you automatically do the other seven things that lead to success and wealth. You will work hard, you will push yourself, you will persist.

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