One of my favorite columns is a piece by Dilbert creator Scott Adams. He wrote a piece in The Wall Street Journal few years ago about how he failed his way to success and one of his jobs was as a commercial loan officer. And he was taught specifically: do not loan money to someone following their passion. Now loan it to someone who wants to start a business, the more boring the better.
Adam says that in his life success fueled passion more than passion fueled success. When I got my first job as a magazine editor in publishing, I was thrilled. But I had to take a pretty big paycut because at the time I’d been a catalog copywriter at a Wig Company. Laugh if you will, clearly you are and many many people did. But Wigs paid and so I had to figure out a way to make some money. So a friend of mine invited me to a jewelry party and I said what is a jewelry party? She said it’s like tupperware but with bracelets. I said, okay, got it.
I went and I had the best time. I was there hanging out trying on jewelry and the salesperson’s having a great time and I was like, that’s a job. I could do that. I mean really she seems to be having a great time. Now I had no background in sales — Girl Scouts, and I was terrible and I had no passion for jewelry. I mean honestly my earrings cost $20 combined all of them and then I was like I think I can fling silver jewelry to suburban moms drinking daiquiris. Yes, I could do that.
And so I did it, I signed up, I became a jewelry designs rep and listen to me I was not setting the world on fire away, really. I was so like awkward and afraid of selling, and I got better, I got better. I started making some money. I started getting really passionate about it, not just because of the money but because what I realized is people bought at the stuff. They were happy to pay for it. I sold so much jewelry that year. I won a free trip to St. Thomas. I eventually let my jewelry business go because my career path shifted, but I was so glad that I did that because it planted an entrepreneurial seed I didn’t know was there and that bears fruit to this day.
Now as you know, an entire cottage industry has sprung up around helping people find their passions, write books, coaching, webinars, whatever and their heart is in the right place, it’s great. I’m all about self-discovery. But when you ask someone what’s your passion, it’s triggering. It’s like upsetting, like oh my god, I have to come up with a good answer for this.
One of my friends is in her mid-forties and she’s looking at like what’s her life going to be now. And she’s like I don’t know what I’m passionate about. And she is legitimately concerned about this. She’s ready to hire a team of people, it’s like why are we worried about this, you know why, because you think something’s wrong with her. I felt something was wrong with me when I was in the seventh grade and everyone was really in this like the rock bands and their actors and they would carve the names of those bands in the tables at the library. And I never carve anything because I couldn’t think of anything to carve. I mean I liked Bon Jovi as much as the next girl but not enough to deface school property. That’s probably why I don’t have any other — I don’t have any tattoos either, I’m assuming that’s boring. It’s really boring, I thought something was wrong with me but that’s the fear, isn’t it, that when someone asks you at a party, on a date, at a job interview, what are you passionate about, that you’re not going to have this wow compelling answer, and that that means you’re not interesting or ambitious or that you don’t have a singular obsession or scary talent that you are hiding, and that your life is not worth living and that’s not true.
Passion is not a job, a sport or a hobby. It is the full force of your attention and energy that you give to whatever is right in front of you. And if you’re so busy looking for this passion, you could miss opportunities that change your life. You could also miss out on great love because that’s what happens when you have tunnel vision trying to find the one. We all think we know the kind of person we are and the kind of person we could love. But sometimes we’re wrong, blissfully wrong.
And sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to do next, right? I mean I don’t, I love not knowing what I’m going to be doing five years from now or what I’ll be into. And that’s okay, it’s okay not to know. You know why, because the most fulfilling relationships, the most fulfilling careers are those that still have the power to surprise you. And as for the things you know you want to do, you want to write a book, you want to start a business, you want to change careers, great. But if you’re sitting around waiting for passion to show up and take you there, you’re going to be waiting a long time. So don’t wait, instead spend your time and attention solving your favorite problems. Look for problems that need solving. Be useful, generous. People will thank you and hug you and pay you for it and that’s where passion is, where your energy and effort meet someone else’s need. That’s when you realize passion lives and realizing what you have to contribute. What do you think when you ask what they are passionate about, they say helping other people.