Side Note: Of Passion and Success

Posted: November 26, 2016 in Side Notes, Uncategorized


Follow your passion and success will follow you

I find these “inspirational” vivications irritating and shallow. At the risk of being pedantic, allow me to explain.

In this case, the words evoke images of everyone loving what they do, and succeeding for it – with the inference of success pointing  to fame and fortune. Certainly, if you look at successful people in the public eye; actors, musicians, athletes, motor sports champions, internet and social media innovators, software developers, wealthy investors, etc…, they all appear to be passionate. Unfortunately, this is a Cause-Effect Fallacy. There actually no direct correlation between success and passion. Not every passion will lead to success, nor is passion a pre-requisite  of success.

Colin Powell captured the real truth of success, with no mention of passion:

Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty, and persistence.

While some will find they must be passionate to commit to this effort, others simply put their heads down to the hard work. Yet, regardless of the investments stated, there is no guarantee of a successful outcome. Conversely, Albert Einstein questioned the pursuit of success itself, when he stated:

Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.

Success, by definition, means attaining a set goal or achievement. For some, fame and fortune is the definition of success. For others, making a modest living doing something they enjoy is success.  Success can also be attained without external reward, simply defined by satisfaction in  learning, growing, or completing a particular task to ones own satisfaction. In this, passion can provide the strength and tenacity to focus and remain engaged.

Passions are not always practical career pursuits. There are many passions that make great hobbies and sideline interests. There are millions of amateur furniture makers, painters, graphic artists, racers, sportsmen, etc.. who have day jobs to make money. While there is no necessary direct connection between pursuit of passions and earning a living, it is possible that following a passion in leisure is a part of a full life, which is success in itself.

If the definition of passion is any endeavor that gives joy, I am passionate about art, problem solving, making gadgetry, and lighting. Founded on this, over many years I’ve invested time and effort to learn how to work the tools, materials, and processes necessary to deliver consistent end results of a quality I feel satisfied with. This has not always been easy, nor enjoyable. I frequently suffer frustration and failure on the path to learning, so passion does not necessarily equate to feeling of happiness. In this, Colin Powell’s definition of success is very real to me. Frankly, most of what I do on a daily basis is not what I am passionate about, yet I succeed in those efforts. They are a means to continue the effort of learning, creating, and building value. Passion is a motivator, not necessarily the fundamental operator.

I frequently find great satisfaction in delivering value to others. This includes volunteering time to teach, or help others succeed, as much as it is doing the best I am capable of for paying customers. To this end, Einstein’s comment points to a fuller life than pursuing passions to attain success. There is certainly a need for balance, as subordinating personal passion interests to purely practical effort leads to dissatisfaction and frustration. To this end, setting time aside to engage in a true passion is a great way to re-energize and maintain a full life.

In this, if I were disposed to emotional oversimplification, I’d restate the original motivational tag line as follows:

Fuel your passions to power a full life


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