I saw Barbara Corcoran interview fellow Shark Tank costar Robert Herjavec at the 92Y in New York not too long ago, and the topic of passion came up. An audience member wanted to know how important it was to their success. Someone always asks this question.
Herjavec said if you’re going to spend hours all day every day on a thing, you better be passionate about it.
You know what Corcoran said?
“Passion is overrated.” God, I love that woman.
“But Barbara!” said Herjavec. “You built one of arguably the most successful real estate companies in New York! You must have passion to do that!”
In her wry, off-handed way, she said, “I couldn’t give a crap about real estate.” Did this mean she wasn’t passionate about anything? Of course not. What she fell in love with in her career was motivating salespeople, throwing big events and parties, and marketing herself. That was a rollicking good time, she had to admit.
The difference is that she didn’t have to have a passion for, say, real estate - but she found what she loved doing, and fact is, she would have likely found success in any field she tried. But this idea that you have to be passionate about a thing and then find a job to match? Nope.
I happen to agree with her, of course. I gave a TEDx talk called “Stop Searching for Your Passion,” which has earned more than a million views - why? Based on the huge response I have received, I know it’s because people are relieved to be freed from the tyranny of this idea, that you have to or better be passionate about a thing in order to be successful.
Which is exactly why I gave that talk to begin with. Because I struggled for years thinking I was “supposed” to be doing something that I wasn’t, or that if I were truly passionate about a thing, I’d be more successful. When in fact, this fairly new-ish idea, that you have to find your passion first and then a job to match it, isn’t even true for most people. People who, by the way, are quite happy!
In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, Cal Newport does a very thorough take-down of the passion hypothesis.
“There are many complex reasons for workplace satisfaction,” he writes, “but the reductive notion of matching your job to a pre-existing passion is not among them.”
There’s just one bit of research he cites that I want to share, because it blew me away. He discusses the work of Amy Wrzesniewsky, a Yale professor of organizational behavior, who found that the type of work does not necessarily determine how passionate someone feels about it.
She surveyed college administrative assistants (let’s agree - not a thrilling job) to find out what they thought of their work, and what she found was that the most passionate ones were not those who had a passion for, say, administrative work, but those who had been at their jobs long enough to be good at it.
Think about that. The idea here is that it’s not the job, the industry, the subject matter, or even the tasks themselves that predetermine passion. The longer you’re in a role, and the better you get at it, the relationships will become stronger, and the sense of purpose will deepen. Which is good to know, because if you have to be saving the world every single day to be passionate, well, most of us would be doomed to lives of utter boredom. But we’re not.
What concerns me are the people who are raised on this passion stuff, and as a result, hop around anxiously, waiting for a job to deliver purpose and meaning and excitement to them, and keep wondering why they feel lousy. That’s because, in fact, doing that may cut your potential for passion off at the knees - because what happens when you hop around a lot? You prevent yourself from developing mastery or relationships. The very thing you need.
The way I see it, passion lives where your skills and abilities meet the world’s needs, and there are many. When you can discover what problems you love solving, and stay somewhere long enough to get good at solving them, passion blooms. It’s that reward for realizing that what you do matters, and is valued. Work at that, and your cup of passion will runneth over.