THE YCEO: Why Veteran Entrepreneurs Laugh at You for Following Your 'Passion' - YCEO Africa

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THE YCEO: Why Veteran Entrepreneurs Laugh at You for Following Your 'Passion'

Are you passionate about taking out the garbage or unclogging the sink? Because that's what people are willing to pay somebody to do.

A quick search on will turn up hundreds of articles about "passion." Just be careful when you read them.

One article offers tips for “loving your career and working with passion.” Another author lists “nine ways you can profit from your passion.” If that’s not sufficient, you can read about the “simple ways to turn your passion into a paycheck” or get an expert’s thoughts on “why you should let passion drive your success.”

It's all nonsense, of course. Ask any long-time business owner and you’ll hear the same thing: passion is overrated. If everyone "followed their passion" who would take out the garbage?

Sure, we would all like to do things that we love. I'd love to be a professional baseball player or a U.S. Senator. Young children dream of being firefighters, astronauts, Olympic gold medalists and super heroes. But life doesn't work that way. We get older and are faced with the realities of paying for mortgages, braces, food and schools. We realize that there is a tiny, tiny percentage of the seven billion people on this planet who actually get to become baseball players and superheroes. The rest of us will sell insurance, service air conditioners, fix cars, bake pizzas, replace tiles on roofs and take out the garbage. That's the reality.

Naive entrepreneurs think that running a business will be different. They read about all those young, beautiful entrepreneurs featured here and elsewhere who are "doing what they love" and "changing the world." They actually think that this is reality. They make the mistake of quitting their jobs and then tell their friends they are "following their passion" by starting up a company that sells organic products, a dieting app, the perfect coffee shop, the dream bookstore. It sounds great and some of these start-ups even succeed moderately, but most of the time they fail.

You know that new, cute patisserie opened by a local chef in your neighborhood that's selling those amazing pastries? Or that cool coffee shop? You think to yourself: now there's someone who's doing something they're passionate about! Not really.  Because in the back is a sweatshop kitchen grinding out dinner rolls for a dozen commercial restaurants or an online store that’s reselling coffee-makers from Keurig.  This is what’s providing the real money and financing the dream that we all see up front.  Without those very unsexy operations, a “for lease” sign would be replacing those delicious cupcakes in the window.

There's always a back story to the "passion" story. I've found that when you dig deeper, that "passionate" entrepreneur has a bunch of family money in the bank that's propping up her business. Or he's a celebrity. Or has a rich uncle.  Or a bunch of low-paid workers working many hours. Or a supplier from China.

I don't want to throw cold water on your dreams but just having "passion" isn't going to cut it. Even for the start-ups that succeed, their owners soon come to realize that doing something that they're passionate about still requires the same B.S. as any other business: hiring and firing, accounting, financing, selling, responding to complaints, cutting deals with suppliers, writing off bad debt, taking out the garbage. We can't all be superstars and celebrities. Someone has to clean up after the Academy Awards. Hopefully, that person is making money at it too.

So is passion important?

Sure it is, as long as the passion is about doing something that fills a market need and makes you money. Most of my clients aren't "passionate" about what they do. I'm not saying they don't enjoy their jobs, but let's face it: they distribute pipes, manufacture plastics, clean office bathrooms, pick up garbage, hang drywall and make gaskets. The people who work at these companies aren't "passionate" about what they do either. Who can get passionate about processing invoices, answering the phones, driving a forklift or switching out inks from a machine all day unless you’re slightly mental? It's not exactly what they dreamed of when they were kids. But they do all of these things not out of passion but because there's a demand for their products and services. Someone has to take out the garbage.

The smartest business people I know get their passion from earning a living that provides for their families, their employees and their customers. They are passionate about what pays for a nice house, a vacation, a child’s education, a good dinner, a new T.V.  They know that you don't have to be "passionate" about what you do as long as what you’re doing is contributing something that the world needs – and a profit can be made.

Gene Marks • Contributor

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