Most of us are told to start up a business doing what we're passionate about.
There's just one problem. We don't know what we are passionate about in the first place. How are we supposed to find something we know nothing about? Let's explore the concept of passion and how to stop looking for it, and get it to find you, instead.
Imagine a person who can sniff a perfume and instantly identify the brand
That person is my wife, Renuka. She can quickly work her way through as many as 150 fine fragrances. Fine fragrances are perfumes made in the classical style, by companies such as Chanel, Givenchy, Estee Lauder, Calvin Klein, etc. If you asked her if she's passionate about perfumes, her answer is clearly, yes. She worked in the perfumery industry for well over ten years, spending as much as half an hour to an hour each day, just tuning her nose to the subtleties of every perfume.
Would that count as passion? It should, shouldn't it?
All your life, you're told to follow your passion. To dig deep and find that one thing that makes you ecstatic. Somehow, you're supposed to know almost at the point of leaving school, what you're going to be good at, and to go after that passion. And Renuka didn't fit that bill at all. The only reason she took on the job at the fragrance company was because she was sick and tired of travelling and wanted a marketing job that involved little or no travel.
So how much of a newbie was she at the job?
In Mumbai, India, wearing flowers in your hair is a common trait among women. Whole market spaces are designed just to sell flowers. And two of the most popular flowers worn in women's hair are “mogra” and “jasmine”. When put to the test, Renuka couldn't identify their fragrance. It came as a complete surprise to her when she discovered that soap contained perfume. In short, this was a really miserable start to any kind of passion-hunt.
Success feeds passion, more than passion feeds success
Those are the words of Scott Adams, author and creator of the highly successful cartoon strip, “Dilbert”. And he's right, you know. Passion is a slightly ridiculous word because very few of us know what we're going to be passionate about, and especially so early in life.
If you speak to my nieces, who are 8 and 13, they seem to have a range of things they love. One loves dancing and music to the point where she'll stop chattering and start singing along to the music. Another loves animals and is really fond of the idea of the romantic version of being a vet until she has to do all the un-romantic bits as well.
And that's because success feeds passion. I remember going to Fotosoft, a computer training school to learn Photoshop.
Photoshop itself was barely five or six years old having first been released in February 1990. However, I was keen to learn Photoshop. I went to the class, learned what I could and then promptly forgot most of it. To say I was passionate about it, was an incredibly silly statement to make.
Not many years later I needed Photoshop almost all the time. Instead of using the archaic system of creating a sketch, taking photocopies by the dozen and colouring each photocopy, I was able to do a single illustration, scan it in, and colour madly on the screen itself. Then along came the Wacom tablet, and I bought the ArtZ II. I was soon head over heels with Photoshop—a passion that has remained strong for almost 21 years.
Most people don't get hit by a passion bolt of lightning
Instead they fumble, stumble and grumble their way into a whole new world. Along the way, they suddenly run into a whole new world, and they start an exploration process. They look to solve either a problem that has loomed large in their own life or they set out to help someone else. Or like Renuka, they get a highly unusual assignment and then go through the process of falling in love with the skill.
Take someone like Michael Phelps, for instance. Surely he was born to be a swimming champion, right? Nonsense. Phelps hated water as a kid. But he had a problem at school. He had trouble concentrating and was constantly fidgety. When his paediatrician diagnosed him with ADHD, he was expected to take the drug, Ritalin.
To burn off all of that excess energy that Phelps seemed to have, he was told to “swim it off.”
Except for the fact that he hated water
“It's wild to kind of think about how far we've come,” he said in an interview with ESPN. “From my mom putting me in the water safety — I hated the water. I didn't want anything to do with it. I learned on my back.” Now with 23 Olympic medals to his name, we'd all be forgiven for believing that he was born with a passion for water.
Even once he more than made his mark in swimming, his so-called passion flickered wildly. In the run-up to the 2012 Olympics, he routinely skipped practice for days on end. He got into intense arguments with his coach, Bob Bowman. Bowman told Dateline that he wished Phelps would have quit right at that point: “I didn't want him to go through this and I thought it was going to end badly,”.
If you pick successful people at random, you're sure to hit those who knew they were going to make it big
Some people, it seems, were either groomed, or got really good at a skill, and they went on to huge success over time. That's more the exception than the rule. Akio Morita, the founder of Sony first started out making rice cookers that were flops.
The inventor of the pacemaker, Wilson Greatbatch, had no interest in getting the heart to function well. Instead, he spent his days as a young man, absorbed in radio technology. Thomas Knoll, one of the Knoll brothers that invented Photoshop, was a doctoral candidate in computer vision, with no desire to create one of the world's most loved photo retouching tool.
So where do you go to find your passion?
When you hear how Renuka got into the perfumery business, it might seem like a lucky break. The reality is that she sold discount debit cards, to begin with, then timeshares with a company called Dalmia Resorts. Her lucky break was like any other lucky breaks. It wasn't lucky at all.
It was just a matter of getting involved with a project for long enough and finding you're hopeless at it at first, but are willing to stick it out for the duration. Most people start out in one field, get into another, and another and the passion grows, and even wanes over time. One thing is clear: you're not going to find your passion anytime soon.
You'll just have to do what almost everyone before you has done
You'll have to start solving a problem for yourself or someone else. Just writing on a blog or creating a website might be baby steps, but it's probably not going to solve the primary goal of business. A business tends to figure out what a client needs and then create the solution for that problem. To address the problems of the clients, you'll often to get moving past the computer screen.
To get a business going, start those cooking classes, make those guitar videos, teach someone how to do the stuff you know. For starters, all you're doing is going down the road to find success. And success is simply being able to do something decently well. So well, that you're almost starting to enjoy it.
I had no idea I'd like marketing. I was positive I hated writing.
I didn't speak very well, cook or dance very well. I started out with a passion for drawing, and that I still do to this day, but not as a profession. Instead my passion hovers around marketing, writing, and yes, I love to dance, cook and I'm a really good speaker.
Forget looking for your passion
Learn something well. Solve a problem. Your passion will find you, instead.
But don't you need to know something well before you solve someone else's problem?
Does your neighbour know how to mow a lawn better than you? I'd say if you walk across, you will find the answer. Whether they do a better job or not, it barely matters.
At some point, that neighbour is likely to pay you for the job if you offer to mow their lawn. Most businesses don't start solving some amazing problem. Most businesses are remarkably mundane in their approach. You need to get a package across, let's invent a business like FedEx. You want to learn how to get rid of the cracks on your feet, let's make a crate called Heel Balm. You want to go to Mars? Well, that's an amazing problem, but most of the time, you're not trying to rewrite history.
Take for instance the book “5-Minute iPhone Magic”
That's a book, and yes we sell it on our website. How many pages do you think that book contains? It promises a 5-minute makeover, so it can't have many pages, can it? But wait, surely I must be a great photographer to write a book on photography, right? Even as you hear those words, you know it ‘s not true.
I'm an excellent cartoonist. My writing skills are way above average, and photography is something I do on the side. Unlike any of the books you see on Amazon, this book isn't promising you'll learn about any technical stuff. In fact, what makes it so very palatable is that it takes the 50 odd features that exist in the software and gets rid of 47. When you have only three things to learn, you are on your way to taking some wonderful, if not excellent pictures with your iPhone.
The most mundane job will get you started as an entrepreneur
Which is why so many successful people talk about those mundane jobs. They delivered papers, they worked as waiters, they brushed down a dozen horses—jobs like that. And while they were lucky enough to get their mundane job earlier in life, every job, every business has an overwhelming amount of mundane moments.
The reason why most of us don't start is because we think we have to be outstanding, or at least superior in some way.
No one is saying you have to be mediocre, but when you start out, by golly, you're going to be average at best. And there's this funny story to tell at this point because it involves photography. A few months ago, my cousin came over to visit from Dubai. For some reason, the discussion about my sister's wedding came up. And since I've been such a keen photographer/videographer, I'd taken pictures and video of their wedding.
It wasn't easy to find the DVD of the recording, but I was persistent. It only took 30 seconds of video for me to realise I was terrible back then. My video flipped aimlessly from side to side. The photos were devoid of composition, story and didn't resemble anything close to what I can achieve now. Would someone hire me back then as well? The answer is yes. Even when I was turning out what I now consider terrible cartoons, abominable logos and probably ugh articles, someone was willing to pay for it, because it solved their problem.
The reality is you'll never know something well enough for yourself
Or to put it another way, what you think is horrifying, is pretty good for someone else. The reason why successful people get that way is because they are either ignorant how bad they were (I was that way for sure) or they expect to get better as time marches on. If you wait to get better, the wait extends interminably. You'll never really get off the ground. And that passion, your passion, will go find someone else more deserving.
Harsh words? Sure, but that's how passion comes into being
Instead passion starts at the bottom of the heap being really crappy. Renuka didn't know about perfumes. Even you probably know that soaps have perfume. Even I, who have zero interest in fragrances, could identify a “mogra” and “jasmine” flower fragrance. Renuka's start wasn't at the intersection of knowing something well and solving someone's problem. There was nothing. Then there was a little bit. Then there was more. Then she was offered a job as a perfumer.
You don't get asked to be a perfumer unless you have knowledge of chemicals
She knew nothing about it. She didn't take the job because life veered off in another direction. But one thing we know for sure. She'd start at crappy, no-knowledge and work her way up. It took her six months to get to a point where she was ready to rock and roll from not knowing anything to being pretty confident. It might take you three months, or nine.
However, if you wait for that intersection; that intersection of knowing something well and solving someone's problem. Well, that's a long wait. A wait that will last forever.
So, stop looking for your passion. Knowing something well and solving someone's problem is more commonplace than you believe.