In 1997 Steve Jobs said that “people with passion can change the world”. 14 years  later, after the brand had become one of the most iconic and innovative companies of all time, Steve reinforced his point in a commencement speech to Stanford University: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”
Are you passionate about your life?

We’ve seen it all before: a Hollywood starlet stepping on stage to receive an Oscar, a young entrepreneur with a billion dollar company, a sporting legend after a winning the grand final.

Follow your dreams. Follow your passion. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.

How sound is that advice?

I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t follow your passions. Passion can be great tool to stay motivated and persevere through the tough times. We do our best work when we’re passionate and it’s passion that can set fire to our life. However,  there are problems to consider with blindly following this advice.

There’s a huge mismatch between the job market and peoples passions:

A 2003 study of college students found that 84% of them had passions, 90% of which were in sports, music or arts (http://99u.com/articles/51623/the-many-many-problems-with-follow-your-passion). The issue is that these jobs make up just 3% of all jobs. Quite obviously there is a huge mismatch between passions and the job market.

This effect can be easily observed by looking at the graduates trying to enter the workforce and the shortages of skilled labour facing the economy.

Britain, which boasts the second best education system in Europe, churned out 350,000 university graduates in 2015. Almost half of these graduates went into jobs that did not require a degree. Despite this, one of the UKs largest job market search engines found that there was only one job-seeker for every two jobs, and the total number of vacancies is on the rise. The same sentiment is echoed worldwide. Could this be a symptom of people following their passions instead of opportunity?

Of course, if you’re both passionate and entrepreneurial then you might not be interested in the job market. If you can carve out your own slice of the market then you can potentially make a living irrespective of the number of job vacancies. One thing to consider though, the same mismatch issue exists in the world of start-ups. Studies show that up to 75% of start-ups fail. How many of these people were trying to follow their passions in the form of a business, without considering the market?

Passions or Opportunity, a different way of thinking.

How do we live a passionate life that motivates, engages and satisfies us if there is such a big gap between what we want to do and what the economy wants from us? If making money is an issue, then the real question and focus of our energy needs to be: how can we best align our passions with the opportunities provided by the economy? Some of the most successful individuals in the world exploited opportunities instead of passions. Some were above to exploit both. Steve jobs wasn’t passionate about computers, but he was passionate about building tools to help people unlock their creativity.

The truth is that we need to look at our passions in the context of opportunity.

Sometimes we needlessly constrain the notion of what passion is, narrowing our possibilities significantly. For example, what if you think you’re passionate about a particular sport. Let’s say it’s Soccer. If you want to make a living playing soccer then you’d better have the right combination of raw talent, genes, luck and whatever else it takes to make it. There isn’t enough professional soccer playing positions to cater to everyone who wants them. Passion is simply not enough. But why is soccer your passion? If it’s because you simply want to be rich and famous, I would suggest that maybe you’re not particularly passionate about it at all. However, perhaps you love working with a team of athletes? Maybe you love exercise and conditioning? Could it be the crowd and event atmosphere that gets you going? Have a long think and I would encourage you to write a list of everything you’re passionate about. If you’re struggling to think about what your passion might be, think about the things you love engaging with or spend a lot of free time doing. For each of these ideas, analyse what exactly it is about them that gets you excited.

Once you’ve done the above, have a look at the reasons you’ve written down and consider if these are really the things you’re passionate about. Maybe you’ve been defining your passions too narrowly all along. The next step is to research opportunities in the job market if you’re a job seeker, research the market if you’re an entrepreneur. Try and look for opportunities that you can match to the things you love doing. The classifieds for soccer players are quite short; however the opportunities for people who want to be athletic are much higher. So are the ones that involve working in a team, or coaching players to be their best.

When we are able to more broadly define our passions, there is a greater chance for us to be able to seize an opportunity that allows us to live a life driven by passion. Don’t think that broadening your passions needs to mean compromising on a dream. As mentioned before, some of the most successful (and now, passionate) people in the world found out how to exploit opportunities rather than following any particular passion.

Don’t give up on your passions, but recognise that there is often a mismatch between passions and available opportunities. Life is full of opportunities and if you don’t seize them, someone else will.

What if I don’t have a passion?

There is a dangerous school of thought that suggests if you don’t know what your passion is, you should keep trying new things until something ‘clicks’. But what if it never does? We can spend our time lightly brushing over many things without really finding anything that scratches the itch. Is this the right way to go about passion? There is little academic research on whether passions can be developed, but it Is certainly a very likely possibility.

Several successful entrepreneurs were never passionate when they started, but became passionate about their business later on. Is this because the passion they held was discovered? Perhaps it was instead developed through the positive feedback loop of being rewarded for performing well.

You might believe that you don’t have a passion, but you would almost certainly have an interest. There is a view of passion being mastery-centric that makes a lot of sense. The theory is that everyone has a number of interests, but it’s not until we achieve a level of mastery in these interests that we develop a passion. This is all to do with the positive feedback loop we establish when we get good at something.

For example, you might hate exercising when you start. If you stick to it, you’ll find that you get fitter, stronger and more healthy. Once you’ve been doing it for long enough you’ll start to feel more confident and enjoy being fit. It might even end up being one your biggest passions. But did you stumble across this passion? Or rather, did you develop the passion through the establishment of positive feedback in the form of feeling great, being complemented and looking good.

Starting your own business might be stressful, tiresome and full of activities that you don’t actually like doing. Once sales start picking up however and your business grows, you are far more likely to be excited and passionate about your business. Is this because you were passionate about your what you were doing? It’s a definite possibility. Or did you develop a passion for your business after it started growing? The answer will be different for everybody.

Consider your interests when you’re exploring opportunities. Consider that if they’re developed, they might just become a passion.