Why Following Your Passion Is The Best Path To Success

Follow your passion. I’m sure you’ve heard the advice before. It’s advice I strongly believe, but advice I also think gets misunderstood at times. I’ll talk about it specifically in the context of starting and running a business, but I think the idea of following your passions works across your entire life.

These thoughts came to mind due to an article I came across recently. The article, Do Like Steve Jobs Did: Don’t Follow Your Passion, suggests you shouldn’t follow your passion and ,despite his famous Stanford speech, neither did Steve Jobs. I think the article makes some, shall we say, less than brilliant assumptions.

I’ll come back to this article at the end of the post. First let me give a quick overview of why I think following your passion in business is important.

  • Starting and running a business is difficult
  • Being passionate about your business will motivate you to keep trying
  • Your passions can and will change over time and so can your business
graph of business survival rates

The Challenge of Starting a Business

Some prefer not to believe it, but starting and running a business is hard work. Labor statistics (PDF) generally make 2 things clear about new businesses.

  • The failure rate for businesses is high in the first few years
  • The failure rate for businesses decreases each year the business survives

In other words, the more years your business has been running the more likely it will still be running the following next year.

The passion I feel for what I do enabled me to get past the early years

Business fail for any number of reasons. Products and/or services aren’t good enough or aren’t priced right. There isn’t a large enough market for them or the strategy of the business isn’t executed well. We don’t always want to think about it, but there are a lot of things to get right in order to succeed.

None of us are born knowing how to do all those things. We all have a lot to learn and much of that learning will come from trying and failing. No one enjoys failing, but it’s a necessary ingredient in success.

The challenge for those just starting out is in the beginning you’ll probably fail more often than you succeed. Off the top of my head some of the things you need to know to start a freelance business (in addition to the specifics of your industry) include:

  • how to develop a business model
  • how to market your product/service and your brand
  • how to manage time, projects, client/customer expectations
  • How to set prices and negotiate with clients
  • how to handle accounting and taxes
  • how to accept payments
  • how to network with people who can help you grow
  • how to get people to visit your site

I could go on, but hopefully the point’s been made. There’s a lot to do and much of what needs to be done, doesn’t have a single answer or recipe to follow.

When I first opened the door of this business I had no idea where my first client would come from let alone the second or third. As clients started knocking on the door there weren’t a lot of them, certainly a lot less than were needed to pay the rent and put food on the table. I often wondered if I’d still be in business a month or two down the road or be forced to find a job helping someone else grow their business.

The easy path would have been to find a job and start collecting a paycheck again. The harder path was to continue to struggle while I figured out how to better market my services and find clients willing to pay me enough to live.

That’s where passion comes in.

It's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care
It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care

Passion Motivates You to Continue

It might seem stupid. Why throw myself into debt for something that didn’t appear to be working? Why continue to fail? Why spend so much time trying to learn things that weren’t paying the bills?

Because I knew it was the right thing for me to do. I feel a passion for designing and developing websites and for being my own boss. The passion I feel for what I do enabled me to get past the early years when the smart advice would have been to go back to working for someone else.

When you feel passion for what you do, you’re more likely to:

  • Keep trying
  • Ride out bad times
  • Pay attention and learn
  • Put in the time to get better
  • Discover potential opportunities
  • Convince others you can do the work
  • Understand where you industry is going
  • Figure out what you can contribute that others can’t

When you’re following your passion you do these things because you want to. You do them regardless of whether or not you’re getting paid to do them. I knew I should build websites, because I used to come home after a long day of work and spend my nights learning how and then writing the code to build websites.

A huge part of success in business (and life) is perseverance. If at first you don’t succeed try again and that which does not kills us makes us stronger and so many other words of advice you hear and never give a second thought to.

You succeed by failing and learning and trying again. Few get it right the first time. You follow your passion, because without passion you’ll likely quit long before success is in front of you.

Prickly Passion Saison
Prickly Passion Saison: Ale brewed with fruit juice

What is Your passion?

The article I mentioned above misses on a few points. It’s premise is that Steve Jobs wasn’t passionate about technology as a teenager, but was rather a meditating Buddhist, zen loving, hippie. Aside from ignoring much in the biography of Steve Jobs it misunderstands how passion works.

You might be one of the lucky ones who knew at an early age exactly what you wanted to do. You might have discovered your passion early. Not everyone does. Most of us have likes and dislikes young, but that doesn’t mean we feel passionate about those things.

Who you are and what you feel passionate about aren’t locked in at 15 or 25 or even 65. What you feel passionate about can be an ever changing thing through the entire journey of your life. Your passion can change and you can change with it.

When I look back at my younger self I can see things I was interested in that fit what I do now. From interests in art and writing to wondering about the marketing leading to commercials and the decisions behind the making of every day things I can see connections in designing websites now.

I’d be lying if I said I was passionate about those things then and I’d be lying if I said I was passionate about design until shortly after I started designing.

It took me years to figure it all out. I moved toward the things I liked and away from the things I didn’t, sometimes to my own detriment. I followed my passion even without knowing what my passion was. I continue to do that today. In 10 years time I might feel passionate about something I’m unaware of today.

Passion is like that. When you feel it you tend to follow where it takes you. Sometimes it takes you to places you didn’t think you wanted to go or knew existed. When you get there your passion leads you to explore. It keeps you excited about where you are, what’s next, and what comes after that.

Whether or not I make the most money or become the most well known designer or run the most successful business is irrelevant. I’ve already won, because I wake up every day looking forward to what the day will bring. I’ve won because I spend my days doing something I enjoy and continue to enjoy each and every new morning. That’s what passion gives you.


Following your passion doesn’t mean you’ll automatically build a thriving business with clients and customers beating a path to your door. It doesn’t mean your life will be perfect with no care in the world. It doesn’t guarantee success.

What it does is help pull you through all those days where nothing seems to go your way and giving up seems like the best course. It helps you ride out the times when business isn’t going well and money is tight. It’s a guide letting you know you’re on the right path even when the evidence suggests otherwise.

Passion makes you realize than even if today isn’t the greatest, tomorrow will probably be pretty good. It helps you stick it out long enough so you can learn enough from failures to build for success. Your passion keeps you moving forward day after day, which as much as anything is what success is all about.

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  1. Thanks Steven. A great, timely article for me. The Summary is inspiring and a solace – because taking your own heart-path can be not just a hard road but a lonely one too. Cheers.

    • Thanks Wayne. I hear you. If you go too far down your own path you might never see anyone else there. It can be lonely depending on where your path takes you.

      The good thing is I think few of us veer so far off the main path to never encounter others and those who do veer far off for a time, often come back with some interesting finds.

  2. Following passion is good advice. Ofcourse you have to know what your passion is and how to apply that passion to what you are doing. The reason people fail when following passion is becuase they ussually love things that they can not convert into a viable profitable business. When I was a kid my mother said playing with computer codes was a waste of my time – but it is proven to be for some very lucrative. My mother also told me playing video games was a waste of my time, but I read in time magazine a few years back of a yougn man who made $400,000 dollars a years playing video games. Again i say – following his passion worked out for him. It’s all about understanding and use. You love money so do you teach economics or invest in stocks? That is the trick with passion and making it work for you.

    • True you do need to figure out what you’re passionate about and true too that different things have different potentials for income.

      I think that as long as enough people are passionate about the same thing you are, you can make money with it. You might have to get more creative with some things than others, but you can make money doing most anything. Whether it’s enough for you is another story.

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