Passion is Overrated. What You Really Need Is Discipline

by . January 26th, 2016

The importance of passion is one of the most persistent lies ever told.

In business conferences and college campuses throughout the world, the unwitting are made to believe that “one must follow their passion”, or that “passion is all you need to succeed”.

Sounds great doesn’t it?

Well sorry, it isn’t really all that. At all. Anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or lives in an insulated fantasy world.

First, the cult of passion is extremely insulting to those who don’t have the luck to be born or raised with as many opportunities as others. There’s an implication that if one doesn’t work in a field they’re passionate about, they’re losers. This makes the vast majority of us “losers”, even when our jobs are critical for everything we enjoy.

“…the cult of passion is extremely insulting to those who don’t have the luck to be born or raised with as many opportunities as others.”

For every CEO, there’re at least a few hired hands biding time, punching in for a paycheck. For every Steve Jobs pursuing their passion, there’re thousands of factory workers in China making that possible. Maybe employees are passionate about their work, maybe they aren’t. But they can’t all be, and their work isn’t necessarily less important if they aren’t.

Second and most importantly, passion alone will never get you lasting success. It’s a lousy, oversold quality loved by so-called business gurus whose audiences would rather hear something nice than face the difficult truths about succeeding at anything.

Take New Year’s resolutions. If you made one this year, you’ve probably given up on your New Year’s resolutions by now. You wouldn’t be the only one. Statistically only 8% of Americans who report having made resolutions succeed in them.

“Surely you can’t generalize entreps — people who put their necks out on the line for an idea — as lacking in passion. Yet they still fail pretty often.

It’s reasonable to assume that most of the serious resolutions anyone makes are related to things they are passionate about. If passion alone is enough to succeed, then why the high failure rates? Is it because they weren’t passionate enough?

That might be occasionally true, but also consider the high failure rates associated with starting a business. According to statistics published by the Small Business Administration, about half of all employer establishments survive at least five years and a third survive ten years or more. That’s a pretty big failure rate. Surely you can’t generalize entreps — people who put their necks out on the line for an idea — as lacking in passion. Yet they still fail pretty often.

Passion is great to have and can give you that extra drive you need to be on top. But passion alone will never be sustainable.

What most people who won’t shut up about passion actually need is to examine what they could get through discipline. 

Discipline is how good habits are formed, and these will always be crucial to earning success. It provides stability and direction where passion cannot. It builds foundations and also helps you create your own luck.

“Passion as an ideal sells because we all desperately need validation.”

Of course, no one want to sell the idea of discipline because to be honest the way it’s sold kind of sucks. Most of us focus on the negative aspects of discipline — the punishment, the long hours, the drudgery that comes with doing things you’re not “passionate” about. If we focus on the positive aspects and the necessity of it, it’s entirely possible that being disciplined can become its own habit.

Passion on the other hand, is an easy sell simply because it’s an emotional response to something that excites you. It’s not sold because it helps you succeed. Passion as an ideal sells because we all desperately need validation.

You need passion to get started and to succeed, but it’s rarely (if at all) sustainable by itself. Like any other emotional response, passions rise and fall. You can’t always expect to feel the same way about something 100% of the time.

In any case, relying on passion wouldn’t be good for you. Healthy people are not ruled by emotions. Feelings have to be filtered though your conscience and your reason. Lots of bad folks have passions that could hurt others. Do they get to do what they want free of reason, morality, and judgement too?

Besides, you can’t be passionate about everything. There are a ton of things that go into any single business venture. Can you be passionate about all of them? Can you be passionate about your product as much as you are passionate about payroll, HR, accounting, cold calls, sales, marketing, and everything else that goes into your business?

If passion is the only way you could get things done, sorry to break it to you — you’re going to run out of wind pretty quickly.

Lasting success in any field is entirely dependent on discipline. Your passion might get you through one project, or you might get lucky — but only discipline can get you through the long haul.

It won’t be easy either, but it’s going to be worth it. Be sure to slowly work your way up and to not bite off more than you can chew. Create an atmosphere that helps you develop the discipline you need.

Let’s finally put the idea of passion being the end-all quality for creatives and leaders in the dirt once and for all. Passion is clearly not enough to get you through. Might be necessary for getting started, but no one cares about how you start. Everyone else wants what you are able to deliver. Discipline is how you make sure you always do.

Tell Art why he’s wrong in the comments below!


Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.