Why I Refuse to Follow my Passion

startup passion

Following your passion might not always be the answer

Many CEO’s and entrepreneurs say that the route to success comes from following your passion. Samuel Fry explains why this may not always be possible.

At university I was one of those students that started things. I started theatre festivals, websites and student newspapers. I loved the idea of creating something from scratch and growing it into a something that people cherished.

Naturally, I found myself drawn to entrepreneur societies. Not because I saw myself as an entrepreneur; that word felt tainted with the idea of big business. In my mind an entrepreneur was someone that had a small idea, they worked hard on it and it made them billions. I certainly did not see myself as an entrepreneur and I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to be one either.

I went to entrepreneur societies for two reasons.

Firstly, I wanted to see if I could get some funding to make my ideas happen. Some people would deny that this was why they went to entrepreneur societies but, in my experience at least, that seemed to be one of the main draws.

Secondly, I wanted to meet cool people. People that were creating new businesses and making their ideas real.

Listening to Entrepreneurs

One of the main benefits of being part of a university’s entrepreneur society is that you get to hear from some really inspirational people. People who have founded their own businesses or have risen to Chief Executive level.

Throughout the time that I watched them give talks, there was one phrase that seemed to come up time and time again. The phrase was “Follow Your Passion“.

F0llow Your Passion

The first time that I heard this phrase I felt encouraged. Yes, I thought, I should follow my passion. I should only work on the thing that I love the most. If I do, I am likely to be more dedicated to it and more knowledgeable on the subject. It was reassuring.

Yet, over time I felt less encouraged. I became frustrated. It seemed to me that if you have a passion that you can make money from, then that’s fantastic. But what if you don’t have a passion like that? Then what do you do?

Ninety percent of my friends at the entrepreneur society seemed to have the same problem. They really liked the idea of creating something new, or being an “entrepreneur”, but their ideas for businesses rarely came out of a passion. Their ideas were either fun but impossible to monetise or ideas that sounded good but that they didn’t care too much about – even if they said they did during their elevator pitches.

Why Not Follow Your Curiosity?

A couple of years ago I listened to a podcast and I heard someone echo my feelings. The podcast was the TED Radio Hour and the episode was called “Where Does Creativity Come From?”. It featured Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love.

In the podcast the presenter, Guy Raz, asks her about creativity. In her response she begins talking about people being told to “follow their passion”. Gilbert explains that this is one of the most “intimidating” and “cruel” things to say to people. In her words:

“If somebody has one central, powerful, burning passion, they’re probably already following it because that’s sort of the definition of passion – is that you don’t have a choice. If you don’t – which is a lot of people, have one central, burning, passion and somebody tells you to follow your passion, I think you have the right to give them the finger (laughter) because it just makes you feel worse.”

This was exactly how I felt. Of course, if you have a passion you will follow it whether it makes you money or not. In reality, if it does make you money that’s wonderful as most people’s passions cost them money.

Instead, Gilbert suggests that if you do not have a passion then you should follow your curiosity:

“Curiosity is something that anybody can access any day. Your curiosity may lead you to your passion or may it not. It may have been for, air quotes, nothing, in which case all you’ve done your entire life is spend your existence in pursuit of the things that made you feel curious and inspired and that should be good enough. Like, if you get to do that, that’s a wonderful way to spend your time here.”

So, ever since listening to that podcast I have done just that. I am not following my passion as, quite frankly, I do not have a passion. I have many passions. Instead, I follow my curiosity.


sam fry creative arts technology

Samuel Fry

Director, Create Hub

Samuel is a Business Consultant at IBM, working in their Interactive Experience team. He is also currently the Director of Create Hub. Samuel has a history of working with creative, innovative and entrepreneurial companies such as the creative-business incubator Cockpit Arts, in the Creative Economy team at Nesta, with entrepreneur network Virgin Media Pioneers and as the Enterprise Consultant at University of Bristol. All thoughts shared on this site are his own.

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