I recently spoke with a man who started a business for one specific reason: to make money. Now you may say, “Well, of course, that’s why everyone starts businesses.” You are partially right – 99% of people want to make a profit in their businesses. That said, 99% of business books will tell you that starting a business with the mission of making of a profit is a very bad idea. The market can be unpredictable, cash flow even more so, start-up costs spring up unexpectedly (and licenses can be prohibitively expensive), and you simply don’t know if your idea will take off, if folks will like what you offer and become loyal customers. Moreover, running your own business is all-consuming. If you just want steady pay, a job might suit you better. It is better to start a business because you have a passion for something (clothes design, resume writing, organic soap) and you want to pursue it on a daily basis.
Okay, I understand. Pardon me if I beg to differ.
While passion is grand and can inspire one to do grand things – build businesses, seek a cure for cancer, feed the poor, etc. – it can also be fleeting. Ask anyone who has fallen madly, passionately in love and then (just as quickly) fallen out of love and they’ll attest to the transient nature of passion. Passion also has a nasty tendency to dry up in the light of day – i.e., the daylight or desk light where you will be crunching numbers, washing dishes, dealing with upset vendors, or sitting in yet another meeting. Yes, a lot of entrepreneurs accept the drudgery that goes with owning a business, but just as many people are astounded (and exhausted) by all the minutiae that pursuing their passion entails.
How about – instead of passion – we have commitment? Yeah, yeah, yeah, it sounds boring and stifling. Commitment reeks of obligations and duties and signing on the line to do a bunch of piddly-assed chores. Who can garner one iota of enthusiasm for scrubbing toilets or proofreading documents when they could be meeting with like minds and creating a plan to end homelessness or hunger or human trafficking?
Therein lies the rub. Plans are just words on a piece of paper. To implement them requires grubby and greasy ground work. Someone needs to go out and grow crops, build shelters, change adult diapers, raise funds, arrest criminals. A lot of this groundwork is neither inspiring nor glamorous, yet it needs to be done. And for any of it to produce any results, someone needs to commit to all the steps and see the process through.
A friend of mine, a former Army paratrooper who took part in dangerous and exciting missions (some which had long-term political implications), told me that all these endeavors were “Like life – 90% grunt work. A lot of prep and cleanup.” The cool part that made you feel as if you were in Mission Impossible was generally not much more than a few hours or so.
But back to passion. Is it necessary to do a good job? Can you replace passion with a calling to precision and professionalism? If you cannot get excited about what you are doing, can you at least feel a sense of accomplishment at a dirty job done damned good?
And here’s a funny thing about passion. It can pop up at the oddest times in the most ordinary circumstances. I asked the businessman how his business – the ones he started specifically to make a profit – turned out. He told me he sunk everything he had into this venture and promptly lost everything. He lost his house and lived in his car for a while. He met with prospective clients in Starbucks. He held one business meeting in a park. Yet he persevered because – surprise! – he found he actually liked what he was doing. He had not intended it, but he developed a passion for his job. From this passion developed a purpose and now, finally, he sees a profit.
He would have never experienced this passion nor developed this life path without commitment. Commitment was what got him out of bed (his back seat) and kept him seeking customers. Commitment strung him along when passion might have left him high and dry. Since so much of life is mundane, perhaps we should commit to doing our best regardless of our feeling meh about it all. And perhaps we should not be too surprised when the rewards for a job well done is a newfound passion, no?