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Your Passion Threshold

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Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

  • Dr. Howard Thurman

Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.

  • Hegel

Building on the review of the $100 Startup I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to pickup on one point from the book, namely that you must be passionate about what you do if you want to make waves.

Follow Your Passion

A few years ago, I emailed a computer scientist and author I really admire, Brandyn Webb (Simon Funk), and asked him a range of questions about success. His response made a big impact on me, here’s a verbatim quote:

It sounds like you don’t just want to help turn the crank of progress, but rather to make some leaps and bounds, and in order to do that you Must be working in a domain where you naturally excel and which you are fully passionate about (not just in the abstract, but in the day to day, at least somewhat).

Now let’s face facts: There is very little in life that I (and most people) am so passionate about that I would enjoy doing it all-day everyday for years. But when it comes to starting a business, or some other major project (such as a PhD.), it has to come close. This point is what I am calling the passion threshold.

At LLB we are working on a range of business ideas which are above our respective passion thresholds. Before Christmas I had to discard one idea after some serious research and soul-searching, because I realized that deep down, I didn’t care enough about it. Conceptually, it was great, but the everyday grind just didn’t keep me inspired, and my work ethic suffered as a result: It was below my passion threshold.

Those with supreme discipline (or enough capital so that they don’t actually have to do the work) will be able to complete projects and start businesses which are below this threshold. However, this will require a higher level of activation energy for them to get to work (since they do not really enjoy it), and a higher level of effort to continue diligently developing it. This is tiring and inefficient. In short, it is stupid. If you work on projects above your passion threshold, the quality of your work and life will be much improved. I would argue that the majority of office workers are involved in projects below their passion threshold. The trade-off here is security in the form of regular pay.

Make no mistake, your business or project must also overlap with something which others will value. Simply working on something only you love is not enough. However, if you can find the overlapping point in this Venn Diagram, that concept which is both useful and above your passion threshold, then your odds of success improve dramatically. Even more importantly, in the event of failure, you will have learned a great deal about something you care about, and your life will be enriched as a result.