Last night, I stood up in front a room full of young people, all trying to figure out how to live and work their passion.
I had the extreme privilege of meeting people who are passionate about their life, their values, their beliefs and their dreams, and are really trying to figure out a way to make it all work.
For many (including myself), that way to make it work is by charting a new course, paving a new path, or doing something newly different. I saw it again last night – the nearly tangible desire of some to break out of the way things have always been done in order to both do it differently and make sure their 9-to-5 means a heck of a lot more than a paycheck.
Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, and this is a disclaimer I'm always sure to throw out there whenever I talk about the topic. Some of us don't need to set out on our own. For some of us, we can live our passions just fine without having to figure out how to make them profitable.
But, for many young people today, the best way to do that is to start a business, a nonprofit, a church or an organization. And, central in that is the idea of passion.
And so that's why I'm in Wisconsin right now. That's why Allen Dines and I could have talked for hours this morning about the growing movement and interest he's seeing in college students to start their own businesses. That's what has led him to be involved in the Wiscontrepreneur program. And it's something that he knows is not going away.
That's the thing about passion – it's always there with us. For some of us, we wear it on our sleeves and those who know us know that we're about something, whether it's making the best cup of coffee, raising money for breast cancer, or redefining how people experience religious community. For others of us, it's just below the surface, bubbling up every now and then in our random conversations or when we hear a certain song on the radio.
Because when you have a passion, you know it. And there's no way you can't not follow it.
But passion is never all we need. It's the first thing you need during the early stages of start up, but it alone won't get you to the finish line. It may not even get you to step 2. As Robert Greenleaf so eloquently pointed out:
Not much happens without a dream. And for something great to happen, there must be a great dream. Behind every great achievement is a dreamer of great dreams. Much more than a dreamer is required to bring it to reality; but the dream must be there first.
And so the entrepreneur has the rumbling within of a passion and the reality without of a plan. Balancing his or her passion with realism is the best route towards success and sustainability.
Because, as I mentioned last night, passion is wonderful – like when you visit your parents and your mom decides to make pancakes. You sleep in and mosey on downstairs to the smell of maple syrup and frying dough. You take your seat at the table and she drops a half-dozen flapjacks on your plate. You're excited inside, trying to hold it all in while you devour those tasty treats. And, as soon as you finish, you glance at the counter and realize she's made a stack of 30 of those suckers. You do your best to down a few more, but soon enough, you start to hate pancakes and never want to eat anymore.
Passion is like pancakes: you can only take it in the right doses. Six are great, but any more than 10 and you're just sick of 'em.
When you have too much passion that isn't balanced with realism, you either race rapidly to your own demise, or your become a workaholic, perhaps the very thing you were trying to avoid by becoming your own boss. Jeff Cornwall expresses this point so clearly and passionately better than I can.
But after everything is said and done, the passion has to be discovered, named, and pursued. I make some suggestions on how to do that here in what I term not a plan, but a process. We need to consistently process our thoughts and dreams and passions in order to figure out what is the best way to pursue them at any given time.
That rumbling you're feeling right now? Listen to it, and if it's time, follow it.