Understanding What Steve Jobs Meant by Passion

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Someone recently resurfaced a 2007 video of Steve Jobs answering a question about whether entrepreneurs need passion. Here’s the clip: h/t BizNews.com.

And Jobs is right. Passion is necessary to overcome ups and downs and to eventually attain what you’re trying to achieve. That’s true in business, the arts, hobbies, raising a family, or even keeping an immaculate and robustly green lawn. You don’t get anything without passion.

What I’ve found over the years, however, is that many people, maybe even most, don’t understand what passion means. To them it’s the rush of feeling and excitement that drives them to do something. That’s a limited definition and one that will run dry before you get to where you want to go. You’ll give up because you won’t be able to keep going on.

Passion can be hot, but it is also calm, determined, patient, and committed. It is many things because it is a complex phenomenon.

Passion is beyond emotion

Passion is more than emotion because feelings are transient things. There is only so long most people can sustain extreme feelings, like the immediate magnetic attraction toward someone of romantic interest, or brooding anger. You might think the feeling keeps going on, but more likely it comes in and out, eventually subsiding. To maintain one feeling for the years it might take to achieve a goal is a bewildering thought. The person who managed it would have to force the feeling so often that he or she would eventually be too tired to do anything else.

Passion is faith

The 20th-century theologian Paul Tillich called faith the ultimate concern, whatever the object of faith might be. That would be a good working definition for passion. No matter what happens, you continue to center on the object of your faith, which for an entrepreneur is the business at hand. It’s beyond an interest in making money. Passion for a business extends interest to the products and services, the experience of the customer, refining operations so they become a thing of aesthetic beauty, like proof of a theorem for a mathematician. The concern encompasses the whole of the person, because otherwise, by definition, it’s only a concern for part of you, and so you will become distracted.

Passion is action

To be passionate is to act on the object of your passion so you can become closer to it. That requires action that has meaning. If you’re talking far more than doing, like the people who are always happy to mention plans for a new company that never seem to get far because they’re always waiting for the right conditions or investment, you haven’t found something that attracts true passion for you. And if your actions become so much activity for show–busy work, really–then you’re still not working from passion.

Passion does not guarantee success

This is probably the hardest part for entrepreneurs to hear. Many focus on positive thinking and optimism, telling themselves that if they just believe enough, things will work out in their favor.

No, they won’t necessarily. In fact, chances are good that you’ll never see the lofty dreams become reality, and it’s not because you aren’t wishing hard enough. It’s because you’re bucking the odds and long-shot gambles fail more often than not. That’s when real passion kicks in, because you dust yourself off and start again.

Passion can come from doing

Actors focus heavily on the physical realities of a role–the way their characters dress, move, and speak, the actions they take. That’s because you can’t force your subconscious, emotions, and other subtle parts of yourself to do what you want. You have to coax them.

You can coax out passion as well, starting with something that interests you. Work at it every day. Put efforts out to achieve what you want. If you do that in a sustained way–not crazy immersion, but daily efforts–you may find that passion comes along and your goal becomes part of your life. You keep at it during the high points and the low and can’t be dissuaded from continuing. There’s more passion in putting one foot in front of the other than in all the rhapsodic declarations the world has ever seen.

First published at inc.com.

Image – depositphotos

Erik Sherman

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch. He is also a journalist, photographer, author. CBS MoneyWatch, Inc, AOL Jobs, Forbes.

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