‘Passion’ at Work Is Overrated

The first in a series of columns on failing your way to success, from the creator of "Dilbert"

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Successful people like to say their good fortune is due to something called passion. Apparently successful people have loads of passion whereas the bedraggled losers of the world are burdened with a lot of overrated and useless qualities such as talent, brains, ambition, energy and blah, blah, blah. None of that matters, say our business heroes, at least not much. Passion is the key!


I have questions.

For starters, how much passion is enough? If I’m feeling optimistic about my future and I just drank a big mug of coffee, am I passionate yet? How close am I to the dream?

(MORE: The Passion Puzzle at Work)

What if I’m ambitious and I don’t need much sleep. Is that the same as passion? Or do I need to act happy too?

And what if I have too much passion? I don’t want to overshoot the mark. Where is the dividing line between excited optimism and being frickin’ crazy? Those two things live in the same neighborhood, I assume.

If I don’t have enough passion, how can I get more? Is there a class or something?

Do all passionate people succeed? What’s the ratio? If there are 10 passionate people who failed for every passionate person who succeeded, I have to wonder if correlation implies causation.

In private moments with loved ones, do successful people say passion is the key? I have trouble imagining this conversation between spouses:

Spouse: Why have you been so successful, honey?

Successful Person: Passion!

No, I can’t imagine it either.

Passion is bull.

(MORE: Is Success Due to Hard Work and Determination — or Is There a Lot of Luck Involved?)

In my experience, success requires a minimum amount of brains, energy and ambition. You need a plan that makes sense on paper. And you need luck.

Passion is optional.

But if you want to experience passion, you’ll have plenty of it after success. Over the course of my eclectic career, I have felt excited every time I tried a new business venture. As the venture failed — and most did — my excitement drained away. But for the few that worked, success made me feel something that one might call passion. In other words, success causes passion more than passion causes success.

If you’re lucky in your career and success finds you, a reporter might someday put a microphone in your face and ask why you succeeded when others did not. You don’t want to say you were lucky, because that sounds as if anyone could have done what you did. You don’t want to say you’re brilliant, because that sounds arrogant. And you don’t want to say you worked hard, because lots of unsuccessful people work hard too. The reporter is waiting for an answer. So you say the only thing that doesn’t make you sound like a lucky idiot or a total d-bag: “I’m passionate.”

MORE: How to Be Happier at Work