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Trade Your Passion for Discipline

“Work is finding yourself alone at the track when the weather kept everyone else indoors.  Work is pushing through the pain and crappy first drafts and prototypes.  It is ignoring whatever plaudits others are getting, and more importantly, ignoring whatever plaudits you may be getting.  Because there is work to be done.  Work doesn’t want to be good.  It is made so, despite the headwind.” -Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy

The other night, I ended up reconnecting with an old friend. We ended up walking the streets of downtown Boise, chatting about all sorts of ideas and complexities about life. One of the things that came up was the idea of a passion–and that my friend wasn’t sure of which direction to go in his life. I assured him that passion was not the answer. In fact, passion is weak, and he should trade his passion for discipline.


I’ll start this post off with a disclaimer: you need to like what you do. You need to have a base level of satisfaction where you work, or where you earn your keep. Maybe the work isn’t sexy, but it allows you to live the lifestyle that you want. That’s fine. It’s okay to not be completely fired up about your job all the time. In fact, it’s human.

You see, we live in this era of inspirational influencers who say, “Go follow your passion. Achieve your dreams.” Motivational speakers say this as if we all know what our passions are.

There’s this divide that’s created where we feel like a different breed than these successful speakers. We think that because we’re the type of people who aren’t excited about something all the time, there must be something wrong with us.

In fact, the opposite is true.

Why “follow your passion” is bad advice

When someone tells you to follow your passion, they don’t know what else to tell you.

There are certain people who have this burning desire to wake up and do the same thing they’ve wanted to do since they were three years old.

But that’s not everyone. That’s actually almost no one.

When these “born passionate” people reverse engineer their success to give advice tofor others people, they don’t realize that other people are not like them. They just say what they know, not what is effective for most of the population.

Where passion fails

Passion will only get you so far because you will hit a wall where, in order to continue, you need to do something that is un-fun. Starting something like a business or a creative career is a blast–working every day in the trenches, isn’t.

Passion, by the definition of the gurus, says that you wake up every morning saying, “I love what I do. I am so excited all the time for it, and could not imagine doing anything else.”

But in reality, this passion can disappear in an instant.

If you stayed up too late, your passion can disappear the next morning. If you don’t have your daily Red Bull or 3 cups of coffee, your passion is gone. If you’re hungry, if you’re sick, if you’re hurting, your passion will vanish.

Our motivation is even more tied with our emotional state than our physical one. Getting out of a long relationship can cause your drive to go out the window. Your motivation might decline because your personal relationships aren’t in place. Losing a job, a loved one, or experiencing any other type of tough transition can sap the energy and will out of you.

So what happens if you do have that loss in your life? Do you just stop what you’re doing because you’re not passionate, because you’re not enjoying yourself or feeling fired up? Do you call time-out on life just because things aren’t going your way?

No, you get to work.

Believing in the grind

The truth is, motivation isn’t enough to drive us to success. Instead, we need discipline for when passion fails us–because passion will fail us, no matter what.

In Stephen Pressfield’s book, The War of Art, the author recounts a story where Somerset Maugham–the famous British novelist–gave a public lecture. Afterwards, Maugham was asked by an attendee, “Do you only write with inspiration?”  

To this, Maugham replied: “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

Maugham sat down and wrote whether the words flowed or not. At 9AM, his ass was in the seat, and he was working on his craft.

This is what you need to do. If you have goals or are following creative pursuits, you need to create the discipline in order to wake up and work on what you need to work on. No matter how tiresome, troublesome, or unsexy it may be, you need to get to work. It doesn’t matter if you’re hungry, tired, or unhappy–if you want something, you have to work for it.

You might think that you have producer’s block, or writer’s block, or designer’s block, or entrepreneur’s block. But in reality, the solution to this is not to ignore your craft, but to sit down and do the work.

Now go out, and create that discipline for yourself. Get up. Go do the work. Start by creating a time every day that you can sit down and work on what you do. Block out the hours, clear your schedule, and get down to it. Use habits and routines to compensate for passion. Trade your passion for discipline, and watch the results grow.


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