That passion which leads a person to start a business, that thing you would do regardless of monetary compensation (and I realize that for some, money itself—or the pursuit of it—is that passion), that thing that makes your heart beat fast is the work you should be doing. Maybe it’s helping someone else grow his business. Maybe it’s parenting your children. Maybe it’s volunteer work outside of your “day job” but in any case, that work you do which fulfills you and gives—rather than depletes—energy is the ultimate goal. Yes, goal. It’s the “continuing” that matters, not what you accomplish “one day” but what you do every single day. Do you need intermittent goals, milestones, and—for lack of a better term, work breakdown structures—to focus your energy and provide that sense of completion which is so gratifying and stress-reducing? Absolutely. But the true value of work is in its continuity. One of the greatest human fears is the fear of dying (fear of falling is also very high and can sometimes lead to dying, but I digress). The opposite of dying is continuing. Therefore, continuing to be productive is one of the most healthy things you can do for yourself. Successful people will tell you that the key to winning is simply to persist. It is the same for productivity; arguably, to be productive is to win.What is it to be productive? I’m using the term to mean persistent accomplishment that is both self-sustaining—providing all those benefits I mentioned earlier—as well as adding value to the world. Some people add value on a macroscale—think Galileo, Marie Curie, Steve Jobs. Some add value on a microscale—think your mom, your first-grade teacher, your first sergeant in the Army, or your girlfriend. I don’t mean micro in a diminutive sense. Even the seemingly personal value is the proverbial stone dropped into a pond and the ripples become larger and larger, the reach greater than ever imagined. Think Steve Jobs’ mom, for example.
There are those entrepreneurs who follow their passion—just as artists and inventors do. These business visionaries are also subject to failure to the same degree artists and inventors are. Actually, to the same degree we all are. The difference between artists, inventors, entrepreneurs and the rest of us is that their risks are more public—they reach for glory in full sight, often with a lot of press/Tweets/fanfare. Their successes are heralded, sometimes to the extent that they never attain a follow-up accomplishment on the same scale (see Elizabeth Gilbert’s TEDTalk on this topic). But so are their failures very public. And although everyone knows when a business shuts down, everyone may not know that an artist or inventor has an endeavor fail; but fading away might be more painful to the artist or inventor than going down in flames.
What is it, then, about risk, about public risk, that makes it tolerable? For some it would seem inconceivable. Yet even those who say they would be perfectly happy to live in anonymity, even they have reached for something and risked. The lesson seems to be that doing something is to risk, at whatever level, and doing nothing is to stagnate. The book Change or Die has become a staple in corporate change management circles. The book is often given by one person to another in cases of intervention, in an effort to help someone pull herself out of a pool of stagnation.
You don’t have to be brilliant, wealthy, high-profile, or well-connected to follow your passion. Everyone should do it. If your energy goes up when you go to work, you’re in the right place. If your energy goes down on the way to work, you are wasting your time, which means you are wasting your life. Time is the only real resource. You can always make more money, but you can never make more time. You don’t have to suffer a massive or public failure to wind up in a pool of stagnation. I’m reminded of the parable of the frogs: the ones thrown into a boiling pot of water jumped out immediately; the ones put into cool water that was slowly heated up over time boiled to death.
Pay attention to your passion. Work is where we spend the majority of our time. Work is what defines our lifestyle. It is critical to align your work with your passion…even if your passion changes. It takes courage to change, especially as we age and become secure in many aspects of our lives. But pay attention to the temperature of the pot you are sitting in—if you can change, you won’t die (metaphorically speaking), and what you risk is living in the full blaze of your passion. Isn’t your dream life worth that chance?