Passions Are For Amateurs. Goals Are For Losers.

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Uh oh. By the title alone we better buckle up and make sure our seat backs and tray table are in the upright and locked position.

Sometimes I read things that are so good I want to punch myself in the face. This articletriggered one of those times. Why the metaphoric self-mutilation when I like things so much? Not sure. This perplexity also tends to happen when I eat really good food. “FOSO-GIMMA.” FOod SO Good It Makes Me Angry. I know I’m not alone on this!

Anyhow, where was I? Oh right. That article.

“For most people, it’s easy to be passionate about things that are working out, and that distorts our impression of the importance of passion. I’ve been involved in several dozen business ventures over the course of my life, and each one made me excited at the start. You might even call it passion. The few that worked became more exciting as they succeeded. But the ones that didn’t work out—and that would be most of them—slowly drained my passion as they failed.”

I didn’t say that. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert did.

And he goes on to say something which would make Cal Newport (author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You) smile, “Success caused passion more than passion caused success.”

Most people chase passions like they were chasing one specific firefly into the forest because it’s the particular one they want to catch. But they soon realize that they aren’t wearing shoes, they left their jacket at home and now they’re getting hungry.

The other bunch can’t seem to figure out which firefly to focus on.“Ooo look a light! …Hey where did it go? There’s a different one! Get it!”

Combined, this passion pursuit is turning us into the land of the fleed and home of the bored.

So Success Is…

Success in business has less to do with what your passion is, and more about whether or not your mental machete can hack through the bog when:

  • no one is looking
  • things aren’t going your way
  • the deck is stacked against you, and
  • it isn’t any fun anymore

I know what you’re thinking, “Bassam, wouldn’t I have to be passionate about something in order to stick with it in the first place?”

Not necessarily. Because when short-circuiting nerves and uninvited insomnia make you want to run for the hills, passions won’t keep you moving forward, systems will.

What the hell is a system? (They’re processes. I’ve talked about them before.)

But back to Scott Adams…

Something Funny Happened On The Way To Your Goals

“I met the CEO of a company that made screws. He said that every time he got a new job, he immediately started looking for a better one. For him, job seeking was not something one did when necessary. It was a continuing process. [Because] chances are that the best job for you won’t become available at precisely the time you declare yourself ready. I believe the way he explained it is that your job is not your job; your job is to find a better job. The system was to continually look for better options.”

In a similar vein, Ramit Sethi said, “It doesn’t matter what you want to do, it matters what’s available to you.”

But Scott Adams wasn’t done politely uprooting popular opinion quite yet:

“To put it bluntly, goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary.

If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize that you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of your success until they bore you, or to set new goals and re-enter the cycle of permanent presuccess failure.”

Don’t sugarcoat it, Scott. Tell us how you really feel!

I can’t imagine that Scott is saying that we shouldn’t set out to accomplish anything, because he had to have accomplishments when he was creating his Dilbert comic, otherwise nothing would have been created. And sure, we can call those accomplishments “goals.” But lets not get snarled in a web of semantics here.

I think what Scott is saying is that if you don’t know the purpose of your pursuit (Is it drinking lemon juice and cayenne pepper forever, or is it incorporating a healthy lifestyle?….Is it this exact company you’re building or is it what you hope building a company will mean for you?) then we run the risk of finding ourselves on the goal yo-yo too often.

A lot of goals suck because they’re too far fetched, they’re based solely on how we think we might feel one day, and they’re heavily influenced by what other people will think. For the mathematicians out there, that’s like “Disaster cubed”.

Dilbert was at the back-end of a bunch of other failed businesses Scott tried to build, all of which were pursued with the intent of allowing him to create a highly replicable business that wouldn’t force him to be a glorified freelancer. What he’s saying is that if it wasn’t Dilbert that ended up bringing him passion, it would have been the next thing or the thing after that.

Our career/business pursuits should be about removing the blinders from our head and then putting said head on a swivel as we continue to inch forward, always aware of new opportunities that come into play.

“The most useful thing you can do is stay in the game. If your current get-rich project fails, take what you learned and try something else. Keep repeating until something lucky happens. The universe has plenty of luck to go around; you just need to keep your hand raised until it’s your turn. It helps to see failure as a road and not a wall.”

It’s not about reaching a goal (the result) you’re passionate about, it’s about staying committed to a repeatable process (the system). Both take a lot of work and both have their setbacks. It’s just that setbacks are defined differently in each case, and this is the major point of his.

I highly recommend reading Scott Adams’ full post because there is a cache of insight in it. But make sure an ice pack is close by if you too are the kind of person who might want to punch yourself in the face upon reading wisdom so good you can’t ignore it.

I understand that Team Passion might also be setting a short-term goal of punching mein the face for writing this, and that’s fine too. I only worry that the let down after reaching your goal might be reason enough to not chase it at all. (*cheeky wink*)

What systems do you have in place to combat goal-chasing fatigue or the exhaustion of pursuing a passion? Share in the comments below.