Why “Follow Your Passion” is Flawed Advice – and What to Do Instead

Last month we asked you “what is the most tired or cliched advice online?

One phrase came up over and over again: “follow your passion.”

People are tired of hearing “follow your passion.” You’ve heard it. You know you should to do what you love.

The real question is: now what? How can you follow your passion AND earn a living? How can you know if your “passion” is worth following? How can you know if it will make a good business or career idea?

What if you want to don’t want to risk ruining your passion by turning it into a business in the first place?

The “follow your passion” model is more complicated than it first appears.

Introducing The “Convergence” Model

Chris Guillebeau from the Art of Nonconformity presents a much better model for turning a passion into a business in his new $100 Startup book.

He calls his model “convergence,” and this is how he describes it:

The easiest way to understand convergence is: the overlapping space between what you care about and what other people are willing to spend money on. Not everything that you are passionate about or skilled in is interesting to the rest of the world—and not everything is marketable.

I can be very passionate about eating pizza, but no one is going to pay me to do it. Likewise, any particular person won’t be able to provide a solution to every problem or be interesting to everyone. But in the overlap between the two circles, where passion or skill meets usefulness, a microbusiness built on freedom and value can thrive.

To understand how this works, I invited Chris to talk about his “convergence” principle and more in this special video session:

(click here if you don’t see the video above)

In this special Think Traffic video, you’ll also learn:

  • Chris’s expanded “passion” formula for building a successful microbusiness
  • What separates a “normal” idea from one that takes off like wildfire
  • Which ridiculously simple ingredient most businesses lack, and how you can add it to start earning revenue quickly

Chris has had to follow his own advice as he built the very successful Unconventional Guides business over the past few years.

As Chris mentions in the video, he was a passionate video game player, but nobody came along and offered to pay him to play Halo all day :) Instead, he’s smartly developed products around other passions like Travel Hacking and Empire Building.

What to Do Next

Did you watch the video? If not, it’s only 17 minutes long, and this is one of the best interviews I’ve ever seen with Chris (and I’m not just saying that because I’m involved).

After you watch the video, tell me in the comments below what you learned from the video, and if you agree with Chris’s convergence model (or what you’d change about it).

And if you’d like to learn more about Chris Guillebeau’s formula for building a successful microbusiness, check out his new book The $100 Startup, which is getting RAVE reviews on Amazon.

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  • http://newclientseachmonth.com Kate

    Thanks for sharing the interview Corbett! I just read this book over the weekend and it’s AWESOME! 100% content and success stories that will give you a roadmap.

  • http://www.how-to-get-listings.com duncan

    good interview. I’m currently trying to get my friend to start her vegan transitional coaching program. I’m going to share this with her. She needs to hear it. he said something really cool, “you’ve got to work somewhere”….so, why not work for yourself…thanks for sharing….d

    • Corbett Barr

      Exactly! You’ve got to work somewhere.

  • http://www.uncommoncaribbean.com/ Patrick Bennett

    This is actually a great point and our site is the perfect example of it.

    We created Uncommon Caribbean because we’re passionate about travel within our home region of the West Indies. We love the many unique aspects of culture from island to the island including the cuisine, rums, music, sports and activities…

    But we can’t write about the completely unexpected all the time. People simply don’t want it 24/7.

    That content must be tempered by the more expected gorgeous beach shots, and the very, very occasional Bob Marley post for a little fan service when appropriate.

    It’s the happy medium where passion and profit overlap.

  • http://www.amindalive.com Grace

    Hey Corbett, I read Chris’s book not too long ago. Alot of great takeaways especially the one about convergence!

    I don’t think I will ever get tired of hearing the phrase “follow your passion” as someone who was miserable owning businesses which I had no passion for.

    You just need to make sure your passion is something that adds quality to other people’s lives. It’s impossible to create a successful business if it (your passion) only serves yourself or a select few.

    I see the formula like this:
    Your passion + # people served = level of succe$$ :)

  • http://www.graduandoninja.com Alexandre

    I’ve found something very similar to the convergence model in another website, some time ago, and since them is in my wall: http://stopdoingnothing.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/3592960452_90656305a7.jpg

    I waiting for my copy arrive here in Brazil. The book looks like very good, I loved the resources page on your website, Chris!

  • http://www.amindalive.com Grace

    I was your 200th Youtube subscriber YAY! :)

    • Corbett Barr

      Thanks Grace! :)

  • http://www.bestpsdfreebies.com Mike Yasieniuk

    Great interview Corbett. I am also very much looking forward to the Word Domination Summit this July.

    You and Chris touched on some key points that have really helped get my business offer the ground. One is converting an idea into offer by creating a product or service, or a means to getting paid for your passion. I think you’re right that so many people have great ideas but don’t know how, or are scared to sell something related to that passion, but without doing so, an idea is just an idea. I also think many people feel their audience isn’t big enough, so they don’t sell anything until the have an ideal audience, which may never come until they offer up their first product.

    I just launched my first product on our website today, and I am almost nervous about the results, but know that the first sale will bring on a feeling of empowerment. Wish me luck!

    • Corbett Barr

      Congrats on the product launch Mike. I hope it went very well for you. At any rate, it’s an excellent learning experience.

  • http://flickerofgenius.com Jamie Alexander

    Personally, I think following your passion is good advice. I also think the convergence theory is just basic common sense. Who wouldn’t try to provide value to their customers? Lots probably.

    Sadly, lots of people don’t seem to realize this basic rule. I think it’s great that Chris has made a point of bringing it to peoples attention. Not only will it help bloggers create a business, but it will also make the blogosphere a better place with some great information.

    Luckily there are already some great blogs that give actionable advice, including ThinkTraffic.

  • http://jaredakers.com jared

    Great interview, and amazingly a simple Venn diagram of passions versus what people are willing to pay for makes amazing sense.

    Love these videos, one great benefit is I finally learn how to pronounce some of these peoples names when you introduce them. :-)

    • Corbett Barr

      Hopefully I get all the pronunciations correct then :)

  • http://www.yogahealer.com cate – yogahealer

    Thanks, Corbett.
    Great reminders to just do it and keep doing it.

  • http://peacefulplanetcommunication.com Leah McClellan

    Great interview! I have the book too, and the “convergence” idea along with everything else you and Chris talk about are the missing piece for lots of people, and it’s helping me to fine-tune and focus in a big way
    And I agree–“follow your passion” (along with “do what you love, the money will follow”) has got really old. I have lots of passions, but there’s no way I want to build fish ponds for people or grow tulips or sell basil pesto or any number of things I love doing or making. Chris’s book is just great.

    Really enjoyed watching the interview–thanks Nicely done!

    • Corbett Barr

      Thanks for watching Leah, glad you enjoyed it.

  • http://www.freelanceunleashed.com Chris Green

    “no one would pay someone to eat pizza”… Well, I’ve been watching Man Vs Food. He seems to make a bit of money stuffing his face each week.

    • Corbett Barr

      Are they really paying him to eat pizza? I’d say they’re paying him to tell stories, explore an American art form and to be entertaining.

  • http://www.ecommercefuel.com Andrew Youderian

    Just subscribed on YouTube! Looks like you’re over 200 now. ;-)

    “Follow Your Passion” is a topic I often debate with people. I own multiple eCommerce businesses, and can’t count the number of times people have said to me:

    “That sounds awesome! I’d love to start my own business, too, but I just need to find something I’m passionate about first.”

    When I explain that “passion” really isn’t the best way to go about picking an eCommerce drop shipping niche (or any niche!), I’m often told the analytical approach doesn’t sound very fun. Well….. Between “fun” and “profitable business”, I’ll pick the latter. Besides, once you start to have success with a business – regardless of the niche – you become passionate about it!

    I just published a post detailing 10 characteristics of profitable online niches based on my successes – and mistakes – founding eCommerce sites.


    Been a subscriber now for a few weeks, and I’m really enjoying your material! Thanks for the great content, Corbett……

    • Corbett Barr

      Thanks for subscribing Andrew, we appreciate it and hope to keep bringing value.

      You have a great point about the “fun” vs. “profitable business” decision. In your case, it sounds like your passion IS the business end of things. That’s definitely one way to find success.

      Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.livingauthentically.org Evan

    I think Chris’s point is entirely valid – not all passions can lead to high income. E.g. being a school teacher. (The usual reply is that they can write curriculum and so on and earn money this way. But writing curriculum isn’t teaching a class – the passion.)

    There are people who get paid to eat – and then write about it. Food writers and restaurant reviewers, though they are getting paid for the writing not the eating.

  • http://www.fitwaves.net Dan

    Nice post as always Corbett. I think the best advice Chris gave was get it out there faster and you reduce the risk.

    It kind of reminded me of the classic advice to fail early and fast. It can be dibilitating to launch something, but you can’t every succeed unless you do.

    One thing that Gary V talks about in an interview I saw which I wish I had the link for was learning to have passion.

    You may not have a passion for something when you find an opportunity but you can develop a passion over time. I have a business that I never in a million years thought I would be in, but over time I have come to love the topic and I’ve connected it at least in my own head to the values of how I live my life… and that’s all that matters to me at least.

  • http://www.sparta-pt.com Jen Brown ~ Sparta PT

    Great interview Corbett, thanks for sharing it.

    Chris’ comment about having a business idea but not having “an offer” touched a cord with me; it ideas something I probably have been guilty of. For a while, I relied on the “build it & they will come” model (without much of an offer) and not surprisingly they didn’t!

    I can also feel a few ideas bouncing around in my head as to ways that I can use my personality, talents & interests make my business stand out from rest (in a very crowded niche). Alas they are too vague to put my finger on – yet!

    Thanks & best wishes

  • http://intrepidmotion.com Marvin

    This was a great interview Corbett! And you did so well with the editing and keeping the discussion flowing smoothly in the final cut.

    Chris’ advice is spot on. Follow your passion is oversimplifying. You do have to follow passion(without it you won’t last), but there’s gotta be some problem that your passion solves for others. Just like how you’re passionate about helping people find ways to effectively gain traffic online.

    I remember meeting you at Chris SF meetup for AONC. Hope to meet you again in the near future. Thanks as always for giving tremendous value in your posts!

    • Corbett Barr

      Hey Marvin, nice to see you here again.

      The only edits were switching cameras. The discussion was one take, nothing cut out.

  • Tim

    Hey Corbett — great post/interview…and great meeting you up at Dalva’s. Once we’ve figured out our own “convergence” from James’ course, we’re going to check out your course next. On a side note, since you share analytics as part of your posts, I’m working on an interesting analytics tool I’d like to get your feedback to see if it’s something that is helpful. Would love to sync up again.

  • Cason

    I really want to check out the book right now even though my reading list is packed. This dude’s every where.

    A couple of flaws:
    Passion isn’t skill. Who the hell cares if you like doing something if you’re bad at it?

    If he means passion as in interest, more than often you’re not skilled enough to create a profitable business out of it. Why didn’t he publish a Halo guide?

    If passion means skill, you shouldn’t be teaching your skill either. I like the “skill transformation” thing though. You’re supposed to use your skill to gain a market edge, not directly teach it. I love gaming and am pretty good at it (competitive level). Am I supposed to teach people how to game? No. The years of gaming made me a great strategist, and I love outsmarting the competition. I can use this set of characteristics to give me a market edge in business. I probably am better than others in areas like Advertising, Marketing, PPC, Software Development, Product Ideas – all because of my characteristics and natural inclination built over time through gaming. So for example, if you’re great at teaching, you’re probably better at a business where the product or process is complicated, and the average customer is pretty uninformed. Maybe say, social media marketing services company and business owners who are late to catch on technology trends. You’ll definitely have a huge business edge here in terms of getting your point across. Another example: A market that changes extremely fast. So let’s say SEO. If you’re a great teacher you’re likely to pump out quality content faster. (quality here means, easily understandable for the student.) Again, a huge business edge for the teacher.

    Those weren’t the best examples. But my point is, don’t sell yourself short by “building a business on your passion”. It’s wasting your potential since:

    1) The business itself may be something you hate. You’re just deluding yourself.
    I like gaming for the intelligence competition. I hate teaching. Do I want to teach people how to game? Fuck no. Go to a corner and rot you noobs.

    2) It’s more than often times not very profitable.
    Again, market demand just isn’t there for most “passions”. Or you’re not that good in the first place. Otherwise you’ll be in huge competitions or shows already. (And you won’t be reading this :))

    Also, being useful in business is stupid. You have to be so damn awesome you’ll kickass and dominate the shit out of the market. Be better, faster, easier. Be remarkable. Don’t produce mediocre stuff. His formula screams “just another average business”.

    That being said, I don’t have a problem with his stuff. Just pointing out a few ideas from his formula that are slightly flawed. Since he’s says “finding your passion” is flawed, which I really agree. Both parties got published and garnered massive attention anyway.

    Then again, most people are happy with a business that’s average… I just wanna say don’t sell yourself short. You have potential for much more.

    I’ll still be interested in picking up the book and studying the ideas though. :)

  • Paul

    I am not sure of the gaming analogy. I’ve met pro gamers who have moved to s korea making over 100 k from playing video games competitively. They exist in the US too. Also on clickbank there are people selling gaming guides as products. Then also their are very succesful independent gaming blogs. Gaming is bigger than the movie biz, plent of opportunity.

    • http://www.teamaguilar.com/north-park-real-estate.html Alex Aguilar

      They’re not really getting paid to sit and play the games in the same way the Man vs. Food guy isn’t getting paid to sit and stuff his face. His job, first and foremost, is to host a travel and food program on TV. In fact, I’d bet sitting and eating the food is a tiny part of what he has to do in his day to day job of filming the show. The same way people earning a living off video games aren’t doing it solely through playing games (with the exception of Starcraft Pro Gamers in Korea – and that’s such a small handful of people it may as well not count). They write reviews, guides, run popular websites, program or design games. These are all activities tangentially related to video games – but it’s not the same as saying they get paid to sit and play video games all day.

  • http://hangout-lifestyle.de Lifestyle-Flo

    Thanks Corbett for this great interview. Chris is really an amazing person :-) I should buy the book as soon as possible :-)

  • http://www.garmaonhealth.com Joe

    Was thinking that this is pretty basic, not particularly insightful, till I get hit with the “narratives of failure” and “waiting for approval” comments.

    “Yeah, I’m in there”, I say to myself.

    The point being that there’s often valuable pieces of coaching where ever one looks. Such as this one that keeps echoing in my head: “Fail quick, fail often… this is the path to success”, or something like that.



  • http://whysogeek.com Karan

    I guess it’s time to subscribe to your Youtube Feeds too….AWESOME Inteview man!

  • http://www.marsdorian.com mars dorian

    Nice and straight to the point – it’s really a craft to find the convergence between passion and profit – although I have met people with the weirdest passions making a biz out of it.
    I think it’s true – creating something that people WANT (but not necessarily NEED) to buy.

  • http://inmyhomeoffice.com/ Ian McConnell

    Building a business based on your passion is supposedly helpful in those trying times when things get tough… But in my experience it’s the quickest way for it to stop becoming your passion…

    Research is so important to make sure you are not putting hundreds of hours into a business that will never make a decent amount of money.

    Ian McConnell
    Western Australia

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  • http://savvymom4rub.com Tcheula Lienou

    a very teaching/feel good interview! the vibe in this piece was simply an interview at it’s best.
    I appreciate your interviewing skills! Thanks once more.

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Should You Delete Negative Comments? + Other Audience Questions (FS051)

All month we’ve been sharing tips and tactics for defining your audience, complete with loads of interviews with experienced entrepreneurs on how they do it. This week we feature two more interviews and listener questions covering some of these topics:

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