Passion is Not a Business Plan: Why Mission Trumps It, Every Time

You’re passionate about what you do. But is anyone else? I mean really—are they? Everyone loves to talk about how pivotal passion is: find your passion, live your passion.

But the fact is, passion itself is not a business plan, nor an imperative for anyone else. Your job is to make me care about a thing, period. Then, and only then, can you get me to pay attention long enough to become a client, customer, fan, or advocate of what you do.

This is what I do. And yes, I finally figured it out: I help people make what they care about compelling to other people. Because you can be passionate about stamp collecting, and that doesn’t mean you’ll be setting the world on fire.

I had the opportunity to spend a half day with the members of Selena Soo’s S2 Publicity Mastermind Group, to work with them on their own messaging (they were about to deliver them to members of the media at a dinner the next night). Not just the words or what they’re saying, but the how. That’s where people really get hamstrung.

I work with lots of really brilliant, successful people, many of them women, and the women in particular get caught on this thing. Because any attempt to distill what they do becomes an alarming internal question: “Who am I, anyway? And oh God, why WOULD anyone listen to me? Does anyone care?”

You can see how easy it is to get stuck on that. I know I have. And that’s why I say to people: Don’t question if you’re smart enough, or if you know enough, or if you’re qualified to take up space. Consider the people who devour scads of our collective attention, with very little to offer in return but an eyeful of their sizable rear ends. Your job is to give something worth focusing on! The fact that you have passion for whatever it is you do is great—but you’ve got to give me something I care about, too.

I talked with publicity expert Selena Soo about what it takes to not just engage, but influence other people (her course, Influence, is now closed, but check it out for the next time you can enroll). And it has to do with knowing what you want to do, not just what you care about.

Shift your frame from shameless self promo to responsibility. In Selena’s words, if you have a message and a vision for helping other people, it’s your responsibility to share that message. When you look at it that way, it changes things. Business strategist Gary Coxe says, you might feel “bad” about banging on your neighbor’s door at 3 a.m., but not if his house is on fire!

Focus on the message. Some of the shyest, most self-effacing people are fantastic teachers! Why? Because they’re not “marketing” to their students. They’re on a bigger mission: to change their students’ lives by setting them up for success in the real world. They have a passion for it yes, but they’re focused on that mission (and, some teachers are better at getting students to care than others). Your passion drives your actions, but the results depend on whether or not you can connect with what someone else cares about.

Think about what they need, not just what you want. Yes, there’s a big difference. Say I’m trying to sell you a yellow highlighter. I don’t sell it to you by saying, “You need a highlighter.” Because you don’t know you need one (yet). I sell it by identifying your need to make info easier to spot. Ok, this is a very boring and analog example. (Is anyone using them anymore anyway?) But you see my point. Get outside of your product and see the need; better yet, create one (see: the iPad).

Case study: Julie Parker. Julie, one of Selena’s Mastermind clients, is a life coach. But that’s not what she’s trying to get you to pay attention to. That’s because she owns Beautiful You Coaching Academy. She doesn’t necessarily want to talk you through your break-up; she wants life coaches to enroll in her program.

She wants to pitch what she’s passionate about: Training life coaches. But how does she do that? Not by using the media to just talk about how passionate she is about it. Who cares? And then again, the media isn’t interested in promoting her school just because.

The answer? To pitch herself instead as an escape artist. Because that’s what she does: She helps people escape the drudgery of boring careers—and find more meaning in a whole new one. The real moment of genius was when, in our session, Julie mentioned offhandedly that second careers were quite like second marriages—better because you have a better idea of what you want.

I said, “Have you been married before?”

“No,” she said. “But my husband has.” Aha! There you go. A very personal and authentic truth that serves as metaphor. She helps people out of their obligatory “first” marriages to jobs they took because they felt they should, and into more fulfilling second marriages—as life coaches.

In her talk to the attendees of that media dinner, I had her say just that: “Second careers are like second marriages. They’re always better. Just ask my husband.” Nailed it.

This is what you need to do: Find the thing that the other person is passionate about doing or solving—or, for that matter, escaping!—and show them how you can help them achieve it. This is your secret sauce—and it should be so irresistibly delicious that not only does it taste good, but they come back again for more.