The Drive to Thrive is Fueled by the Passion to Persevere

Success is more likely when aspiration is not mistaken for passion and the desire to achieve exceeds the desire to receive.

Success is a path, not a place. When starting down that path — whether we’re thinking of opening a small business, building a global empire or just trying to decide the right career path — it is important to understand that achieving success is more about overcoming the downs than enjoying the ups. That’s especially true since the downs will easily outnumber the ups.

Obstacles and disappointment will always be encountered on the road to success and depending on how they are dealt with, they can become Follow-Your-Passioninsurmountable roadblocks that bar the majority from success, or they will become stepping stones for a select few who will achieve the ultimate objective. What turns obstacles and failures into stepping stones to success is the ability to persevere during even the most dispiriting times. And perseverance is fueled by passion. But just any old kind of passion won’t do. It has to be a particular kind of passion.

Far too many careerists and entrepreneurs have a passion for the usual rewards of success – power, privilege, money and fame – but this type of passion is most easily deflated and expunged by the difficulties of the effort. The longing for this idea of success is more an aspiration than a passion. The irony is that success is more likely to become a reality when the passion to achieve exceeds the desire to receive. All of the tools needed to achieve success – talent, effort, capital, ideas and potential – will remain inert until they are ignited by the spark of passion for success. In other words, it’s not money, power and the like that drives most successful entrepreneurs to success, it’s that inextinguishable passion to persevere until success has been won.

How Passion Reveals Itself

A successful venture capitalist was once asked what criteria he uses to decide which companies to invest in. He offered a revealing response when he said, “Sure, I review all the business plans, charts, graphs and forecasts put up by the nascent entrepreneur, but only to determine if there is some semblance of level-headedness. But what I really look for is a burning passion to achieve. I want to see a passion to triumph that is so palpable it even excites me; and I am trained not to be excited. He continued, “I know that plans and forecasts are important, but they have the half-life of smoke. What I really want to feel is the heat of the passion that will provide the fuel for the entrepreneur to persevere and overcome the obstacles to success that will surely be encountered.”

So what is this passion? More importantly, if you want to be successful, do you have it?

Newton’s laws of motion offer a useful way to think about passion in a career or building a business. Newton predicted that a body “in motion” tended to remain in motion and in the same direction, unless acted upon by an external force. In business, a notion as to how things should be remains in motion, in the same direction, unless acted upon by a force. Passion, then, becomes the force for change.

Passion is the spiritual manifestation of creative dissatisfaction with the way the body of business is in motion. Passion springs from a reasoned, deep-seated belief that what is being done is not what should be done and that most people believe what should be done, can’t be done. It is this type of thinking that geometrically increases the chances for success, because it is a passion to create, rather than copy. If all that drives an individual is an aspiration to do what others are doing, the chances for real success are as limited as that type of thinking.

When a person embarks on a career path or business venture, the chances for success are enhanced when they have a passion for what they want to create and achieve, rather than simply an aspiration to receive something. There is no doubt that passion is the most important resource in the pursuit of success. Without passion to create something different, something new and better, there would only be the aspiration to repeat the same pattern of activity forever, with only the faintest hope of success.

In today’s business jargon, this passion for change creates “disruptive innovations,” where entirely new products or services are developed that the market not only does not expect, but which consumers never knew they wanted in the first place. Steve Jobs’ iPod and its link to iTunes was a perfect example. The go-along, get-along school of business thinking, in contrast,  generates failures by buying into “sustaining innovation,” which creates no new products or value networks, and instead, allows businesses to compete against each others’ sustaining improvements. The bottom line, literally, is that passion does not assure success, but clearly a passion driven by disruptive innovation has a far greater chance at success than a passion to copy what already has been accomplished and which paves the road to almost certain failure.

The Traits of Passion

Those with a passion for success are congenital questioners. They don’t accept the way things are, simply because they are. They recognize that success in the future depends upon who gets there first and as a result they constantly reminisce about the future— not to predict it but to make it. Those who are passionate about success gain the ability to exhibit core beliefs that are not compromised, qualified or abandoned, even in difficult times. There is nothing more exhilarating then having a passion to do what has not been done; especially when all others don’t believe it can be done. Passion paves the path to success because it fuels the desire, drive and perseverance to create something new and different; and that gives success an opening.

Passion in Action

There are numerous examples of how deep-seated passion for change and the desire to create have overcome all obstacles facing success, but the birth, development and success of LifeUSA – a start-up life insurance company – is the one I know best.

The very idea of starting a new life insurance company in the late 20th century seemed so outrageous to the thinking (and that term is used DistruptiveInnovationloosely) of those in the insurance industry at the time that most could not even understand the concept. The barriers to entry in the life insurance industry were probably the highest of any industry. Life insurance was a slow-growth industry dominated by well-established financial giants competing with – not against – each other to offer virtually the same shop-worn products. Capital requirements were excessive and any change was viewed as a threat to be fiercely resisted.

If LifeUSA had been founded to compete against the existing companies in the industry, by doing more of what they were doing, it surely would have failed. However, LifeUSA was not created to copy, but to change. The passion that fueled LifeUSA was the belief that corporate culture in general was stultifying and the marketing direction of the insurance industry had become outmoded.

It was the passionate belief that a corporate culture would be more efficient and productive if employees and agents were respected, treated and rewarded as “the owners, not the owned,” and that the products offered by an insurance company should be dramatically changed from “protecting against the economic cost of dying,” to “protecting against the economic cost of living,” that fueled the growth of LifeUSA. Sure, there were desires for reward, but it was an honest, even visceral passion to achieve industry-altering change that allowed the company to overcome the disbelief, obstacles and challenges of being a new company in an old, staid industry. It was that bright idea, that passion, that powered LifeUSA to become the fastest growing and most successful life insurance company of the late 20th century.

And the Moral of the Story …

Virtually everyone has aspirations of success, either in their career or in building a business. That’s great. But aspirations have a way of evaporating in the face of obstacles, challenges and problems, which always litter the road to success. The better chance for success comes from an inherent, burning passion to bring about change and to achieve, not receive.



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