Connect with us

Are You Suited to Entrepreneurship

Could Your Passion Be The Problem?

Passion is all fine and well, but it should be tempered by reality, a clear mission and a touch of humility.




We take the value of ‘passion’ for granted. You have a business? You have an idea? Well, then you need passion when you talk about it. You talk about it with passion, you get ‘converts’. You get converts, and those converts ‘evangelise’ for you. Passion begets passion begets passion. And let the people say: Hallelujah!

Ugh. There are those of us who don’t respond well to extreme passion.

We’re the sceptics. And we’ve always annoyed the zealots: Why won’t they just listen?! Well, the passion is making it hard to listen.

The problem with passion is that it can cloud your message and overshadow your mission enough that it’s no longer clear what you’re talking about, or even what your business is. The more passionate you are, the less professional you seem – the less human you seem. At some point, passion begins to mask the humanity it seeks to express. Passion has diminishing returns.

Related: Want to Start a Business but Questioning Your Passion? Try This 

The advantage, of course, is that passion costs nothing to implement. It’s not a budget item. You just have to muster it. And this is why it’s overused. Says Mike Manning, co-founder and CEO of DealVector, an online network for fixed-income investors:

“When you’re creating something out of nothing, you’re often selling a vision, because you don’t have the metrics. So I think an awful lot of being an entrepreneur speaking to employees, funders [and] customers is allowing that passion to substitute for metrics.”

But there’s a way to be passionate. A method, even. It involves what absolutely no expert refers to as the ‘enthuse, temper, enthuse’ approach. The idea is to occasionally, and quite explicitly, undercut your passion with self-deprecation or, even, hedging.

The idea is

When you’re talking passionately about your product, idea or business, you need to tone down the enthusiasm, so that it’s obvious to your audience that you aren’t on some one-track mission to convince everyone of your brilliance.

On the highway of enthusiasm, you need to stop and stretch your legs every now and then, take a restroom break, buy some beef jerky. You need to relax and look around. By acknowledging – even vaguely – that your idea is not The Great Idea but one in a cosmos of good ideas, you’re making your notion even more appealing. You’re placing it in a sane context – the context of the rigour that it will take to get the idea off the ground.

“I think you can own the part of the wild-eyed entrepreneur to some degree, as long as you can do it with humour and levity and be clear you’re not taking yourself so seriously,” Manning says. “You need to do it with enough humour so that people understand you’re both in the part and playing the part.”

Wild-eyed is not a virtue. Unmitigated passion is a marker associated with various psychological disorders. You need to seem sane. The best way to do this is to look at your pitch or speech as a conversation. Your passion must be inclusive. Otherwise you’re imposing your idea on people, instead of helping them understand why it’s so good – for them.

In a conversation, you need to pick up on cues. This is not a new idea; in sales you’re taught to ask a lot of questions to home in on your audience’s needs. “If you just start talking without truly understanding your audience, you run the risk of making incorrect assumptions,” says Lee Zane of the Department of Management at Rider University.

“When I used to do sales work when I had my software business, we would do conference presentations where we’d invite 20 firms in and present our software, and I wouldn’t start until I’d asked a bunch of questions. Why are they doing this now? What problems do they have? Then I could go in and be reasonably enthusiastic in a presentation, because I knew what they were looking for.”

You can’t know what people are looking for when you’re too busy telling them what to look for. Passion is important, but it has to be tempered. It has to seem connected to reality and to your mission that was (presumably) thoughtfully considered and rigorously executed. It’s good to seem passionate. It’s better to seem driven.

Key Technical Matters

  • Use body language to express passion.
  • As long as it’s body language that doesn’t involve raising the roof. Or pelvic thrusting. Or indiscriminate fist bumping. Or shielding your eyes from the wattage of your own brilliant idea. Or chest beating, which has worked for exactly two people: King Kong and Celine Dion.
  • Closing your eyes and reciting a quote you found by Googling ‘passion quote’ will not make you seem authentically passionate.
  • Passion butts right up against a lot of other, less positive qualities, such as: mania, scumbaggery and an eagerness possibly fueled by cocaine. Fine lines there.
  • Words to use instead of passion (which is an overused word): hunger, enthusiasm, drive, excitement, zeal.
  • Not-so-good words to use instead of passion: obsession, infatuation, paroxysm, strong urge, zealotry.
  • Your general demeanour should be somewhere between ardent and fervent.
  • If you find yourself being merely keen, you are not passionate enough.
  • If you are vehement, you are too passionate.
  • If you are taken away by the police, you are way, way too passionate.

Want fervour with that?

We asked Loren Bouchard, writer and creator of the Fox animated sitcom Bob’s Burgers, to tell us what makes Bob, passionate owner of a hamburger joint, a well-rounded character.

“The key to balancing passion is humility. When we write a character who’s super-passionate, but we want them to be likeable and relatable, too, we use doubt and humility as our secret ingredients.

“Bob knows he makes a great burger – a truly original and creative burger. We’ve layered Bob’s character with all the attributes of a real artist – a beef artist, let’s call him. And Bob, like many real artists, has pursued his passion to the point that he is actually trying to make a living at it. And that’s when things get tricky. When the artist doesn’t immediately succeed in his chosen field, doubt comes – he sees himself struggling, sees his family having to sacrifice, to do without, all so that he might practice his art.”

Now you have a relatable character. That guy is the guy you want to meet. He’s humbled by circumstance, but does he still make a great burger? Of course he does. He makes the best burger around. He’s confident and resilient, and he’s making burgers at the peak of his burger-making powers. You love his burgers!

He just can’t pay his bills. He can’t afford that nice thing he wants: The condo with the yard, maybe. Is he bitter? Well, define bitter. He’s exactly the amount of bitter that many great flavours are: Coffee, Scotch. (Those are bad examples. You get the idea.)

Passion and confidence are great, but without humility they seem naive, unrealistic, teetering toward narcissistic. Add a healthy dose of humility, though, and you’ve got the makings of what we might call Character with a capital C. Real character is a good ingredient for storytelling and for humans, too.

Related: Alfie Cox The Racing Legend: On Humble Pie and Passion


Are You Suited to Entrepreneurship

Why Optimism Isn’t Enough – You Need To Also Accept The Brutal Facts

Entrepreneurs tend to depend on optimism in the same way that fish depend on water. It’s absolutely crucial for survival. In fact, it’s arguably the single most important character trait that a successful entrepreneur can have, but it also has a dark side…

GG van Rooyen




A realistic path to success

  • Lead with questions, not answers
  • Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion
  • Conduct autopsies without blame
  • Build red flag mechanisms.

No matter how bad your day’s going, it’s probably nothing compared to your average day at the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. This was the euphemistically-named prisoner-of-war camp (actually called Hoa Lo Prison) where American soldiers were interned during the Vietnam War. Pilot Jim Stockdale was shot down on 9 September 1965 and sent to the prison. While there, he was tortured, denied medical attention, kept in a windowless cell and locked in leg irons at night. Stockdale spent almost eight years in the prison, and while many other American soldiers died there, he survived.

This brings us to the topic of optimism. You don’t survive eight years in a prison camp by giving up hope. Despite almost impossible conditions (and odds), you need to stay optimistic. Stockdale never lost hope.

“I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade,” Stockdale later said about his time in the prison.

Related: Shark Tank Funded Start-up Native Decor’s Founder on Investment, Mentorship And Dreaming Big

The Stockdale paradox

So, Stockdale was an optimist right? Yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Jim Collins interviewed him while writing his seminal book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. After hearing how Stockdale refused to give up hope and stayed optimistic throughout his internment, Collins asked him who didn’t make it out alive.

“Oh, that’s easy,” he replied. “The optimists. They were the ones who said: ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say: ’We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.

“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

From this, Collins identified one of the key things that differentiated great companies from others: The ability to accept brutal facts. Greatness demands optimism, but not in the face of obvious disaster. Collins called this the Stockdale Paradox.

Too much optimism

What happens when a bunch of executives enter a boardroom with their charismatic founder? The founder is optimistic, inspiring… and demanding. He has absurd expectations. He wants the impossible. (Steve Jobs was a good example, who employees said had a ‘reality distortion field’ around him). The executives are eager to seem equally gung-ho, of course, even those who know that a crucial deadline won’t be met, so the brutal facts are ignored.

“We’re going to be shipping product by Christmas,” they all say. And Christmas comes, and Christmas goes. Then they say: “We’re going to ship by Easter. And Easter comes, and Easter goes. And then Thanksgiving, and then it’s Christmas again…

Related: 10 SA Entrepreneurs Who Built Their Businesses From Nothing

An overdose of optimism is a dangerous thing. While optimism is a crucial tool in the entrepreneurial kit (especially when it comes to motivating employees), it can lead to disaster if administered too liberally. Like morphine, a sensible amount can take the edge off a scary reality, but too much will distort reality to such an extent that you become oblivious to existential threats.

And how do you keep your company off the morphine? Collins suggests four things: Lead with questions, not answers. Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion. Conduct autopsies without blame. Build red flag mechanisms. If you do this, optimism becomes a powerful tool, and not a ticking time-bomb.

Continue Reading

Are You Suited to Entrepreneurship

Alan Knott-Craig Weigh In On Living Your Entrepreneurial Dream

From raising capital to getting the most from your employees, business ownership is all about living your dream.

Alan Knott-Craig




How do I chase my dream? — Sam

First, you need money. Moola. Cash. Capital.

Chasing your dream without enough capital is akin to having a premature baby. All the baby’s energy goes into survival rather than growth. Start-ups are not about survival (paying the bills). They’re about growth (getting rich).

Before you chase your dream, make sure you have enough capital. Keep your lifestyle simple and living costs down. Save up enough to last two years. Or marry rich.

I’m considering selling my business. I need help. — Clark

Before you enter M&A conversations, first decide: “Am I a seller?”

You won’t find it easy backing out during negotiations. Don’t start a process you can’t finish. Don’t look for buyers if you don’t want to sell.

Most people I know that sold their business regret it, unless they had a very specific reason: i.e. the business was about to die, or the business can’t grow without a big brother, or they want to leave the country. If that’s your reason, go ahead and sell. If it’s simply to have a pile of cash, reconsider.

Related: Your Questions Answered With Alan Knott-Craig

What are you going to do with the money? Put it in your bathtub and wash yourself with notes? Buy fancy cars? Buy a fancy spouse?

Lots of money in your pocket can only tempt you to the dark side. Eventually you’ll get bored and you’ll want to start a business again, and you’ll start all over. If you don’t need to, don’t sell.

How do you instil an ownership mindset in your staff? — Johan

It’s hard to work with people that have no drive. Some people just come to work and go home with no planning or vision or energy. Start with getting rid of the bad apples, then start fine-tuning recruitment to only let in the folks with a good attitude.

Use some of these methods to motivate and encourage buy-in from staff:

  • Ask staff for feedback.
  • Do not tolerate mediocrity.
  • Make sure everyone knows their job.
  • Share information. Keep everyone in the loop.
  • Look after your staff and they’ll look after you.
  • Lead by example. Pick up litter. Be first to office. Be last to leave.

How do I determine what venture to dedicate my energy to and when do I know when to stop pursuing one of the opportunities? — Mike

Go with whatever gets traction first. Ruthlessly scratch everything else off your to-do list. Generally speaking, go with the business with the most tried-and-tested business model. 

I left my former employer to move away from the legal side of things. I know that I have the technical skills in this area and I have used that in completely running the legal side of the micro lending venture, but the ultimate aim is to be an entrepreneur/businessman rather than constantly seen as the ‘lawyer’. Do I discontinue the legal consulting or slowly taper off? — Mike

If you can live without the sideline income, do so. Focus 100% on business. If you need the money, keep selling hours on the side.

Related: Alan Knott-Craig’s Answers On Selling Internationally And Researching Your Idea

I have a very successful farm store. I’m considering expanding countrywide. Any advice? — Elo

Ask yourself “why?”

If the answer is to get rich, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to scale your successful farm store.

Maybe a better option is to take the free cashflow of your farm store and invest it in a different business. An annuity revenue business. A business that will make money while you sleep, rather than only when you’re behind the till. Cash cows are hard to come by. If you don’t want to lose your cow, don’t try to scale it unless you’re 100% sure you never have to sell it.

Can you help me flesh out the detail of a pitch to investors? — Mamkhele

There’s only so much you can rely on others for. At some point, you need to man up and do the work yourself. You need to answer the questions yourself. The answers for all pitch-related questions are on the Internet. Google it. No one will save you, only you will save you.

Listen to this

Alan’s audible book Be a Hero: Make Life an Adventure is now available on and

Read by Alan himself, Be a Hero is a collection of stories on how to make your life an adventure by changing your mindset and tackling adversity.

Go to or to download your copy. Be a Hero is also available in Kindle and paperback through

Read ‘Be A Hero’ today


Continue Reading

Are You Suited to Entrepreneurship

What Real Entrepreneurs Do When They Hear The Word ‘No’

Are you strong enough to push through early struggles?

Jason Saltzman




In this video, Entrepreneur Network partner Jason Saltzman sits down with two founders to hear their stories of perseverence and resilience.

Raul Tovar is the co-founder of WindowsWear, a fashion tech company based in New York City that archives display windows. He moved from Mexico to New York determined to make something of himself and resolved that he would not go home empty-handed.

Jordan Wan is the founder and CEO of CloserIQ, which builds sales teams for startups. He started his business through tragedy – losing his mother and his marriage in the early stages.

You might think these difficulties – whether moving, or being told their ideas weren’t good enough, or working through tragedy – would be enough to make them give up. But they didn’t. They only spurred them to greater success.

Related: How To Start A Business With (Almost) No Money

Click play to learn more.

This article was originally posted here on

Continue Reading



Recent Posts

Follow Us

We respect your privacy. 
* indicates required.


FREE E-BOOK: How to Build an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Sign up now for Entrepreneur's Daily Newsletters to Download​​