Follow your passion? What a nonsense!

Following your passion is lousy advice for an entrepreneur, writes innovation expert Simone van Neerven. The best motivation comes from curiosity; just look at Boyan Slat (The Ocean Cleanup) and Lex Hoefsloot (Lightyear). But even that is not enough to be successful.

More plastic in the sea than fish

If Boyan Slat of The Ocean Cleanup had followed his passion, he would probably be a professional diver by now. But instead, he let his curiosity guide him. Years ago, while on a diving holiday in Greece, he saw more plastic waste than fish in the sea. He wondered why this mess wasn’t just cleaned up. That question was the start of his journey of discovery.

Upon returning to the Netherlands, he began to explore the subject in depth. The reasons why it would be impossible to clean up all that plastic in the oceans quickly piled up. But instead of giving up hope, he approached every argument as a challenge and looked for how it could be done. He found a solution for every blockage that was raised.

Since The Ocean Cleanup initiative began ten years ago, almost 2.5 million kilogrammes of plastic have been removed from the oceans.

Lex Hoefsloot's wonderment

Another example comes from Lightyear co-founder Lex Hoefsloot. Hoefsloot was fascinated by cars from a very young age. During his student years, his urge to do something about climate change increased. On the back of a beer mat, he calculated that it should be possible to run cars on solar energy.

But, same as Slat, he too was bombarded with all kinds of arguments as to why it would not be possible. Even Elon Musk said in 2017 that it would be extremely difficult to make it happen. But Hoefsloot did not lose his good spirits. It just made him even more determined to show that it could be done. He said: “I am always looking for the why of things and then ask myself: ‘Why can’t it be done differently?’ Only when you understand something, you realise where you can make different choices.”

Discover your fascinations

Slat and Hoefsloot both act out of curiosity rather than following a passion. That is also a much easier path to take, as discovering a passion turns out to be quite difficult. That’s because when we talk about passion, we tend to focus on just one thing, while fascination and energy often go to different topics. By choosing you inherently say goodbye to other interests, which then continue to gnaw at you. And if you have found a specific subject that drives you, it is often difficult to link it to a career, especially if you have just started working.

In addition, once we choose a passion, we feel like we have to devote the rest of our lives to it. However, your interests and what you thought you loved doing, might change with time. By letting your curiosity guide you, the path you take is smoother and you prevent yourself from regularly ending up in a crisis of existence, worrying about what your passion is.

Be careful: curiosity also makes you uncomfortable

Just following your curiosity is not enough if you want to become successful in what interests you so much. You must aspire to go deeper than others and keep asking questions where others have stopped. That requires enormous perseverance and even an almost ‘naive’ belief in your solution.

But curiosity doesn’t always take you to ‘happy places’. You discover things that turn out not to be so great at all. The changes you so desperately want are often held back by systems in which we appear to be stuck and that are driven by completely different ideals than yours. How do you break from that?

Let your ideals guide you

Both Slat and Hoefsloot have a strong inner motivation to make the world a better place. They are not discouraged by every barrier or setback that comes their way but continue to look for solutions that work. Undoubtedly, this sometimes leads to despair, but they have learned to embrace that feeling of discomfort and know that the best solutions are often found outside their comfort zone.

If you ask successful innovators about the most important moments of their lives, they will tell you that often, they did not feel happy at all, but rather worried about the path ahead.

Find your passion through curiosity

Today, Slat and Hoefsloot are passionate entrepreneurs. Their curiosity has led to the discovery of their interests, which they have managed to translate into a business. This became their passion they now work day and night.

The advice to ‘follow your passion’ is often misleading. Instead, you will be much happier and more successful if you are curious because curiosity always trumps passion. And so instead of having sleepless nights wondering what drives you, perhaps true happiness lies in exploring everything with great curiosity and fully embracing whatever comes your way.

This article has been translated from its original version, which was originally published in Dutch on MT/SPROUT.

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