You can't teach passion

I just had a really frustrating meeting with a friend that just moved to the Bay Area.  He had the ever-so common request of wanting help finding a great job, working with awesome people in disruptive technologies blah, blah, blah…

This guy knew the right things to say, was clearly very smart and was networking in an honest attempt to find a great fit.  I was having a really hard time because I wanted to help him but I couldn’t get around my gut feeling that he just sounded uninteresting.

He was doing that thing that lots of people do where they talk abstractly about what it is they want.  So he was saying things like, “I really want to get into digital media and specifically data-based analytics.”

And all I’m thinking is what the hell does that mean?  I mean, literally, what the hell is he talking about?  And the funniest part is he used the word “specifically” as if one abstraction layered on top of another abstraction was a route to being more understandable. I’m thinking about what it would be like if I introduced him to someone at another startup.  Would they really want to hire a guy that talks like this?  And the answer is clearly no.  I mean, maybe he would work really well at a large company where it seems like this sort of businessy speak is more welcome, but I know startups don’t like it.

And finally in the midst of going back and forth where he was trying to describe what it is he actually wanted to do and I was continuing to struggle to understand him, I finally said, “Dude, you just don’t sound passionate about anything and no one around here likes to hire people that aren’t passionate.”


And that hit him like a ton of bricks.


Was he interested in digital media? Yeah, probably.  Was he interested in data?  Yeah, probably.  Was he passionate about it? That’s probably a stretch.  And at large companies, it’s probably okay to be really interested in something, really good at it and receive a paycheck.  But startups don’t work that way.




My company, 42Floors, is trying to solve the way people search forcommercial real estate.  My cofounders and I have risked everything to do this.  Two years ago we had no money, massive credit card debt, no one believed in us, and yet we kept building because we knew this was possible. And now we have a site that looks good, we have investors, we have users, we’re growing.  We need people on our team who could push us forward.  We’re looking for people that are just as passionate as we are.

And I think that’s what every founder wants.  Every founder I know has taken unbelievable risks and made incredible sacrifices in order to get their startup off the ground; and they want people that are just as passionate as they are.




And so my friend, though incredibly intelligent and well educated, simply wasn’t passionate enough to even get to the first interview.  So our conversation kind of ended in a weird way because he was sitting there knowing that my observation had struck true and not knowing what to do about it, and I similarly felt bad because I felt like I was leaving him hanging without a rope.

But I’ve now had some time to reflect upon it and I’m going to go back to him with a few pieces of advice because the reality is, I still think it’s true that you can’t teach passion but you can certainly help them search for it.


So here you go, 6 tips for finding your passion:


Hang out with passionate people

Passion is by its very nature contagious and when you’re with passionate, you get inspired.  You start to see what it’s like to truly be engaged in something.  In a way, this is what accelerators like YCombinator provide.  It’s a community of unbelievably passionate people and it is unbelievably motivating to be around them.


Stop generalizing

It’s really, really hard to be passionate about something in the abstract.  Passionate people are always obsessed with details.  At 42Floors, we’re crazy obsessed with the angle at which we take photos of an office.  If you shoot an office from the corner, slightly high, using a wide-angle lens, the picture just comes to life.  We love people who care about details.


Be a maker

It’s really hard to be truly passionate about something when all you’re doing is critically analyzing it.  All of my friends that went into consulting – virtually all of them – have complained about how, in the end, they were frustrated that their end product was a PowerPoint deck.  Several of them have now gone into entrepreneurship and they have been amazed themselves about how passionate they are about building something real.  Making stuff is liberating.  It taps at your creative potential.


Experiment with different niches

One of the common things I hear whenever I encourage someone to take a really deep dive into one thing specifically is that they don’t want to close off their options. But doing a deep dive into one specific job track doesn’t preclude you from also doing deep dives into other areas.  Think of your job search as an in-depth survey course in startups where each week you spend time diving really deep into one type of startup so that you emerge from that week passionate or not passionate.


Be patient with your time

It’s really hard to find something deeply engaging so you have to give yourself the opportunity to search for it.  If all you are looking for is a job as quickly as possible you’ll be less likely to find it. And probably less likely to find a job that’s right for you anyway.


Be willing to learn

What I found with my friend is that he had learned a particular set of skills at business school and needed a place to apply those specific skills.  As if the learning process had ended.  But every super passionate person I know is constantly learning, so if you want to find your passion you should assume that it will involve learning new things.




And finally, don’t settle.  Just flat out don’t settle.  And that’s kind of, in the end, what it felt like this guy was doing.  He was just looking for a job and was kind of willing to settle for anything that wasn’t miserable.   In the end, if he had a startup that paid him a salary, was located in the Bay Area, and had reasonable people around him he was going to be content.

Aspire for much more. In fact, demand much more.  It’s okay if you’re not feeling the passion right now.  Just go out and find it.

1 response
I have personal friend who specialises is giving me reality checks. “Dude, you just don’t sound passionate about anything and no one around here likes to hire people that aren’t passionate.”, sounds like one of them. Reminds of another quote: "Only boring people get bored". Thank you for sharing the story. It has added focus to my day.