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Where to Focus: Passion or Ability?

I just answered this question for the website, and I’m intrigued with the question itself, I wonder what you think is a good answer.

Here’s the question (and let me say that the IP here belongs to, not to me, and I thank them for allowing this here) …

"When starting a business should you focus more on what you love or what you are good at? I’ve started two moderately successful advertising companies with revenues of more than $250,000 in the past two years. However, I don’t necessarily "love" advertising sales, I’m just pretty good at it. In the articles I read month after month, the truly successful people are doing what they love and doing the thing they would do even if they didn’t need the money. That is where I feel my career track is off. If I ever made enough money, I would never, never sell another advertiser again! This makes me think that I should dig deep and find the thing that will get me out of bed at 5 a.m. every morning excited to start working. So my question is even though I’m good at sales and advertising, should I stick with it or find something that I’m passionate about? What’s more important–passion or ability?"

What do you think is the right answer? Focus on what you love or what you’re good at? I’d love to hear from you with this one. I think it’s a very interesting question. I was taken aback, because I’m afraid I’ve always assumed what you love is going to be what you’re good at, and this example seems to pose a different picture quite well.

For the record, here is my answer to that person:

Great question. I think I’ve always assumed a connection between what you like and what you’re good at, but you have a good example here too.

You don’t say what you do love to do. That matters in this case, doesn’t it? Is what you love a business possibility? If you love carpentry or business planning or cooking Mediterranean cuisine that’s one thing, and if you love long walks on the beach or playing golf that’s another. Although even there, people teach golf and start golf equipment shops, but you get what I mean.

Don’t you like anything related to the advertising business? If you started these two businesses, do you have to be the one to do the selling? What about maybe doing the creative or the accounting or some other part of an advertising business, some part that you do love? 

Everybody should be able to do what they love and get paid, but it doesn’t seem to work out that way. There are only so many writers, artists, dancers, actors, and athletes with jobs. Then there are the teachers of writing, dancing, and acting, the coaches, and others who build businesses around what they love. And there are websites around what people like to do, and some of them make money.

So I apologize for not having a more definite answer. Thanks, you made me think about these things.

So that’s what I answered, and I’m anxious to broaden this discussion. What do you think? Passion or ability? I hope you’ll add a comment here.

— Tim


  • Shakespear Ariwi says:

    Passion comes from the HEART and Ability Comes from the HEAD. So remember the the head can forget and the heart will never forget. Passion brings money

  • saku lilanga says:

    There is nothing not paying for entrepreneurs. appreciated success won’t come from things that you do not love.innovative thinking will come with good solutions from things we love the most. passion is not part of entrepreneurs life but challenges. If a certain business is not paying know that is not only to you but for all who are under taking such an activity.Most business man will run away and is where now you make more advancement as you love it. running away mean you don’t love it and continuing with it you will end up in PASSION.
    Thanks for your challenging question.

  • Drew says:

    I believe their are a very few lucky people that are able to do exactly what they love for a business. Athletes don’t count. They have a natural abilty to do something above the average level of others that allows them to get paid for that service. Business men are a different story. Walt Disney, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerburg and Steve Jobs were/are all business men that were able to find small niches at the time and after years of pain staking struggle for existence their companies made it. So the Jim Collins Hedgehog principle mentioned above is true to find out what you can do for a business, as you start to grow as Tim mentioned, its essential to build a solid team to do the things you hate. No man is an island. So find what you’re good at and passionate about, take baby steps to reach a level where you can outsource or hire those to do the tasks you hate, then you get to focus on the parts you love and worry about how to make your company grow. That’s only if you want build a business and not work somebody else. If you want chill, just do something you’re good at and collect a check. Then do that. But if your interested in combining your passion with a business model, check out Steve Job’s answer to this question:

  • Yinka says:

    i think there is a point between what you love and what you have ability for, for me, i think this is the point of success…Passion is not enough, your passion must be maximazing an opportunity and must be driven with ability


    “Ability and Passion”
    It is a confusing question and all the answers may be right. For me, I think the two goes together.
    The reason being that we feel fulfilled when we are able to do what we love to do and do it well. One can’t just do what one love with it results being very minimal.But if the result of what one love to do is maximum,one fills so satisfied and it can only be done to one’s satisfaction if we have the ability to do it well.

  • ita prasetyo says:

    Hi there,..
    both passion and ability is required if a person needs to make ourselves are fruitful to ourselves, our family and the environment. we can not focus only on one of them.
    Although we do not have “love” at first, but if we do with sincerity, hopefully we can get what we want.
    The most important thing in starting a business is looking for “opportunities” and having courage/guts to start. Don’t need to think about which ones should we focus on the ability and passion. once “oppurtunity” coming… grab and START!

  • Do love and passion conquer all in business? says:

    […] Where to focus: Passion or Ability? […]

  • john bennett says:

    Balance is key…Ability without passion or passion without ability would be like peeing in the ocean…..It would be difficult to make a difference if you have lost interest in your subject… on the other hand, I have seen plenty of passionate individuals who fail miserably because they are in over their head. Find a product or service that you beleive in and become knowlegdable and balance your passion with your skill and knowledge base.

  • Mneiae says:

    “If you follow the passion, the money will come.”

    Call me a pessimistic, cynical Gen Yer, but my generation has not found that saying to be true. Following just our passion has not made us money. (I know, we are very impatient and entitled.)

    I think that a compromise, a la davidjmedlock, is in order. He’s doing something he likes, but not the thing he loves. And his day job is something that he can give up if he gets sick of it. It’s a good deal.

    When I was getting tested at the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation (JOCRF), one of the arguments for getting tested at JOCRF was that abilities/aptitudes never really change while interests do. They encourage their clients to pursue jobs that use their aptitudes and follow their passions during free time. That way, your waning passion for guitar playing won’t make your entire career derail.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Mneiae: Interesting. I’m a baby boomer myself, very far in age from the typical Gen Y in his or her early 20s, but I don’t buy that “if you follow the passion, the money will come” idea without significant modifications. I think it works for the education part of life, choosing what you study; but ultimately, you have to temper your passion with what other people want as well. If you build it, and they don’t want it or need it, they won’t come. Tim.

  • Dan says:

    Great question! I’d say go with the passion. We always heard growing up, “If you follow the passion, the money will come.” While that statement is much easier said than done, the challenge is really honing in on what your passions are, recognizing how you can effectively incorporate them into your lifestyle, and determine if there’s a way to support yourself with these passions. I’ve interviewed a number of people on this topic. Check out to see them.

  • BusinessBiker says:

    Jim Collins wrote that the key to a great company (see great life) is to determine what you’re most passionate about doing, what can you be the best in the world at and will people pay you for it.

    Marry those three things and you can’t help but love both your businss and your life.


  • 100 Must-Read Articles For Entrepreneurs | Sakib Mahmud Aka Internet Inspiration says:

    […] Where to Focus: Passion or Ability?: Should you throw yourself into a business that focuses on what you love or something you’re naturally good at? […]

  • Jeff Paul Internet Millions says:

    Now this is very interesting, impressive and never thought of. In simple words well done for providing creative information.

  • Dallon Christensen says:

    The truly successful people are able to mix their passions and their abilities. Success in this case does not necessarily mean money and power. Success as I define it here means having joy and meaning in your life.

    I linked this post to my blog ( with some examples of how an entrepreneur can mix ability and passion in different ways to create a meaningful venture.

    Whether we watch someone like Bret Favre running around the field like a little kid or Steve Jobs create another user-friendly and stylish consumer electronic device, we see examples of how people join their passion and ability all around us. In fact, the unusual matches between passion and ability can often lead to the most creative and innovative business ideas.

  • Sabrina says:

    I think at the end of the day — if you don't love what you do, then you will get tired, bored or distracted. You may be good at something — but that is not enough to sustain the level of intensity needed to be truly successful. You must LOVE it. You must WANT to check in on your business whether you are on vacation, or just at home over the weekend. If you are one of those TGIF people — then you definitely do NOT love what you do.

  • asdf says:

    There is an interesting issue (at least to me) with regards to the what-you-are-good-at part of the whole thing. As I did a lot of things in many different areas in my life I have been told frequently by people that I should keep doing what I'm good at. Thing is, I don't think that they actually know what I'm good at. Sometimes, we have to admit that even we don't know if we are good or not. So, how could they know?

  • Stefan Töpfer says:

    Tim, I'm sitting here at 06:00 hrs on a Saturday and write to you.

    I love the internet, I have done since the late '80, in 1995 I started running a company called Nacamar, then one of the biggest ISPs in Europe which I sold in August 1999 ( before the big bang) and since then I do not need to work anymore.

    In 2000 I got back to my initial idea to help small business – having been a small business guy all my life myself – with internet technology, the great equalizer.

    Why am I doing that, in short passion. My wife and some friends call it a sickness – but it is passion, the only thing that motivates my. I get up at 04:00 and start working, I blog, work on the new website, answer emails, do online customer support at least for one hour a day ( just talking to Ruben at the moment) and so on.

    For me this is an easy question – the answer Passion – the money will come. You can see some of my other believes and mottos in my post from last week –


  • Tim Berry says:

    Thanks all, I love the comments. For several of you who don't think it's possible, I will say that I'm at least one case of building a company around what I love to do.

    Palo Alto Software exists in part because I loved business planning and programming, both, and the early days of this business gave me a way to bring those two loves together and make a living at it. I got to do what I love without feeling guilty about it. I made enough money to buy shoes for the kids too.

    Alright, Alex, I admit that as it grew it included a lot of work that wasn't fun, the organizational stuff, insurance, sweating the cash flow … and as that stuff came up I did it because I still loved the core part of it and it was worth working for.

    And then if you keep it up, eventually it gets big enough that other people to the parts you don't like, and you keep the parts that you do like. For example now, since we promoted the new management team, I get to do exactly the parts that I love.

    And yes, Cale, what I loved was a bit more business relevant than the guitar (love that too), so maybe I'm just lucky. Still, re luck, it does seem that the harder I work the luckier I get.

    — Tim

  • Beth Anne says:

    Interesting question. I think sometimes you can be blindsided by what you love. For example:

    Several years ago I started my own business because I thought it was what I wanted to do and would "love". I was not passionate about the product I was making and selling. It evolved from an idea my husband had, so we almost felt compelled to bring it to market. So we did, and well…while to the profits coming in were ok, I was very unhappy. I was working alone and dealing with customers in an industry that was filled with gruff buyers and unforgiving retailers.

    While doing this I was offered a job at a small software company, an industry I knew nothing about. 3 years later, I really can say I love what I do. For me it is not about being "in love" with the product, service or industry you are in, it is about the people you work with everyday, the culture you are surrounded by, and the feeling you get from being successful in what you are doing.

  • DelRay Davis says:

    The only way in which I could be called an authority on this topic is the fact that I truly love what I do.

    I would say that the importance lies in doing what you love to do. I have a reason behind this. In doing what you enjoy, there is no forcing your progression. I keep informed in my field and increase my skills at my job not because I feel pressure to do so, but because it is a topic that interests me on a continuous basis. It is as the person who posed this question says…what gets me out of bed in the morning.

    I think that people normally enjoy what they are good at for specifically this reason, they get more practice at it.

  • davidjmedlock says:

    Good question. Here's what I decided a long time ago…

    I love to play guitar, write and record music. I originally considered becoming a recording engineer or otherwise working in the music business because that's what I loved.

    But, I quickly realized several things:

    1) it's a competitive industry. Even though I love doing those things, I have no desire to compete with others for jobs in that industry. It would take the joy out of it for me.

    2) It's a hobby for me. A release from every day stress. If I were to make it my job, it would no longer be a release from every day stress, but a major source of stress. (Project deadlines, difficult clients, being underpaid, etc.)

    So, I decided to become a web developer. Here's the thing: I love being a web developer, I'm good enough at it to have a successful career and it pays the bills very well. If I had all the money in the world, I'd probably never write another line of code. But, the trade off was that even though I like programming, I don't love it so much that I would miss it if it became a chore and I decided to cut it out of my life… (Not sure if that last bit made sense.)

    Basically, I think you should try to find a middle ground: Do something that you like but could live without. That way you can enjoy the work that you have to do, keep the things you *love* all for yourself and don't worry about ruining the things you love with the pressures of making a living from them…

  • Cale Bruckner says:

    It's hard to make a living doing what you love. Why? Because introducing the green stuff into the relationship often leads to relationship problems.

    Love blinds, often making it difficult to mix business with pleasure. I think this is why most people keep what they really love far, far, away from the JOB. NOTE: A lot of people claim to be doing what they love but it isn't often the case. Everybody wants it so it's natural for people to claim they have it – it's in our nature.

    Most of the people (there are exceptions) I know that have turned loves/hobbies into businesses regret it. Why? They turned that special thing they really loved into a JOB – it isn't fun anymore, it's work. It's the thing that puts food on the table. That, usually, comes with stress and external pressure. Other people start messing around with the thing you loved.

    My advice to the reader – keep doing what you're good at, become the best at it, and find a way to leverage that success so you can spend more time doing what you really love. That way, you keep the green stuff out of the relationship.

    — Cale Bruckner

  • Alex says:

    To me it seems that it would be difficult to really be good at something without even a little bit of passion. Granted some people have innate ability in certain areas but in order to really flourish, you must have something driving you to improve, and to me that seems like passion. But I guess for some people money and success could be a motivating force and passion manifests itself through that. I definitely see the value in keeping your abilities and your passions separate, so you can still take solace in your interests without them having been mentally linked with the stress of operating a business and the like. But I don't think I could do something I wasn't passionate about.

  • Teri says:

    Very interesting question/dilemma. And I suppose it's poor to answer a question with more questions, but I'm compelled to do so.

    Do you 'live to work' or do you 'work to live?'

    If you 'live to work,' then what you do for a living is probably so much a part of who you are that you won't find satisfaction unless you LOVE it (and being good at what you do won't be enough).

    If you 'work to live,' than if you are good at what you do and it provides you with the 1) time, and/or 2) financial means, and/or 3)(fill in the blank here with whatever inspires you) to enjoy what you love elsewhere in your life, then being good at what you do professionally and believing in what you do can be very gratifying.

    All of the above is, of course, purely my opinion.

    Final comment — this question reminds me of my favorite 'Dear Abby' article (from at least 30+ years ago). The writer was 'very good' in their profession but they always wanted to be in another profession. It would take 7 years to complete the education needed, so they were concerned about how old they would be in 7 years and wondered if Abby thought it made sense to do?

    The answer was short and (again, my opinion) very sweet: "How old will you be in 7 years if you don't?"

    Good luck with your dilemma…

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