Why passion, alone, won’t make you successful, with apologies to Chris and Gary

Last week I posted a review of Gary Vaynerchuk‘s book, “Crush It!” What I neglected to include was the subtitle: “Why now is the time to cash in on your passion.”

Chris Brogan

Then, last Friday, I spotted this post from Chris Brogan. The title: “How passion powers everything.”

I’m sure you see the common thread.

Is passion critical to reaching your goals? Absolutely. But it’s only one ingredient to success, and that’s a lesson that students and young professionals must learn early on.

While passion does fuel the human machine, it won’t get you anywhere unless you add knowledge, critical thinking, talent, and a good bit of personal sacrifice. Simply loving something doesn’t make you good at it. Otherwise, I’d have pitched Game 7 of the 1979 World Series. (We had ’em all the way!)

My passion didn’t surface until the mid-1980s. When I was 10 years into a public relations career, I began teaching a college course in PR Principles. That class was my “holy shit” moment. It’s when I learned that my passion lay in the classroom, not the boardroom.

My career change would take 7 years of retooling, and a lot of it wasn’t fun.

From 1985-88, I honed my teaching skills, and I began to study the PR theory and the history I’d missed as an undergrad. When the chance came to serve as a “visiting professional” at another university some 200 miles away, I grabbed it.

While passion may have driven me to academe, it was my knowledge of PR and great course proposal that earned me that teaching gig in 1989. My 8 weeks as a full-time college professor erased all doubt about where I belonged. But there was so much work yet to do.

I went back to school in the evenings to learn the theory and research that so few PR professionals ever bother to read. En route to an advanced degree, I made a philosophical connection to the public relations discipline and picked up a specialty in applied ethics along the way.

Passion saw me through the process, but Kent State didn’t hire me for my exuberance. My colleagues demanded that I demonstrate a mastery of the PR field. I survived the search process not on my passion, but on my knowledge — and a wee bit of stage presence.

Gary Vaynerchuk

My point: Chris and Gary probably won’t disagree with this post. They’re both knowledgeable guys who are driven to succeed. But I worry that these titans of 2.0 sometimes overemphasize the passion message without enough focus on the hard-work message.  But maybe they don’t see it as “work,” because they’re having so much fun doing it.

As an educator, I can do only so much to prepare students. I don’t supply the passion. The acquisition of knowledge and experience is an act of will on their part, not mine. At times I’m a conduit, other times a catalyst — even a motivator. But students must ultimately do the work, and it’s sometimes a painful journey.

If you work hard and stay focused, the knowledge, experience, and clear thinking you acquire may pay off in spades, or it may not. But without all those elements, passion is just a buzzword.


  • This post  grew from a discussion with my new colleague, Dr. Bob Batchelor. He’s preparing a speech titled, “How to become the smartest person in the room.” Passion is not a central element to his presentation.
  • Seth Godin’s post titled “On Self Determination,” urges students to take control of their lives. It also inspired some of my thinking here.
  • I owe that last paragraph about the “act of will” to my good friend, Dr. Blair Boone, who used the theme it in a speech before a group of inmates at Upstate New York prison.

30 Responses to Why passion, alone, won’t make you successful, with apologies to Chris and Gary

  1. Ashley Showen says:

    I completely agree with your post. I think nowadays on the heels of reality shows that “glamorize” PR, so many students are getting into the field for the wrong reasons. I still don’t think a lot of people realize how much work goes into PR, and aren’t prepared to put the time and effort into strategy necessary for a successful campaign. Having a passion for something is great–I am lucky in that I found mine in PR early–but I know that passion alone will not get me a job or respect in the industry.

    Thank you for the insight!

  2. Beth Harte says:


    I’ve been waiting for someone to write this post! Yes, passion is very important and it’s clear that Chris and Gary are both very passionate people. Their passion (as well as social media as a channel) works well for them and their business. But what works for them doesn’t always work for all companies…unfortunately.

    There are so many barriers and challenges within corporate walls it can be disheartening…and passion is never enough. If passion was enough to do proper marketing, we wouldn’t see all the mistakes we see these days.

    Thanks for the reality check.

    Beth Harte
    Sr. SME, Digital Marketing
    Serengeti Communications

  3. Bill Huey says:

    If passion alone were enough, there would be many more successful people. As it is, passion is highly overrated and frequently a disguise for narcissism (it’s all about me; my passion is all that matters).
    And never discount the value of good old dumb luck. If more business people acknowledged that their success was due to luck and timing rather than anything they did, we’d have a lot less of the kind of hubris that has gotten this country in the fix it’s in.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      I’m with you, Bill. I’ve had more dumb luck in this life than anyone I know. Now, if only it would kick in when I buy a Power Ball ticket!

      • Pfft. This calls to mind the Ben Franklin quote “Diligence is the mother of good luck.” Or, more recently, Samuel Goldwyn “the harder I work, the luckier I get.” My point is that your hard work probably has more to do with your luck than you are crediting it!

        Hard work, passion, and dedication/tenacity are all ingredients to success. Each person’s “mix” will be different, but it’s all important.

        PS–I think I’ve had my share of being in the right place at the right time too! 😉

  4. Rich Becker says:


    There are usually two schools of thought on passion (and plenty of shades in between). One is the most common: Do what you have a passion for. The other is less common, but all the wiser: Be passionate in everything you do.

    The latter always delivers success, assuming success isn’t always defined by fame, fortune, and untold wealth. The former comes with plenty of problems.

    Thanks for some inspiration on future post.

    All my best,

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      I remind everyone who will listen that the key to success lies in not allowing others to define it for you. I’m successful beyond my wildest dreams, but it has nothing to do with money, fame or fortune.

  5. @collentine says:

    good post with a lot of wise words.

    On passion one can get very far, even without knowledge.
    The same applies to hard work without passion.
    But by combining these two one can reach the same heights without working as hard, or manage unreachable heights.

  6. Then the better question is when/why did the hard work ethic fall out of the equation?

    Why this seems to have been lost from general popular understanding?

    Are we that naive?

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Thanks for dropping in, Alex. I don’t think work ethic has fallen out of the equation at all. Those “titans of 2.0” I mention in this post are both workaholics and loving it.

      But I am worried that “work ethic” doesn’t get due emphasis. It’s easier to talk about passion, and to use it to get people excited — even inspired. Not so when you preach years of hard work and sacrifice. That’s a bitch.

      • Alex says:

        What generation are your “titans of 2.0”?

      • Bill Sledzik says:


        I don’t have their birth certificates, but I’m assuming they are GenXers.

      • What’s the Edison line? “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Bill, you’re right Passion is easier to sell than years of hard work and sacrifice.

        It’s why a lot of these “rise to stardom” stories are so silly, lots of folks toiled away at their crafts for years before getting their due attention.

        It’s not enough to have passion, education and a killer work ethic. You’ve got to put it all together, find and create your own opportunities to make it work. FWIW.

  7. Alex says:

    Wow, was not expecting a sarcastic remark, but I guess that answers my question well enough. lol

    Good luck to all. The way I see it, there are many more jobs for me to gain because of those who do not get it.

    I found my balance, and now peace in this thread.

    Greatest of luck to all. And B. Batchelor is a genius.

  8. Bill Sledzik says:

    Hey, Alex. It was not my intention to be sarcastic. Hope I didn’t offend. I just answered the question, but maybe didn’t understand your angle. And we’re very happy that Dr. Batchelor is on the Kent State team. I think we pretty much agree on everything!

  9. IMO, Both of those guys also work their asses off : )

  10. Piero Poli says:

    Fantastic post – such a well reasoned and articulate explanation of the other, often forgotten, elements which ensure people’s passion can become effective.

    “While passion does fuel the human machine, it won’t get you anywhere unless you add knowledge, critical thinking, talent, and a good bit of personal sacrifice.”

    Saged advice we can all take onboard. I have met many the passionate person, but often it is the critical thinking in particular which is missing.

  11. Andy Wallman says:

    Great post – thanks. Everyone’s certainly gotta have a big motor to win. But what about passion in a group, in a team workplace setting? I love the Vince Lombardi quote that relates to managers who must get passion from employees: “If you’re not fired with enthusiasm, you’ll be fired with enthusiasm.” Maybe a little harsh for today’s workplace, but the general notion is there. @andywallman

  12. I think the pervasive chatter about passion is a little misleading, to be honest.

    Passion is an emotive word, and people can interpret in ways that can either enable or disable.

    Passion is not a life-long calling, for example, a definition that a lot of people have and use as a way to beat themselves up – “I don’t know what I’m passionate about, what’s wrong with me?”.

    I see it a lot.

    But what if passion is simply something that matters to you right now (and you think will probably still matter to you tomorrow, next month or next year).

    I prefer not to use the word passion and instead talk about what matters to someone, what has meaning, relevance or resonance. It bypasses the misunderstandings and conflicting beliefs and gets straight to it.

  13. Bill,

    I think you make a valid point that passion isn’t the “only thing,” but I don’t know that your analysis of Chris and Gary is all that accurate.

    Particularly, in the case of Gary, I can see why you might “hear” him pitching passion – because he is so over-the-top passionate about what he does. But, honestly, he evangelizes as often (maybe even more often), “It’s hard work,” that you have to “work your face off,” you have to hustle, that it takes time.

    In fact, Gary goes to great lengths to explain that even though there are others out there who are just as passionate about wine as he is, he out hustles and out works them every day.

    Hard work is central to his message.

    I don’t think Chris is a one-tune song either. I just think that both try to present that passion is central to finding that thing you most love to do so that the hard work has motivation and sustainability behind it.

    Would love to hear your thoughts. I enjoyed the post – it got me thinking…

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Thanks for the comment, Brian. I don’t know that we disagree on this point. As I said, “Chris and Gary probably won’t disagree with this post. They’re both knowledgeable guys who are driven to succeed.” And while I wasn’t wild about Gary’s book, I know he speaks to the hours of work he put into making WLTV a success.

      As for Chris, his work ethic shows up every day at his blog and in conversations like this one.

  14. Dang. i thought I commented. Did it get lost? 😦

    Essentially (and I’m not smart enough to remember what I already wrote):

    I think passion is a great powerhouse, but that if you don’t transfer passion to execution, it’s not worth a damn. I think persistence trumps passion. I think the blend of passion and persistence are pretty darned good.

    I think that you’ve got a good bunch of points here. I don’t make money waving my arms around. I make it helping people sell better (in whatever way they want to translate the word “sell”). If I were only passionate, it wouldn’t help anyone.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Sorry, Chris. Honored you dropped in. As for the comment, I have no idea why it ended up in the Askimet file. They must have thought it was someone impersonating Chris Brogan. I’ve also been a little preoccupied with personal matters today and offline a good bit.

      Your points are well taken — especially the one on persistence. I find it far more important than passion. Thanks again for coming by — and for all that traffic your tweet drove my way!

  15. KAHUNA says:

    I am not sure- It seems that Gary preaches hard work all the time- almost so much so that I want to kick him in the neck- In fact he preaches hard work so much that I find his first rule about “family first” hard to swallow.

    You can only work so hard, for so many hours and be away from home so much to just say “Family First” –
    You have to actually put family first to say that- Again that is not a knock on Gary just an observation as to someone who has watched first hand how hard and long Gary has worked over the last 5 years to achieve his success.

    I am glad GV is scaling back his schedule this year to spend more time with family – I just hope he truly does that as having young children myself that is where the rewards are.

  16. Bill Sledzik says:


    That’s one of the reasons I left the agency rat race. It was a bit too consuming and out of control. I put in a lot of hours in my academic job, to be sure, but I am not consumed by it. But more importantly, it keeps me out of airports!

    Just as Chris Brogan reminded us (in his comment) of that important “P” called persistence, you have add yet another. It’s called Perspective. Thank you.

    Let’s see, Passion, Persistence, Perspective. One more P and we’ll be ready to battle the marketers! 🙂

  17. President Calvin Coolidge, an otherwise not too erudite individual is quoted as saying: “Press on- nothing can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Perseverance and determination alone are omnipotent.”

    The commitment to persist in the face of opposition and hardship is likely our culture’s most notable modern casualty. We like things to be easy (myself included), particularly if we have a strong sense of entitlement.

    James Carville and Paul Bergala wrote, “work your ass off.” Their book, “Buck up, Suck up and come back when you foul up” is a masterpiece of understatement.

    Passion is nice — the “Do what you love and the money will follow” crowd likes to think passion is everything. But in my mind its persistence, all the way.

    • Bill Sledzik says:


      I once worked for a guy who used the Coolidge quote on all the company literature. And he had a lapel pin that read “Press on.” I often joked about it, but he’s still makin’ a ton of money.

  18. Oh, and your 4th “p” could be PURPOSE. We gotta have a reason to be.

  19. Allan Schoenberg says:

    I think what is interesting about this topic is that each of believes that passion is an important element. But it’s one element. The idea of passion certainly helps fuel all of us (we’re obviously passionate since we all posted a response here) but few people would disagree with you that passion alone makes one successful. Chris and Gary are successful because they have found something they do well, they enjoy it, they make money from it, and they have *become* passionate about it. So to me passion is almost the result of something. That’s maybe an oversimplification in my view but I liked this post a lot and especially enjoyed reading everyone’s comments.

  20. […] Why passion, alone, won’t make you successful, with apologies to Chris and Gary I believe passion is extremely important to success. Many of the young lawyers I coach are passionate about their niche practice. Others are passionate about their charitable work. The blogger points out that others including me cannot give you passion. You have to find it yourself. […]

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