Do you wish you could commit to a passion like your role models do? Here are the hurdles you must overcome.

Joshua Spodek’s (PhD MBA) book, Leadership Step by Step, launches in February. He is an adjunct professor and coach of leadership and entrepreneurship at NYU and Columbia. His courses are available online at and he blogs daily at

“Jane,” a student in my entrepreneurship class, asked during office hours:

Josh, I like how you’re making this class experiential, but my project just isn’t clicking. Can you just tell me how to get a good grade?

She was working on a project to make a travel app. She traveled the summer before and found tons of problems an app could solve, as well as many potential users giving her useful advice and signs of demand.

By all standard entrepreneurial measures, Jane had a great project.

Only one problem: she didn’t care about it.

So she didn’t commit to it. She could see her classmates diving in to theirs and getting a lot more done. So she disengaged and went for an external reward.

What do you care about?

I’d seen this pattern before. She picked a project not based on her interests, but others’. So I asked her about her interests.

Before long she told me she wanted to be a social worker, and not just any, but in a branch that needed a law degree, meaning law school (hence the desire for the high grade). Paying for law school on a social worker salary could take a lifetime, implying she had a passion for it.

So why didn’t she act on the passion?

Partly because she thought apps were more popular, partly because she thought people didn’t take social work as seriously.

So her project became abstract. She did it because people told her they loved the app, but to her it distracted from her passion.

The 3 Big Blocks to Passions and Committing to Them

Jane showed the third of the three big blocks I see among the hundreds of students and clients who wished they could create projects to dive into like their heroes but found themselves inhibited instead.

They are:

  1. “I don’t have a passion”
  2. “I have multiple passions. I’m afraid of picking the wrong one and regretting missing out on the real one.”
  3. “I’m afraid people will judge me for my passion.”

“I Don’t Have a Passion”

I’ve come to see this inhibition as an excuse that comes from seeing others working harder with more motivation, thinking that passion is something you find if you turn over enough rocks:

Poor me. I haven’t found my passion. If I did, I’d work as hard as anyone, but I haven’t found it yet. Until then, I have to slog away at boring work.

Anyone acting with passion knows they had to work at it, like falling in love with a person. You can find someone you like in a second, to fall in love you have to work: expose your vulnerabilities, fight and make up, give more than you expect to get, and so on.

That work is hard but it transforms relationships from like to love.

Same with work projects. You know things you like. To turn them to things you love, you have to put effort in. Only by putting in do you get back out.

That means sacrificing, trying to work at something you only kind of like when you aren’t sure where it will go. Projects aren’t like family, where you get them automatically.

Don’t accept the excuse you don’t have passions. You have access to them and the ability to grow them, even when it’s only something you kind of like.

Which brings me to the second obstacle.

“I Have Multiple Passions”

Many of us are afraid of devoting ourselves to one project and finding out we really liked a different one more. But we don’t know which we’ll love most.

Many wait, hoping life will reveal for them which they like most, or give them a big break to show which to follow.

Only one problem: those big breaks don’t happen to people passively waiting. They happen to people actively doing. Any successful actor can tell you that.

Having seen hundreds of students and clients face this obstacle, I’ve found exactly one best way to figure out which you love most: work on one and take it as far as you can.

Often they fall in love with their first pick and forget the others. Great!

In every other case, when people realize they don’t like the one they committed to that much, they switch and commit to the other faster and more fully than they would have had they kept waiting. The one they love most becomes obvious when they work on another.

In other words, acting with passion leads to greater passion more than waiting.

If you aren’t sure which passion you’ll love most, the fastest way to success in it is by working on any passion.

Which brings me to the third hurdle.

“I’m Afraid People Will Judge Me for My Passion”

Jane had overcome the first two. She found things to work on, picked one, and realized she wanted to do another more.

But she feared others wouldn’t take social work seriously so didn’t work on it.

What then happened with her is what happens with everyone. She considered switching. The rule for my class is if you switch, you have to redo all the exercises for the new project. It’s more work, but having done it before and having more passion makes the second time faster.

Within a week she mostly committed to the new project.

In the week after that, she had caught up completely — about eight weeks’ work — and had zero second thoughts about the travel app.

She was contacting people in the world she wanted to join, getting feedback, connecting with law professors (connections that would help her admissions far more than mere good grades), and got support from her family, friends, and classmates.

From Facebook to Google to Walmart, every huge company started with a crappy idea (a college student taking on Rupert Murdoch’s Myspace?? Two graduate students taking on the oligopoly of Yahoo, Excite, Alta Vista, etc??) the founders could have felt embarrassed about.

The answer is to act.

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