Why passion is overrated and what matters instead

Updated to Habits on January 3, 2023.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

Guilty as charged!

I’ve be known to promote the “P” word. You know, “passion” – as in – if you want something you have to be passionate about it.


That’s like me telling my daughters if they want good grades they need to be passionate about Math 302. Trust me, that’s a non-starter.

In this post I’m proposing that your long-term success is not simply a result of inspiration, passion, purpose, gratitude journals, or lining your desk up to face due North.

Of course, dear reader, you can count on me to impart unsolicited advice about what really does work.

Boring is Gold

We all know Warren Buffett doesn’t wake up worrying where his next meal will come from. The “Oracle of Omaha” is not just rich – with a net worth estimated at $67B, Buffett has more shekels than the GDP of at least 15 countries, including: Costa Rica, Kenya, Uruguay, and Luxembourg.

What most people don’t know is how boring he is.

Okay, that’s not fair – but you’ve got to admit he lives an understated life. You rarely see him in the news, he was married to the same woman for 52 years (which, based on my 24 years enrolled in that institution, certainly does not have to be boring), he lives in Omaha (nice place, but not exactly San Francisco or New York), heck he even lives in the same home he bought in 1958 for $31,500.

Even his investment advice is boring and droll, like this Dr. Seuss-worthy gem: “I do more reading and thinking, and make less impulse decisions, than most people in business.”

Can you imagine being the guy who reportedly paid $2.35 million to lunch with the Berkshire Holdings CEO, and the only note he scribbled down between the beef bourguignon and chocolate torte was “read more, think more”?

Before you call me out for throwing pebbles at the big guy, there’s one quality about Buffett I’ve always admired – he does the work.

You see, passion is an asset and feeling inspired certainly helps, but there’s days when those juices ain’t flowing – those are the day you just have to do the work.

Do the Work

I could go on with more examples like: Napoleon Hill, Maya Angelou, Stephen Covey, J.K. Rowling (by the way, her Robert Galbraith novels are page burners), or Wayne Dyer. All highly influential and successful—all did the work.

Here’s a test for you. I want you to honestly answer these two following questions:

1) What single activity creates the most value in your work? For example: sales calls, following-up on leads, writing new material, coaching staff, promoting seminars, selling books, or networking.

Great, whatever it is, write it down. Now, here comes the clincher:

2) What percent of your day do you spend on #1?

Now, be honest (and don’t skip ahead hoping for a “Pass Go” card.) Look at your last day working – what percent of an eight hour day did you spend on #1? If you’re stuck on the math, here’s simple formula: 30 minutes is 6%, 1 hour is 12%, 90 minutes is 18%, 2 hours is 24%, etc.

I get the best results growing my speaking income by:

1) publishing and promoting original long-form content (webinars, blog, video, podcast) and,

2) following up on sales leads.

That’s it—two activities that generate most of my results and revenue. Everything else is nice but not generating income.

What about you? If you did the exercise and your answer was less than, say 25%, does that cut it? In other words, if you keep going down this path will you ever reach your goals?

So, what’s getting in the way of you investing everyday in your growth? Sure, stuff comes up, but those should be the exceptions, not the rule.

If your TYPICAL day is crammed with interruptions, distractions, rabbit holes (technical name for wasting time learning something you don’t need to know to do something you don’t need to do), making lists, and updating your FB status, well, you don’t need me to hold up a mirror.

What you need is to adopt the Universal Solution to Success.

The Universal Solution to Success

Yes, my friend, if you want this year to result in dramatically better results you need to do the work. And the best way I know how to do that is by following this universal solution (I’m hoping the word ‘universal’ makes you want to pucker up and kiss your old habits goodbye):

  1. annual goals: personal, profit, people, purpose, passions.

which lead to…

  1. weekly goals (see my Flight Plan model)

which lead to…

  1. systems for: planning, note keeping (see my post on Evernote), writing, networking, filing, bookkeeping, and any other routine you might procrastinate about.

which lead to…

  1. habits for: being honest, listening, sleep, exercise, keeping promises (like with yourself), dealing with conflict, turning work off, and any other behaviour that makes you show up just a bit more polished.

which leads to automatic success.

New Fangled, Syncopated, Broadband Nonsense

Yesterday I wasted an hour trying to use software I wasn’t familiar with to do something graphically I’m not good at for a task I don’t need. Been there?

It’s easy to get seduced by new fangled, syncopated, broadband nonsense, but I’ll bet my modem it won’t make you money.

Passion’s swell but doing the work puts money in the bank.

Now you can take that to the bank.