Passion or Practicality?


I read something on LinkedIn the other day that’s really stuck in my craw as I’ve been focusing on getting a side hustle off the ground. It was an interview with the serial entrepreneur and Shark Tank celebrity Mark Cuban.  The gist of the story is what makes a successful entrepreneur, but the part that I keep going over in my head is a more specific point: forget what you’re passionate about. Passion and business don’t mix. Cuban’s point is that he’s passionate about baseball and basketball–but his fastest fast pitch is 20 mph slower than the big league pitchers and, as far as basketball goes, let’s just say ‘White Men Can’t Jump.’ In Cuban’s case, at least, that is sufficiently true enough. If Cuban had blindly followed his passion, he never would have founded MicroSolutions and sold it to CompuServe for $6 million. There’d be no Dallas Mavericks, which is to say, Mark Cuban wouldn’t own the team.  And who knows what that would have meant for the inevitability of Shark Tank.


The reason Cuban’s advice has continued to haunt me is because it is antithetical to just about every bit of insight I’ve read, listened to or observed from women entrepreneurs. From the Queen herself, Oprah Winfrey, down to the most modest, women-focused small business podcast, it’s a near universal truth that women in business recommend two fundamental things: 1. Follow your heart (your passion, as Cuban would say) and 2. Build a tribe of supporters and advisors to lean on, look to for advice and turn to when you’re stuck.


So, on one hand, you’ve got the male business maverick (see what I did there?): “Be practical. Be independent. Divorce your heart from your brain;’  And, on the other hand, you’ve got the female business mavens: “Follow your gut and your heart; it takes a village.”


Who’s right and who’s wrong in this scenario? I can see both sides.


On the Y chromosome side, I see the practicality of selling what sells, irrespective of how you, the business owner, feel about it.  I wouldn’t eat a Big Mac on a bet, but you can bet your bottom dollar I could sell millions of them to their intended audience of carnivores, given the proper investment and marketing strategy.  Conversely, I see the womens’ point, as well. It’s pretty hard to get excited about shilling a product you don’t care about. Case in point: my day job in (unnamed industry). Yet, I know the likelihood of me building a realistic venture that will one day afford me the financial freedom to leave said day job is slim to nil if I follow my passion of becoming the host of a Travel Channel show or getting a job in the writers’ room at Better Call Saul.  Not only do I have zero experience on camera or writing for television, the market is flush with travel documentaries, as Hollywood is flush with much more seasoned storytellers. Neither is a feasible business path for me.


And therein lies my dilemma.  Do I follow something about which I feel passionate? Say, selling feminist attire, launching a tour guide company or hawking vegetarian food to a niche audience? Or, do I take a page from Cuban’s book and launch whatever it is I can start today, given the resources I have? Something people want–perhaps not me, but some audience, somewhere? The former option might be more emotionally and intangibly rewarding–certainly more so than my current day job–whereas the latter is far more likely to be the quickest path to the kind of financial freedom that affords the ability to follow the former.  


I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Which approach has worked for your venture?


Today’s exercise: Write two lists: 1. Things you’re passionate. Don’t worry about how they might translate into an actual profession. And, 2. Brainstorm every possible idea you’ve had for making money (by legal means, of course).  Do you find any parallels?