Is Passion Enough or do you need Purpose?

Two stories drawn from photography and entrepreneurship to inspire you to consider your passion and find your purpose. Enjoy!

At this time of year, I feel fortunate to be able to take a little time to reflect on what matters most, and ensure I’m being true to my passion and purpose in life. I’ll share two very different stories to illustrate this – one about my photography as a hobby and one about my work with entrepreneurs – both of which I’m passionate about and both of which draw out the importance of persistence through purpose. 

Photography

In my experience, you can get lucky as a photographer and get a great shot randomly by being in the right place at the right time, but to produce consistent results over time takes persistence. Here’s an example of each.

This shot of these boys in Italy was purely a chance encounter. I saw they were joking around with their fellow villagers and decided to get my camera ready to capture the moment. I enjoyed seeing the cheeky glee on their faces as they ran off.

For contrast, here’s an example of persistence.  I have always loved the view from the train on the way into New York City as you cross the river and look out across the Robert F. Kennedy bridge. It overlooks Manhattan and to me has depth, the potential for movement from the train along the river, with layers from foreground to background, culminating in the city skyline.  There is no one image that will ever capture it fully. And that’s the joy. I love the journey as much as the destination and that’s an important metaphor I try to remind myself of in life.

The Robert F Kennedy Bridge as taken from the train on the way into New York in the dead of winter.

Likewise in my photography, therefore, I enjoy taking and reviewing the photographs along the way.  So I’ve persisted and taken hundreds of photos of this same scene!  For example, for the photographers among you, I took the shot above several times before getting the right shutter speed to blur the foreground to show motion and yet keep the main subject sharp enough. I also wanted to do the classic framing to make the “leading lines” bring you into an around the photograph. Try doing that from a moving train in just a few seconds. It will take a few attempts! 

And still, every time I go on the train to or from NYC, I try to capture what I see in that fleeting moment as we cross the river. I have now taken it over multiple years, in different seasons, at different times of day, from different angles, on different trips.

The Robert F Kennedy Bridge as taken from the train on the way into New York at the end of summer 2015.

And I’m still enjoying taking it, appreciating my literal journey into NYC and reminding myself to appreciate my life along the way.  This most recent shot was from a trip just a few weeks ago, highlighting the fall colors.

The Robert F Kennedy Bridge as taken from the train on the way into New York in the fall this year.

Sometimes I question what my purpose is with my photography. It takes a lot of time and often I don’t even share the results with people. So I decided to reflect on why I continue to pursue it with such passion and I realized, it serves 3 purposes for me. First I enjoy studying people, life, landscape, architecture and all else I encounter around me and it gives me an excuse to explore the world beyond my day to day life. Second, it’s fun to experience, capture and relive the moments that are often fleeting in life. But most of all I realize that I so enjoy sharing the emotion that a good photograph can evoke with others. So my photography really brings great purpose to me to experience and share life fully. And that led me to renew my commitment to do more to write posts like this (which I find hard to do) and dig out more of the thousands of photographs I haven’t yet made time to share.

To conclude and bridge to entrepreneurship, as I’ve just shared, I’ve learned in photography to persist with something I really care about, to study it, and keep taking it, trying to see the scene in different ways in a different light and from different angles. And as I’ve just illustrated, it can produce very different results.

Entrepreneurship

It turns out these same skills are also key to problem-solving – a vital part of any entrepreneur’s tool-kit in starting a business. Always look for a fresh perspective. Throw different light on the problem by bringing different people’s experience to bear. Challenge yourself to bring diversity. And get out of your comfort zone to look again at how others beyond your traditional reach might view the problem with different eyes altogether. For example don’t just ask your team, ask your customers, partners,  community or larger network to share their lens on the problem. (This is why I’m passionate about Open Source, Blockchain, and the Sharing Economy as investing areas, they inherently build this distributed thinking in.)

Unlike a hobby such as photography, for an entrepreneur to sustain passion and persistence over time in a business setting, purpose is not just good it’s vital and invaluable. Purpose is the equivalent of your personal mission and vision, that must harmoniously tie into that of the business. If you know why you’re doing something and there’s authentic purpose to it, your energy will flow, even in the hardest of times. Even when it has become just plain hard work, taxing you beyond passion or pleasure. That’s when you really need to draw on your purpose to ensure why you’re doing what you’re doing so you can persist to still see a project or business through.

Let me share a story to bring this to life.

I was once involved as a lead investor in a startup, in which the foundational technology was called into question in an IP lawsuit challenging its core premise. Meanwhile, the founder was accused of perjury in the case and the management team was challenged with classic growth issues while the board was struggling to find a new CEO. As if this wasn’t enough (!), my own partnership called into question the validity of the business model that was burning more cash than any startup we’d ever invested in (it was one of the very first SaaS businesses back in the early 2000s and we were pioneering the SaaS playbook). My partners told me I should quit the board as I would be personally liable as the company was about to run out of money, and was technically bankrupt. It was a bleak period of soul searching, during which even purpose seemed elusive. Yet it was there when we spoke to customers and partners and we found our way back to a multi-billion dollar outcome that still persists in a great company today employing thousands of passionate people.

I got through that episode as an investor, because as an entrepreneur, I ran into situations like this many, many times over decades of seemingly intolerable, insurmountable challenges. Late nights, weekends, setbacks, losses, hardship, both physical and emotional ground me down to breaking point at times. Sometimes basic survival needs got me through those times, and purpose with persistence brought me back to my passion; ultimately bringing pleasure to life again. 

Conclusion

Passion is great for a hobby like photography, and purpose may help you stick to it and get good at it. But in business passion isn’t enough, persistence is critical and purpose isn’t optional. Purpose connects people with your mission and vision and powers you through the inevitable challenges you will encounter.

As it’s Thanksgiving, let me say I’m thankful for having found both my passion and purpose in life and for being inspired by the exceptional entrepreneurs we are lucky enough to work with every day.  I’m still learning from them and am grateful for the opportunity to share those learnings with you. 

Writing this article, I realize I’d have no purpose on a desert island, no matter how amazing it was. I see that my bigger purpose is in learning and sharing and both photography and entrepreneurship give me that. May you find your passion and with it the purpose to fully experience what life has to offer you.

As always, please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below:-

  • Mark Hyland

    Hello Michael, thanks for the great comparison between a passionate hobby and starting a business. Most people can quickly get a felling for the passion required for a business if it is compared to a hobby. Getting your emotions, feelings, motivation/drive and above all “purpose” in order is often overlooked or not emphasized enough. People often focus too much on the rational processes and structures of how to set up the business without defining the “Why” first. Why should your company exist what is it’s true purpose? I’m reading a book at the moment called “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek, whom you may have heard of because of his famous TED talk “how great leaders inspire action”.

    Anyway, keep the good advice coming. It’s very much appreciated.

    Regards,
    Mark

    • mjskok

      Thanks Mark, yes you’re so right, purpose often gets overlooked In favor of more pressing immediate issues. But in the end it’s just so critical In business and even in certain circumstances in life. Thanks for the pointer to Simon – highly relevant!