Pursue your Anguish

I’ve been thinking about one of the startup world’s favorite over-repeated mottos: — “pursue your passion.” I’m pretty sure it’s wrong, but it took some doing to understand why it felt wrong to me.

In the sense that a passion is something you strongly enjoy, even love, what’s wrong with pursuing your passion? It sounds so neat — you can even create a simple plan: 1) find a passion; 2) pursue it. Nothing tugging strong enough to call it a passion? Spend the time to seek one. Repeat. We’ve all watched enough romance movies to know what it’s like to be a brave hero in search of true love. But I’d like to propose that if you’re going to start a business, to shift the way things are done, to do something, I think the answer is instead this: to pursue your anguish. Pursue the thing you have some deep, unresting problems with.

The issue with pursuing your passion, is that it necessarily implies chasing a fantasy — you’re “doing something you love.” And the problem with being in love is that you’re blind to the flaws of what you care about. On the ‘pursue your passion’ plan, if the day arrives where you don’t love what you’re doing, your impulse will be that you should probably just change careers, and find something else to be in love with — fine, but not great if you want to build something lasting.

On the other hand, if you pursue your anguish, you know exactly what your problems are. A passion is something that might be nice to do on a sunny day — one may have a prevailing passion for golf, or archery for example. Anguish is not something you develop a hobby around. You have a mission that will drive you until your anguish is corrected. If you don’t fix those problems, you will still be stuck with your anguish.

On the bright side if your anguish is shared, you’ll find yourself solving problems that others need solved. This applies outside of business world — activists, for example, could at a topical level be said to be pursuing a passion: for the environment, for free software, etc.; but an activist’s life is really a life driven to fix the world. So pursue your anguish.

 
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