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Is your passion enough to keep building a community? Nope.

3 minute read
by Alex Hillman

Community building is an endurance sport. Far more marathon than sprint.

Today’s email was actually inspired by one reader who asked me,

“What keeps you believing in what you do? This is really hard work, and just being strong willed isn’t enough. I can see you have passion. Is there a wonderfully hidden secret? (wink wink)” – Shane Austin So, today I want to talk about taking a long view on collaboration, and what it takes to keep going.

What makes something feel like “hard work”?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that the vast majority of the people who read this aren’t coal miners, lumberjacks, or farmers. So let’s start by qualifying the kind of “really hard work” we’re talking about 🙂

If you ride a bike or play an instrument, try remembering what it felt like the first time you put your feet on the pedals or plucked a guitar string. Did it seem difficult? Probably, but with practice, you got better.

And that’s the part that feels like “hard work”: getting better.

It’s easy to keep doing something once you know how to do it. But that period of time where where you totally suck at something? Where you’re not sure if the effort you’re putting in is worth it? That’s a nasty place that nobody wants to hang out.

One of my long-time mentors, Kathy Sierra, described this experience with a graph:

537d0d932dd5056a6f52001c P.S. You should absolutely positively read the post that I stole this graph from, as well as everything else on Kathy’s site.

A lot of people think, “if I’m passionate about something, I’ll get good at it”, but that’s backwards.

That’s not passion, that’s brute force.

And to Shane’s point…it’s not sustainable to be powered by passion. Sadly, passion doesn’t magically turn a crappy experience into a good one.

Passion doesn’t create momentum. In fact, your passion can ruin you.

Passion is one of the most irrational and uncontrolled processes your brain is capable of. What happens when you set the bar high? When you shoot for the moon? When you dream big?

You set yourself up for disappointment and failure. You get stuck below the suck threshold. It’s true that failure can teach you things, though it assumes you know why you failed, AND are willing to be honest with yourself about your failure.

Like with gambling, you can also become addicted to the thrill of possibly succeeding…even if you never actually succeed.

And finally, large scale success can be equally crippling, too. Elizabeth Gilbert – author of Eat, Pray, Love – has a great TED talk about how the success of EPL drove her to be fearful of ever being able to create a follow-up success.

Momentum, however, can fuel passion.

They say that “nothing succeeds like success”. Which, frankly, I like a whole lot better than “fail fast” and other kinds of failure fetishization.

But that aphorism leaves out which kind of success is most successful. The kind of success that creates momentum, and therefore fuels passion.

I’m talking about tiny successes. Small wins breed confidence, but without the fear of being unable to succeed a second time.

Focusing on tiny successes mean more consistent success. The suck threshold is passed sooner, and the feeling of kicking ass arrives faster.

Make it seem possible for others to participate

There’s nothing worse than the feeling of seeing someone else be successful and thinking to yourself, “ugh, I’d never be able to do that.”

But when you show people that your wins are actually tiny wins, accomplishable by any mere mortal, it’s a lot easier to encourage others to join in.

And let me tell you – the only thing more motivating than your own win, is helping somebody else feel a win.

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Hey, thanks for reading!

Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.