Does Passion Always Lead to Success?

You’re probably familiar with this scenario: Person A gives her all to pursue her passion—practicing; researching; talking to individuals who share her passion—whatever is necessary. Person B stumbles upon this particular passion and decides, Maybe I’ll give this a shot. On her first try, Person B achieves a level of success Person A only dreamed about.


When I was an undergraduate, I roomed with someone majoring in performance studies. She seemed very passionate about the craft, often walking around singing loudly and quoting from well-known plays. But over the years, I’ve never seen her name in lights anywhere. Yet a guy in my graduating class who never seemed to care one way or the other about the performing arts (he had an entirely different major actually) went on to gain recurring roles in television shows and in movies.

Life has its twists and turns, huh? My life has taken some strange ones. A few years ago, a publisher asked me to write curriculum for kids 3—8. “Why me?” I asked. “I don’t know anything about kids this age! I never studied early childhood development. I don’t even read books or watch TV shows geared toward kids this age!”

Don’t worry. I wasn’t silly enough to say those words out loud. Instead I said, “Okay,” thinking that project was a fluke, surely. Yet last year someone at another publisher said, “I saw on your resume that you’ve written preschool curriculum. We’d like you to write preschool and kindergarten curriculum.” Again, I thought, What?! I still don’t know why I was asked to write for this age level before!

In Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell mentioned opportunity as a factor that has led to success for some. He said

Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them. Page 267


Whether or not you agree with this book, my experiences above show the beckoning fingers of opportunity. Yet when I analyze the years I spent writing preschool curriculum—yes, years—I have to say that passion did indeed have a part. I have a passion for producing a quality product. I’m willing to work hard to produce that product, even if I’m asked to write for an age level about which I know very little.

Am I always successful at that? Nope. I’ve been fired from projects. “Here’s a kill fee,” one editor at a magazine told me after reading (and disliking) an article I had written. Also, over a decade ago, I was passionate about a four-book series I had written for a publisher. Yet that passion did not keep it from going out of print within two years. But I learned something in both cases: to persevere through utter failure. So in a way, both projects were a success though not in the way that I had envisioned.

Does a lack of opportunity or opportunities that seem to lead to dead-ends mean that our passions are misplaced? Not necessarily. Sometimes failure can point you in a direction you wouldn’t have considered had you succeeded right away.

Opportunity may give us wings, but passion makes us soar.


A good article on passion is “Unleash Your Passion to Unlock Your Leadership.” Find it here at

What do you think? Does passion or opportunity lead to success? A combination of both? Neither?

Passion image from Malcolm Gladwell from Outliers cover from Goodreads. Flying people from

48 thoughts on “Does Passion Always Lead to Success?

  1. Definitely a combination with some luck involved. You have to be at the right place at the right time with the right amount of presence or tools. At least that’s what I’ve been noticing. It is interesting to see how this works out in writing. I’ve met a few people who have casually released a book and it’s exploded with success. Others have worked meticulously on their book, marketed every day, and they don’t get very far. I’ve always wondered what’s the deciding factor here.

    What’s a kill fee?

    • A kill fee is an agreed upon amount of money given to a writer if the commissioned article is not published. It’s usually a fraction of what that writer would have received had the article been published. I was asked to write the article and put in the effort to write it. But the editor didn’t like it.

      I know what you mean. I have some books out there that I barely put in the effort to market at all. They’re still in print and sold well. The ones out of print received the most marketing effort.

      • Sometimes less is more, yes. But in the case of that series, I just think it came out at the wrong time. It was a series kind of like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. It probably would have sold well in this day and age. Back then, too many people were like, “Um, what’s this?” You live and learn.
        You seem to do really well marketing your books and those of others. I could do a lot more than I am. Back then, I didn’t have a blog.

      • Seems timing is everything and we have no way to predict what will strike hot. A blog does change the scope of marketing. I’d hate to see where I’d be without mine.

      • Timing is interesting. I doubt I would have started blogging if my books had caught fire. I certainly wouldn’t have returned to school. So, for that at least, I’m glad the series failed.

      • Because I never gave a thought to doing it before two years ago. My brother challenged me to do it. The audience for my book series (8- to 12-year-olds) weren’t big on reading blogs. I never thought about the educational implications as I do now (like study guides and other materials teachers and students could download off a website).

      • Really, I hadn’t thought through all of the good things about blogging. I thought I wouldn’t have enough to say to anyone who would click on my blog. There are so many avenues (as I later learned) to social media. But many of those options were around till after my series was defunct.

  2. I would have to say for most people, it’s a combination of both. For myself, it’s also involved a little nudging from God. It seems whenever I question my ability and why I write for any reason other than pleasure, something happens that tells me I’m doing what I was meant to do.
    Thank you so much for all of your help over the weekend…you’re the best!

  3. Perhaps it depends on whether we’re passionate about the journey or the destination?

    Some want to see their name in lights (to feed Ego and GET something from those in the audience) while others want to enjoy the joy of acting (to embrace Spirit and GIVE something to those in the audience). One passion may provide more lift than the other ~ acting as a magnet to attract synchronicity, opportunity, and possibility.

    And it may also depend on how you define “Success.” For me, success = happiness. If I’m enjoying the journey, I win. No matter what happens.

    • Nancy brought me here, again 🙂
      I like to think that nothing is ever wasted, including our ‘failures’ as you found out. I think preparation beckons at opportunity. Opportunity without passion (and preparation) to pull through may end up being a wasted opportunity. I believe in the hand of Providence. Some call it luck others chance. Being at the right place at the right time does make a difference.

      This is what I’m taking home with me:
      “Sometimes failure can point you in a direction you wouldn’t have considered had you succeeded right away.”

      • Thanks for stopping by, Timi. Happy blogoversary again.
        Failure has been a teacher I haven’t wanted over the years. But it’s been the best teacher. 🙂 And you’re right. Nothing is wasted. I pulled several characters out of a failed novel and wrote other books with them. 🙂

    • I remember that post you wrote on ego. 🙂 Over the years, I’m learning to redefine my expectations about success. Some of life’s tangents have led to unexpected blessings like deep friendships.

      Success = happiness is good!!!

  4. I think it all depends on how one defines success. I’ve seen people who make lots of money, but lack any passion. Is that success? Certainly in one way, but not any kind of success I’d like to have.

    Now opportunity…I think that’s a must for success. The trick is that it sometimes hides itself, making it difficult to recognize. It may pass us by and we never know. I believe luck is it’s own thing, but a lot of what people call luck is them recognizing an opportunity and seizing it!

  5. Before I enrolled at VCFA, I signed up for a workshop in adult literary fiction. One of the other people in the workshop bragged about how she spent 20 minutes writing her piece, and I believed that her lack of effort showed. However, the professor considered her piece a work of genius and the rest of us decidedly mediocre. Most of us had put passion and effort into our submissions, and one of my fellow students (who wrote the piece I considered the strongest) was so disgusted that she eventually gave up writing and enrolled in a graduate program in environmental engineering. I don’t know what ended up happening to the lazy student, but I have a feeling that her physical attractiveness played a role in her success that summer.

  6. To answer the question posed by the title of this post: it depends upon what you mean by the word ‘success.’
    I definitely believe passion always leads to satisfaction, a sense of completeness…to me that is a form of ‘success.’

    • That’s a good point. My definition of success has evolved over the years. I agree that a sense of completeness is a form of success. If that’s the case, then I’m very successful. 🙂

  7. I think a combination of both, Linda. At least that’s my opinion. Today is not a good day though so my feeling is that nobody really cares about what others are doing. You can kill yourself trying and in the end, people ultimately don’t care. 😦

  8. Definitely a combination of things. Passion, opportunity, an ability to see those opportunities where other people might pass them by, and I think luck/chance plays a part, too.

    Passion definitely doesn’t guarantee success. Ability and talent don’t, either, or education. Or experience. It’s frustrating to see talented, hard-working people remaining unknown and having no explanation for it, just as it’s frustrating to see people who seem to be severely lacking in one or more of those areas have massive, international, billion dollar success.

    I really enjoyed Outliers. I still need to read The Tipping Point, but the library doesn’t have it. Might need to bite the bullet there and buy a copy…

    • How well I understand this, Kate! Life can be very frustrating at times. I’ve grumbled about what you mentioned. I’ve envied people also. But I’m tired of envying or even feeling frustrated about that.

      I enjoyed The Tipping Point too. Will your library order it?

  9. I think Kate put it well. I remember reading a book about someone who became a millionaire at a young age despite some very rough odds, but as I was reading it, I kept thinking: “Yes, but this wasn’t really you. Not only did your grandmother and mother do most of the groundwork, you happened to fall in with a really rich guy who took a shine to you.” Granted, he had the wisdom to seek and take opportunities, but someone with all the same values and the same work ethic might just as well remain dirt broke without the opportunities he had.

    • I know what you mean, ReGi. I’ve only seen one article where a writer admitted that he had some opportunities others wouldn’t have had because he had a great deal of money and could wait out the rejections and setbacks. I appreciated the fact that he at least admitted that.

  10. I’m long on passion and short on luck. Doesn’t mean I won’t find luck. Part of connecting with a true connector or influencer is always being willing to fling oneself out there, to reframe disappointments with possibilities and to focus on positives rather than negatives.

    ABSOLUTELY, I have my moments where I curl up in a ball and sob. More than I ever admit……


    I keep trying because I believe the message of (especially) my memoir is one everyone, everywhere needs to read. It isn’t about being famous or making tons of money. It’s about making people realize what matters, about influencing their choices to end life with more “I’m glad I dids” than “I wish I hads.”

    You know where I’ve been behind the scenes lately. You may not have written this post for me, Linda, but I cried when I read it. You know how much passion I invest in what I’m doing. Passionate people feel things more than others. I hurt profoundly. I bleed a lot.

    But I won’t quit.

    And you shouldn’t, either.

    • I thought about you, Andra. I know how you’ve struggled, and I grieve over that. I don’t always share my struggles, especially the books that are out of print. I have written quite a few books that are out of print. Some people don’t like to hear about that aspect of publishing. I’ve often wished I had a rosier story to tell. But I’m kind of glad I don’t. I know what it’s like to fail despite a vast amount of effort. Failure is not a teacher I would have chosen.

      You’re so right: passionate people feel things. Sensitivity can be a blessing and a curse. We feel what our characters feel. But we also feel the pain of others’ misunderstanding or cruelty.

      You are definitely in my thoughts!!!

    • “Long on passion, short on luck” sums it up for me, too. But, my characters insist on being heard, words swirl in my head like melodies, and I’m cranky when I don’t write!

  11. Pingback: More Than A Numbers Game | Spirit Lights The Way

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