Do What You Love: A Sure Fire Recipe for Small Business Disaster

Even though the economy is challenging, you might be looking to change your career. Maybe you’ve even thought about opening your own business.

I’m with you. But tread carefully.

Common wisdom can be both helpful and dangerous.

For example, it tells us that most small businesses fail because they don’t have enough cash flow or are under-capitalized.

That’s true and helpful. If you understand that, you’ll take steps to make sure you have enough working capital and start up capital for your business. The last thing you want is to start up a business and end in trouble looking for business debt relief.

But other common wisdom is false and extremely dangerous to the health of your business.

What is the most dangerous advice?

Do what you love

Why is this such a terrible idea?

Because it encourages you to think of your business as anything but a business.

When you think this way, your business becomes your passion. Your art. Your love.


You might love giving haircuts but that doesn’t mean you know how to run your own hair salon. It doesn’t even mean you’re a good barber.

You might love playing guitar, but there are plenty of starving musicians who can’t manage their own lives let alone a music store.

Do you love reading? Does that qualify you to own a book store?

I have seen more people fail at small business because they ìdid something they lovedî rather than for any other reason.

Am I saying you should continue doing something you hate just because you make good money?


Am I saying you should abandon your dreams?

Not in the least.

I’m saying there are alternatives.

I’m saying dream big, but be practical.

Keep your eyes open and be realistic. If the universe tells you something, my advice is to listen.

Turn that (false) common wisdom into something powerful and productive.

Instead of doing what you love, love what you do.

Find something in what you do that you love.

Let that part of your work be the expression of your true self.

If you are a lawyer, but would really rather be an artist… Can you find something about the way you practice law that is artistic? I’m sure it’s not that tough.

Or… Can you find a way to be the legal representative for artists?

I met a man who was a wonderful CPA, but he hated it. Let’s call him Jim.

He was bored to death and was desperate to find a better job. But he was cursed with being really skilled at accounting. To make matters worse, he made a great deal of money at the same time.

While he couldn’t stand auditing or doing tax returns, he loved giving strategic business advice to business owners.

He looked for interesting small business ideas but had no idea what business to open.

Then he realized that he should become a business consultant. That way he balanced his skill set with desire to be creative and resourceful. He maintained his tax practice but built his consulting business slowly until he could focus most of his efforts doing that.

Can you leverage your current job and skill set into an area you enjoy?

You may or may not be able to do this. Not everyone is in a position to do so. I understand that.

If you still want to pursue a small business in a brand new arena, go for it. But make sure you are going to love the entire business, not just a small part of it.

For example, when you open your own shop, you’re going to need to do budgeting for your small business. You’re going to have to track your receipts and spending. You’ll need to learn about health insurance. How do you feel about managing people? You’ll have to be a good manager too.

You see, my experience tells me that there really is no free lunch.

Some people will tell you they are blessed. They say they love everything about their jobs. The rest of us are honest – we realize we have to compromise. Find a balance between career satisfaction and financial security.

If I’m right, if we do have to compromise anyway, why not compromise doing something we know we are good at?

I am absolutely convinced that you can find something to love about your work no matter what it is. If not, I’m sure you can leverage your skill set into something you can enjoy.

Do you agree? How have you handled this dilemma?

9 Responses to “Do What You Love: A Sure Fire Recipe for Small Business Disaster”

  1. Anonymous

    I agree with a lot of the comments- the tone of the article is negative. Recently read a quote by Clint Eastwood that if one listens to others “they can talk you out of damn near anything.”

    On likes and dislikes- quote from a chef: “Do not ignore what you like, because if you don’t like something you probably won’t be very good at it.” Simple words, commonsense.. but the writer of this article seems not to grasp this concept.

    It is possible to be very good at something one grows to dislike or even hate, due to burnout. But my feeling is at the point one grows to dislike or hate a career.. their effectiveness is eventually going to be compromised. Add to that the elevated cortisol levels from the stress of a daily life one hates. Add to that depression.

    Making a sustainable living is important. But so is wanting to get up in the morning.

  2. Anonymous

    Dave, you have an interesting that is in some ways like mine. Before I completed my undergrad degree in math, I published a book on writing and while it never sold many copies, it was well-received by my employers. I spent time developing my communication and writing skills and as a result, people for years have asked how I’ve done it while having my math degree. I am very pleased to have a mixture of both backgrounds too. Glad it worked out well for you.

  3. Anonymous

    I think you’re on to something here. I love writing. I went to school to become a journalist. But it ended up being a lot easier to find work in my hobby (computers) than as a journalist. So I’ve spent my whole 13-year career explaining why I’m a sysadmin with a journalism degree.

    I never really quit writing. I wrote and published a book when I was 25, even. It was a flop, but it was in my industry, and it’s a killer line item on my resume. Nobody cares that it was 10 years ago and nobody asks how many copies it sold. That book represents a lost dream. I put everything I had into it and ultimately made less per hour than I would have made moonlighting at White Castle. But I do think the book helped my career anyway. Most of my bosses have appreciated having a sysadmin with demonstrable communication skills, and having a published author on their team gives them some bragging rights.

    I’m sure I could strike a better balance than the one I have, but that writing bug is mostly satisfied, and I’m making a better living than I would as a writer. And if and when I do publish again, my experience of what I’ve seen in the real world will make it a better book.

  4. Anonymous

    I really think the ideal answer is to do both things. Do not discount the power of passion. If you are a chef and love cooking then you are right, that does not mean you will be a good restaurant owner but you should not give up on the restaurant either.

    Hire a good manager and you can do the cooking.

  5. Anonymous

    i was given this advice all my life…”dreams are fine but you better have something to fall back on…” (so when you fail at what you do, you can spend your life doing something you can tolerate…) fine…if you want to live a mediocre life…tell that to willy nelson, or sheryl crow, or jack nicholson, or picasso, or anyone who has lived an extraordinary life…john lennon’s aunt said, “the guitar is fine john, but you’ll never make a living at it…” is it hard? maybe? does it take perseverance? absolutely…will there be obstacles and setbacks? yes…will you give up? if you do, then you failed…my life hasn’t been easy…and it’s been full of ups and downs…but i wouldn’t trade it for the world…if you want security…choose safety…if you want to look back at your life from the other end and feel satisfied, that you truly went for your dreams…and didn’t get there and wonder, “what if….” don’t compromise…i rarely read this column anymore because it seems to come from a perspective of lack and fear…nobody who was afraid to take a chance and put it out there, ever accomplished anything magnificent…

  6. Anonymous

    I’m not so sure on this one. While no job is perfect, doing it just for the money is a sure-fire road to burnout. I was awesome in my previous career. I made a lot of money, was respected in the industry, and had built a reputation that was enviable. I hated it and was bored silly. I had to retire at 32 because I couldn’t handle how much I hated my job. And it was a great job. Now I’m doing what I love doing and I enjoy it even though everything about it is harder than before. It seems as if had I listened to this advice, I’d still be working in the other industry, trying to smile through the day. I probably would have hung myself.

  7. Anonymous

    I haven’t heard this quote before, but it’s great:
    Instead of doing what you love, love what you do.
    I agree that in every job there are going to be aspects that you don’t like. But the skill is in having a job that has the fewest annoyances and it’s ideals when you can think of your job as your career. When you identify with your job, you will take more pride in it.
    I also like this quote: “Some people will tell you they are blessed. They say they love everything about their jobs. The rest of us are honest.”
    Sometimes I find that in a job setting it’s helpful to just make a list of what you like/dislike. It can be healthy to acknowledge the aspects of your job that you do like because it’s easy to become negative thinking of all the distractions all the time. Great article, Neal.

Leave a Reply