This post is part of our StartupDad Series, in which David Moody — father of a teen entrepreneur and founder of the StartupDad blog — explores the trials, tribulations, joys, and achievements that young entrepreneurs and their friends and family face.
I’ll save you the suspense. The answer is “VERY IMPORTANT.” But what exactly does that mean for a young entrepreneur who is 13-23 years old? How does their passion manifest itself in what they do and how they think? How can they have a passion for something they know little about at that age?
Our experience with our own teen entrepreneur is very informative. Joshua started tearing apart McDonald’s Happy Meals when he was really young. This could have been viewed as destructive behavior, and we could have made him stop. However, his destruction of these toys was more like disassembly than tearing them apart. He didn’t smash them unless it was his only option, because his goal was to learn how they worked. He did this, sometimes to our dismay, with lots of items including phones (wish he would have limited this to our old phones), cameras, speakers, computers, and electronics, in general. This activity, combined with the Internet research he did on his own as he got older, was how he learned about electronics, printed circuit boards, and power supplies, and it’s also how he learned how to program software to control the electronics.
That is what I’m talking about when I say passion is important for young entrepreneurs. At a young age, with limited other skill sets and resources, their passions manifest themselves in what they spend their time doing. When Joshua had free time to do whatever he wanted, he chose building or researching product development. That’s when we knew he had the necessary passion to be an entrepreneur.
I had a passion for sports when I was young. I started playing organized sports when I was 8 years old but spent far more time outside of team practice trying to hone my skills. While it was fun, my passion didn’t match my natural ability, and when I got to college, I realized I had reached the limits of my natural talent. However, all that time spent on my passion for sports did not go to waste. In the process of trying to be the best athlete I could be, I learned so many other things from sports, including:
- how to work in, and lead, a team
- how to work with people you don’t necessarily like
- work ethic
- game planning
- how to perform under pressure
- what my limits appear to be and how to push myself beyond them, if necessary
While I didn’t realize I needed them, all of these are critical soft skills. I’ve used them every day for decades now. Young entrepreneurs MUST learn these soft skills as well. So, I had a passion for something that I didn’t have the natural talent to pursue at some point, but, in pursuing my passion, I developed these soft skills that are the core of who I am and what I do for a living. I got what I needed, even when I didn’t know I needed it. Funny how that happens.
The final point here is that passion can’t be taught. As parents, it is our job to expose our kids to a variety of experiences so that they can sort out for themselves the things for which they have both natural talent and great passion. Joshua was a gifted athlete, but he did not have a passion for it. He played a variety of organized sports from age 5 through his sophomore year in high school. He enjoyed sports and, like me, learned many things from the experience. However, he seldom practiced outside of an organized team practice. That was a sign that he didn’t have the passion to pursue sports long term. Remember the 10,000-hours-to-mastery theory? His passion for developing products eventually overshadowed his attraction to sports. He dropped out of sports to pursue entrepreneurship. That appears to have been a good decision for him.
THE TAKEAWAY: Passion without talent will only take you so far. Talent without passion is unfulfilling. Young people, and especially young entrepreneurs, have to try out lots of activities to help them identify those for which they have a passion so strong that they will push themselves to develop the necessary level of talent to be successful. Most people, it seems, never discover this intersection of passion and talent for themselves. For entrepreneurs, finding this intersection is imperative for success, because the passion required to sustain the effort is great, and the skill set is vast.