Skill versus passion — it’s a topic I’ve thought about and applied to real estate often. There’s a quote that has stuck in my mind for days, and it comes from Scott Adams, the creator of the long-running comic strip Dilbert.

  • Agent A has made a million dollars and is miserable.
  • Agent B is broke but brimming with passion.
  • The Bill McKibben story gives insight into the ultimate solution.

Skill versus passion — it’s a topic I’ve thought about and applied to real estate often. There’s a quote that has stuck in my mind for days, and it comes from Scott Adams, the creator of the long-running comic strip Dilbert.

In his book, “How To Fail at Everything and Still Win Big,” Adams said: “If you ask a billionaire the secret of his success, he might say it is passion, and that sounds like a sexy answer that is suitably humble.

“But after a few drinks I think he would say his success was a combination of a desire, luck, hard work, determination, brains and appetite for risk. So forget about passion when you are planning your path to success.”

What? Forget about passion? How could anyone say that? Most of us have been taught our entire lives to pursue our passions. Follow your dreams, and everything will fall into place, right?

Well, not always. Adams has a point. Rarely is success based on either pure passion or solid skills. Most often, it comes down to a combination of both. But how do you combine them? Which is more important? For insight into this, let’s look at two examples and then explore the solutions.

Recently, I received two heartfelt letters, from two different agents. For privacy reasons, I’ll refer to them Agent A and Agent B. Agent A has lost his passion for real estate. Agent B — on the other hand — is high on passion, but low on skill.

Agent A has done well in real estate. He’s smart, capable and talented. Financially, he’s killing it. He’s sold well over 600 homes and made over $1 million. Sounds great, right? But behind it all, there is a truth gnawing at his soul.

He writes, “Is the real estate industry something I really want to be passionate about? I am currently debating whether I dive in again full force — or just call it a day while I look for something more fulfilling.”

His next statement, I think, reveals the real demon he’s wrestling. “Who cares?” he says. “Real estate doesn’t serve my higher purpose.” So it’s about legacy and making an impact. He digs deeper, asking, “Do I really want to be [just] a real estate agent for the rest of my life?”

Now, here’s guy who has a real skill for selling houses. He’s good at it. He’s sold many — but is he passionate about it? On a deep, personal level, do you think he’ll ever be satisfied? Will he ever be fulfilled? And if he’s not passionate about it anymore, will he wake up each morning excited to go about his day, to do his best work?

Contrast this now with Agent B. His story is one I’ve heard a thousand times before. He’s at his wits end. After six years in real estate, he’s still banging his head against the wall. Door knocking, cold calling, begging and pleading. It’s never worked.

Financially, he can’t compete with mega-agents. He buys leads, tries to convert them, and he’s going broke in the process. But to the bigger point — he hasn’t quit. Why? “His passion drives him.” He loves real estate. Every morning, he wakes up thinking about it. He knows he’ll figure it out, but the struggle for success is killing him.

Neither agent can continue on their current path much longer. One is rich in skill, poor in passion; the other is just the opposite. But is one situation better than the other?

Here are some insights about this:

1. Passion versus skill or both

Cal Newport, author of the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” often discusses the success of environmentalist Bill McKibben: “Don’t focus on passion; focus on this: systematically build up a rare and valuable skill, and use it as leverage to change your working life.”

He explains, “McKibben was tenacious and had a legendary work ethic. Over the years he built up his writing skills, then applied it to the passion that he had developed for the topic of environment.

“Ultimately, writing the now-legendary book on climate change :’The End of Nature.’ Conclusion? People who have an exceptional amount of skill don’t necessarily start with inborn talent or a passion for that field.”

This concept applies to both agents’ situations. Agent A has great skill that he can harness to explore what his true passion might be. Maybe it’s in real estate; maybe it’s not.

But without passion, his efforts (applying that rare and valuable skill set) on a personal level, lack fulfillment. On the other hand, Agent B must develop a sharper skill set that actually yields results for his passionate work — real estate.

Going back to McKibben, before he could earn a living from his passionate work on the environment, he spent a more than a decade building up the rare and valuable skill as a writer.

2. Passion born out of success?

Scott Adams writes extensively on this topic too, in his book, “How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big,” Adams explains that his comic strip Dilbert started out as just one of the many get-rich-quick schemes that he was willing to try.

When it started to look like it might be a success, his passion for cartooning increased because he realized that it could be his golden ticket. Success caused passion more than passion caused success.

In other words, his passion was fueled by his success. His passion was discovered as he tested his various skills. He found passion — he didn’t pursue it.

Now back to our two agents. For Agent A, success clearly is not a driver of passion. Does that make Adams wrong? Not necessarily.

Maybe Agent A had passion. But he’s lost it. Maybe it’s the way he attempts to grow his business. Thinking things like: “Real estate is a numbers game,” and “time block two 90-minute prospecting sessions each day — and guard them.”

Maybe his passion has been lost because he’s burned out. Maybe deep down, he still loves real estate, but has grown to resent the standard operating procedure of making more cold calls, etc. Tasks that he’s executed for so long.

Maybe it’s time to implement new strategies (centered around his passions — integrating the growth of his real estate business, for example, with philanthropy, music, etc.) that ignite his spirit again and make his career interesting.

Agent B — well, you can only imagine how his passion would increase if he had success! Right now, he’s the “starving artist.” He loves what he does, but lacks the needed skill to build a “paying audience” — a client base around that passion of his.

I believe the takeaway is this:

Focusing on your passions is fine, but sometimes you need that disconnected rare and valuable skill to be able to acquire paying clients who make focusing on those passions feasible.

Passion without skill is a loser. And skill without passion is also a loser. So where to start? From my experience, I believe developing and mastering skills (the ability to craft a message, tell compelling stories, create distribution channels for my words, etc.) is more valuable than pursuing passions because it leads to more options and greater control in the long run.

What are your beliefs? Passion versus skill? Please share in the comments section below.

Ryan Fletcher is the voice of reason at Agent Marketing Syndicate. You can follow him on Facebook or on his podcast on iTunes.

Email Ryan Fletcher.

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