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Great Career: Why You Will Fail to Have One

Aaron Orendorff

Great title, right? Well, I stole it. Blatantly.

In November of 2011, Larry Smith — Professor of Economics at Canada’s University of Waterloo — dropped it like a bomb at TEDxUW. With just under three million views and more write ups than I could count on Google, I figured I should be upfront.

But enough about my lack of originality.

Here’s the obvious question: Why will you (beautiful, talented, wonderful you) — fail to have a great career?

Because you aren’t following your passion.

Sound cliche? It should. Here’s how Smith put it:

No matter how many times people tell you, “If you want a great career, you have to pursue your passion, you have to pursue your dreams, you have to pursue, the greatest fascination in your life,” you hear it again and again and then you decide not to do it.

But what lies beneath this mistake?

Simple: fear.

“You’re afraid,” says Smith, “to pursue your passion. You’re afraid to look ridiculous. You’re afraid to try. You’re afraid you may fail.”

In other words, our fears trump our passions. And we miss out a truly great career.

Our fears are real: existentially, emotionally, viscerally real. And our passions … aren’t.

Our hearts — the very core of who we are — feel our fears. Our fears have weight. Substance. Gravity. Mass.

Our passions, on the other hand, don’t.

Our passions are vague, toothless things. Wispy cliches like, “I wanna be happy.” or “I wanna be loved.” or “I wanna feel secure.” Compared to the dark, lumbering beasts stalking our nightmares, our dreams are banal. They are trite. Stale. Light. Laughable.

It is absolutely incredible how few people can answer the simple question: “What do you want?”

Go ahead, try it yourself.

In one sentence, try and summarize what you want most out of your work. Or out of your relationships. Or even out of your life.

It is staggering how few of us can fill in those blanks. And yet, having a clear, impassioned vision for what you want is the very first step in getting it.

In fact, as Warren Bennis famously wrote, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

Carmine Gallo, in his uber insightful Talk Like TED, lays it out plain:

In any language, on any continent, in every country, those speakers who genuinely express their passion and enthusiasm for the topic are the ones who stand apart as inspiring leaders.

That means you have to be able to answer these questions:

  • What’s your passion?
  • What inspires you?
  • What sets you apart?
  • What makes your heart sing?

Do not close this article until you answer those questions.

In fact, do not close this article until you write it out … until you root it in your heart, tattoo it on your brain.

Give your passion teeth. Make it existential. Make it emotive. And make it real.

Here’s mine:

I want to be a blessing, a source of relentless positivity and enthusiasm, to my clients in a way that reflects and is rooted in God’s staggering and ridiculous love for me.

Need some help finding yours?

Here are 11 quotes I turn to often all about finding your passion in a great career …

1. “When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than ‘Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!’ — then say ‘no.’“

Derek Sivers

2. “Passion is the thing that will help you create the highest expression of your talent.”

Larry Smith

3. “Nothing great has ever been achieved without enthusiasm.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

4. “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”

Oprah Winfrey

5. “For every sale you miss because you’re too enthusiastic, you will miss a hundred because you’re not enthusiastic enough.”

Zig Ziglar

6. “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds.”


7. “We must act out passion before we can feel it.”

Jean-Paul Sartre

8. “There is no passion to be found playing small — in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Nelson Mandela

9. “The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.”

Ferdinand Foch

10. “Chase your passion, not your pension.”

Denis Waitley

11. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Proverbs 29:18 (King James Version)

On this front, three brilliant (and, thankfully, free) resources stand out.

First is Jen Havice’s How To Create Customer Personas With Actual, Real Life Data over at ConversionXL. As Havice explains:

Patching together actionable information about your customers with gut feelings, good intentions and some duct tape is not a recipe for conversion success. [P]ersonas are fictional representations of segments of buyers based on real data reflecting their behaviors. Their purpose is to put the people behind company decision making in the shoes of the customer.

Havice them shows how to shape personas through qualitative research.

The breakthrough insight — especially for anyone without a budget for focus groups — comes from her review mining work, which she’s consolidated into a recent book: Finding the Right Message. By all means, buy it. In the meantime, work through the above article as well as How to Boost Conversions with Voice of Customer Research [Case Study] that includes this free template:

Message Mining by Jen Havice via CXL

Review mining to craft copy is one of my own copywriting hallmarks, especially when it comes to landing pages.

You can see how I created this simplified copywriting cheat sheet directly from “feedback and comments on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Amazon, Reddit, app stores, and blogs,” along with what the landing page itself ultimately looked like over at KlientBoost.

Writing Copy from User-Generated Content
Writing copy directly from user-generated content

Second, Demian Farnworth’s Empathy Maps: A Complete Guide to Crawling Inside Your Customer’s Head (via Copyblogger). Empathy consists of two parts:

1. The intellectual identification with the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

2. The vicarious experiencing of those feelings, thoughts, or attitudes.

After a brilliant overview of empathy in marketing — old school and new — Farnworth drops the gold (which you can download as a PDF simply by clicking the image).

Empathy Map
The Empathy Map Lets You Dissect Your Target Market into Four Quadrants on a Person-by-Person Basis

Third, my own The Only Copywriting Formula You’ll Ever Need.

That’s a post all about fear: hands-down the “most primal” human motivator. At the end are thirteen questions to help you haunt your target market (in the best sense possible).

Here’s a quick sampling:

  • What does your audience hate… about their life, about their job, or about your particular type of product or service?
  • What are the real-world consequences of these problems? In other words, how can you quantify, in real numbers, their hates and headaches?
  • What’s the most awkward, confusing, or inconvenient thing about your type of business?
  • What are the two to three biggest barriers to becoming a customer?
  • What nightmare or hell (be as vivid and emotive as possible) does your business save its customers from?

In all those resources, the point is to define your target market as concretely and viscerally as possible.

What are your target market’s mass desires?

Once that group is fixed, the next step is to make a list of all the possible emotions — the raw emotions — that might inspire someone in that specific market to act.

On the negative side, it might be:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Uncertainty
  • Embarrassment
  • Envy
  • Resentment

On the positive side, it might be:

  • Joy
  • Happiness
  • Accomplishment
  • Satisfaction
  • Elation
  • Desire
  • Lust
  • Pride
  • Comfort

After you’ve selected two or three dominant, raw emotions, get specific.

For example, the most dominant human emotion is fear. But nobody (despite FDR’s sound advice) fears fear. What we fear are people, places, things, and events. We fear the future. Or we fear situations that may arise in the future. We fear loss. We fear uncertainty. We fear failure.

On top of that, every market — just like every person — has its own unique list.

Take the real estate market for instance. What do new homebuyers fear most?

Some of the obvious boogiemen are …

  • The fear of being overwhelmed by the process.
  • The fear of being turned down for a loan.
  • The fear of picking the wrong neighborhood.
  • The fear of not having enough money for a down payment.
  • The fear of something better coming along and missing out.

Whatever it is, by selecting one of those fears and placing it front and center in your copy, you “enter the conversation already taking place in the customer’s mind” (Robert Collier).

Actually, what you enter is the conversation already taking place in the customer’s heart.

Either way, the keyword is “customer’s.” Their mind. Their heart.

Mass Desire in Action

To put a little more flesh on this idea, here are some classic examples of wildly successful headlines from Schwartz’s era that tapped into their market’s mass desires:

  • “Hair Coloring So Natural Only Her Hairdresser Knows For Sure”
  • “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in a Rolls Royce is the electric clock.”
  • “The Skin YOU Love to Touch”
  • “How to Win Friends and Influence People”
  • “Stops Maddening Itch”
  • “Do YOU make these mistakes in English?”
  • “How a bald-headed barber helped save my hair.”

Today, with advertising exposure rising exponentially, you may think that such straightforward appeals no longer work.

Just to prove they do, here is a handful of my favorite mass desire headlines from the web:

Unbounce: Speed

Sweat Block: Embarrassment

Basecamp: Stress

Mint: Relief

Memit: Simplicity

eHarmony: Winning (and, of course, love)

Blue Apron: Authenticity

Weight Watchers: Release

Designed to Move: Justice

Shopify Plus: Easy

Dapulse: Vanity

Apple Watch: Flexibility

MacBook Pro: Creativity

AirPods: Intrigue

What each of these headlines (classic and contemporary) does beautifully is identify and channel one desire: love, greed, entertainment, the fear of inability, or the fear of difficulty. They use emotive language to capture their audience’s hearts and minds. Emotive language that already exists in the market they’re trying to reach.

To breakthrough, your ads must do the same.

One more law about the word “one”

Having generated a powerhouse list of market-inspired mass desires, your greatest temptation will be to employ them all, like a sort of emotional machine gun.


You only get one.

(Well, you may get to split-test more than one. But each ad only gets one!)


Because in Schwartz’s words:

Every product appeals to two, three or four of these mass desires.

But only one can predominate; only one can reach out through your headline to your customer. Only one is the key that unlocks the maximum economic power at the particular time your advertisement is published.

Your choice among these alternate desires is the most important step you will take in writing your ad.

If it is wrong, nothing else that you do in the ad will matter.

So remember: Just. One.

2. The Second Law of Writing Copy: State of Awareness

We all know how vital headlines are.

As Brian Clark puts it, “On average, 8 out of 10 people will read your headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.” That means your headline isn’t just your audience’s first impression … it’s more than likely their only impression.

So here’s the question:

Where do “breakthrough” headlines come from?

You know what I’m talking about. The kind of headlines that pop up, stop your market in their tracks, and compel them to read every word after it.

Now sure, there’re a ton of great cheat sheets out there to get the creative ball rolling. Jon Morrow’s “52 Headline Hacks” is among the best.

The problem is most of us start out wrong because we start with us: our idea, our product, our service, our copy.

But …

What if there was a way to systematically craft breakthrough headlines based entirely on your market?

What if there was a proven formula to pull your prospects into your copy because it actually started with your prospects themselves?

Let’s save the world from bad content