Richard Branson: How passion can change your life

Branson thinks you’re either born with passion, or you’re not
Buzzwords can get tiresome, and “passion” is one that’s thrown around liberally. We’re told it pays to be passionate in our jobs, and that passionate leadership is the best kind. But however fed up most might feel with the word, Richard Branson has always been passionate about passion – arguing it got him to where he is now.
For years, he’s stuck with the line that, since you spend 80 per cent of your time working, why not do what you really enjoy? “The best advice I could give anyone is to spend your time working on whatever you are passionate about in life,” he has said.
Branson’s latest book – The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership – explores, among other things, how passion has fuelled many of his, and his companies’, successes. He’s adamant that you can’t teach people passion – “it’s either in their DNA or it’s not.” And he advises not to bother wasting “your time and energy trying to light a fire under flame-resistant people.” But if you think you are passionate, and are struggling to see how it might apply to your life, here are some of Branson’s pearls of wisdom.
Branson knows the value of optimism, especially when passion blinds sense. Aged 21, when he was trying to get Virgin Records off the ground and cash was tight, he came up with a scheme to avoid paying UK sales tax. It was quickly uncovered, and he was arrested and spent a night in jail. He tells me this was the “lowest point of his career”. But it also intensified his determination. “I was even more focused to make Virgin a success, as I had to pay back the cost to the taxman, otherwise I’d go to jail. Thankfully, Virgin’s fortunes turned around and I paid back every single penny.”
Branson’s advice on entrepreneurship is also inherently passion-based. He tells me he’s never started a business he hasn’t been passionate about – and sees it as a barometer for making changes in your life. “If you’re miserable in your job, it’s probably because you’re not interested in what you’re doing. My advice would be to do something you’re passionate about.” One way to do this, he says, is to start a business in your spare time, keeping hold of the security of a salary. “Doing this also gives you more of an idea about whether the business can work, before you eventually take the plunge and quit the day job.” In a world where a business can grow from a kitchen table and smartphone, why not?
Branson’s always surrounded himself with people he can take advice from. “It’s one of the things I’ve always done at Virgin. And if I have an idea, I’ll share it with my colleagues. If I get a resounding ‘no’, then I might finally decide the idea isn’t the best.” But Branson also knows the value of his own beliefs, and what it means to stick to them. “I’ve always followed my instincts and pursued ideas that are my true passion. When I started Virgin Atlantic, most people said I was crazy.” If you’re just starting out, you’ll need a lot of support, he says. But “sometimes the rulebook is only there to be thrown out, and the right decision is your initial instinct.”

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