From the October 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

You remember your startup days fondly. The excitement you had for your new company bubbled over into every aspect of your life. You designed, sold, marketed and managed with a fervor that lit up your very soul. To say you were passionate about your journey into the world of entrepreneurship would be an understatement.

But now, without even realizing it, you've lost that glint in your eye. The sparkle for creating something new has given way to deadlines, staffing issues, the search for capital, trying economic times, and any number of business woes. You find yourself moving in "have to" mode: I have to sign this contract. I have to hire this person. I have to go to work today.

As The Righteous Brothers would say, "You've lost that loving feeling." But before you hang up your entrepreneurial hat, listen to what a few been-there, done-that entrepreneurs have to say about rediscovering the passion. For one entrepreneur, it meant getting back to the daily trenches. For another, losing that entrepreneurial twinkle motivated her to start her next business. And for yet another, it meant buckling down during tough times and finding new sources of inspiration. Each journey is unique, but they all share one common thread: These business owners rode out the ebb and flow of passion for their businesses and made it to the other side, and-dare we say it-they got that loving feeling back.

Coming Back With a Vengeance

Yan Skwara went back to the trenches to regain his passion for Soccer Development of America (SDA). Founded in 1997, the company sells soccer equipment, develops and manages professional and youth soccer in the United States and abroad, and publishes a soccer magazine called 90:00 Minutes. Skwara, 38, was excited about the endeavor until about the third year, when, he says, "we got a little overextended as a company-we needed to meet a cash call." He hooked up with an investor, who eventually took a controlling interest in the company.

With a new management team at the helm, Skwara found himself losing the passion he'd had for the business. "When it's not fun, it's almost not worth showing up," he says. In September 2000, he resigned as president and CEO, though he remained a shareholder in the San Diego company.

After about six months, the new management left, and SDA was in bad shape. As founder and shareholder, Skwara felt compelled to go back and pump some new juice into the faltering company. "I got the original management team back together," he says. "We went all the way back to the one-yard line." That meant revamping the business model to focus on the magazine and giving up the company's interest in one of the professional soccer teams it managed. Skwara regained the controlling interest in the company, which now has $1.8 million in annual estimated sales, and applied some of the lessons he'd learned during his time away from the business.

Skwara spent time evaluating what the company had originally done well and what needed improvement. To keep the passion fires burning, he intends to watch the changing needs of his business closely-and not to let any one aspect overwhelm the core of the venture. "We were going way too fast," he says. "Now we're more conservative." It was even more than passion that motivated Skwara to go back to his business: "It's about passion, pride and loyalty to what you started."

Know Your Passion Profile

Losing that spark for your business doesn't happen overnight or because of a single event, say experts. It happens as a business owner slowly starts to focus on things other than the core of the business. "It's easy to let external situations take your attention away from what you were there to do to begin with," says Richard Chang, the author of The Passion Plan and The Passion Plan at Work.

The key to keeping that focus for the long haul is to put a bit of your core passion into it every day. "People get so caught up [in] other situations that they never tap into that energy anytime during their day," says Chang. If your passion is design, for example, spend 20 minutes a day with the design team talking about new directions in which you might take your product. Passion-building activities are vital-vital enough to literally plot them into your calendar.

Do things that tie into your core passion-easy enough, right? Not as easy as you might think if you've lost touch with what your core passion is. "Ask yourself 'What am I passionate about?'" says Mark Albion, the author of Making a Life, Making a Living. "It's usually not what you think." You may think you love the boats in your boat store, for example, but you may actually be passionate about working with the public. You really love sales-not sails.

If you're not sure what your core passion is, call in the cavalry. A good outside perspective can give you insight into not only what your true passions are, but also how to find new areas that spark your interest. Enlist close friends, family or colleagues who know you well to help you discover what you really love to do, advises Chang. "Don't ask them to figure out what your passion is," he says. "Ask them to talk about situations where they've seen you the most engaged, the most enthralled, the most excited." This will give you an idea of what the situations have in common.


Hand It Off
In all the "keep passion in your business" advice, one point always seems to ring loud and clear: Entrepreneurs have to delegate some of the boring day-to-day tasks to keep their focus on their core passion-whether it's making widgets, serving customers or planning strategy. And while delegation is part of it, experts say it's not all.

According to Richard Chang, the author of The Passion Plan, one interesting way to delegate duties is to treat it like coaching. "Rather than doing the work you would ultimately be delegating, position yourself [to] be the coach to other people who are doing that work, so you stay involved in it."

If you're passionate about your clothing business, for example, you can tap into your passion by teaching and coaching your employees about fashion and design. That way, they're competent to take over some of those important duties, and you're still learning, teaching and growing-and still engaging your passion.

A Healthy Dose of Inspiration

Not only can other people help you realize your passion, but they can also inject a fresh perspective into the situation. Friends, colleagues and especially other entrepreneurs can remind you that, as challenging as losing your passion can be, you're not the only one who's struggled through it. Doug Canning, co-founder of Dirtbag Clothing Inc. in San Francisco, found a comrade in underwear designer Nick Graham, founder of Joe Boxer.

Canning, 32, manufactures Dirtbag streetwear with partners John Alves, 30, and Doug Whitsitt, 36. The partners founded the company part time in 1996 with a couple of cool designs, but the business really took off in 2000 when they found an investor. With that promised financial security, Canning quit his job to devote himself to Dirtbag full time. When the investor didn't come through with all the cash he'd promised, he left Canning, Alves and Whitsitt in a serious dilemma. "It was a huge setback," says Canning. "We were in the middle of planning new products, and we didn't have any money."

The situation certainly dealt a blow to their enthusiasm for the business, says Canning. They had to take serious inventory of their company and their mission to regain that passion-and, in the meantime, they had to be really creative with their marketing and growth strategies.

Enter Graham. Searching for expert advice, Canning e-mailed the Joe Boxer founder. And Graham, who had seen a banner advertising Dirtbag on the side of a San Francisco building, responded. "I asked him all kinds of questions [about his success]," says Canning. "I knew we had a good, solid brand, concept and foundation, and [Graham] basically just reinforced it and said, 'You have a lot of potential here; just keep at it. Don't give up.'" Graham also told the entrepreneurs of trials he'd overcome in his own business.

Canning, whose company expects $550,000 in sales this year, projects $1.6 million in sales in 2004 due to a newly signed distribution deal. Canning gleaned all the knowledge he could about staying in the game, staying focused and holding on to his passion. What was one of the most important lessons he took away from the whole experience? Says Canning: "Never think you can do everything on your own."

Burned Out?
Definitive signs you've lost your passion for your business:
  • Getting up to go to work in the morning is tantamount to climbing Mount Everest.
  • An employee asks you where the stapler is, and you launch into a 25-minute diatribe on how staplers don't matter, paper doesn't matter, telephones don't matter and computers don't matter, because it's all meaningless anyway.
  • Those infomercials promising "$1 million in three weeks" start to sound attractive.
  • You'd rather watch I Love Lucy reruns on your sofa, in your pajamas, while eating a super-size bag of cheese puffs than interact with clients. (Note: This is only a bad thing if combined with two or more of the other signs.)
  • "Free Bagel Friday," "Bring Your Pet to Work Day," "Foosball Lunch Hour" and all your other fun employee activities start to feel like regular, boring days.
  • You can't remember the last time you said, "I love my business."
  • You start to envy that kid at the Starbucks counter because she doesn't have to worry about tax laws, investor meetings or building codes.
  • You used to dream about being on the cover of Entrepreneur; now you dream about being on the cover of Sleep Digest.
  • You feel the same way you did back when you used to work for someone else-you constantly hear "Work sucks-I quit!" echoing in your brain.

Passion Loss as Power Play

It's that kind of self-examination that can really help you find your passion. Chang suggests another way. He notes that there are two types of passion: content-based passion and context-based passion. And ideally, you want to incorporate both types into your life. Content-based passion involves a specific subject or action; for instance, a person might be passionate about tennis and start a tennis-themed business. Context-based passion, on the other hand, is focused more on actions and experiences-you get your passion from competition or learning or teaching.

Albion, for example, remembers starting a pet-food company with a friend, where the two partners spent countless hours together designing their business plan, building their customer base and focusing their products-and having a great time in the process. But after growing the company a bit, Albion's partner decided to bow out. And when Albion went looking for growth capital, he realized he'd lost his drive for the venture. Why? "Because my big passion was [working] with [my partner]," he says. "The business gave us an excuse to spend a lot of time together." When his friend disappeared, so did Albion's passion for the pet-food business.

Chang calls people who are adept at the passion game "passioneers"-people who blend content-based passion and context-based passion into their everyday tasks. "If you're an athlete, what drives you contextually is the learning, training and competing. The content is the sport you compete in," he says.

The key is not only rediscovering what you love to do, but also realizing that your core passion and values may change over time. What you were passionate about when you first started your endeavor can greatly shift 15 years into the venture. It's part of an ebb and flow cycle that is common in all areas of life.

Marley Majcher found her passion changing in 1998 after she had run her Los Angeles-area restaurant for six years. Though she still loved working with food, she found running the restaurant day-to-day monotonous. Majcher, 33, craved a new challenge.

After a skiing accident forced her to take some time off, Majcher came to a conclusion: She likened running a restaurant to putting on the same play every night. "I realized finally that what I wanted was maybe not the [same] performance every night of the week, but a different play every month of the year [instead]," says Majcher.

So she bowed out of the restaurant gig and turned her attention to a catering business. And in the spirit of new challenges, Majcher turned the catering business into a full-fledged event-planning company called The Party Goddess! Inc. And with sales now at $1.2 million, she combines her passion for food with the variety she craves. "I was not good at the day-to-day repetitive [restaurant atmosphere]," she says. Now she can plan a Tuscan fantasy one day and a night of Hollywood glamour the next. Talk about keeping those passion fires burning.

The Winds of Change

As all these entrepreneurs have found, change can bring with it a harvest of new beginnings and can inspire you to take your company in an entirely new direction. "What you're doing in life needs to align [with] your big purpose," says Chang. "And over time, that big purpose changes."

But losing that twinkle in your eye-that passion for entrepreneurship-doesn't have to mean the death knell for your business. Perhaps it only means it's time for a new direction.