12 Powerful Lessons On Passion We Can Learn From Nelson Mandela

How To Become Wealthy

Nelson Mandela once said “There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”.

No one can doubt Mandela’s genius, incredible leadership skills and astounding forward thinking capabilities.

When you read the above quote, one is left with enough confirmation that he lived a life built on a solid foundation. Without a shadow of doubt, passion played a huge role in the strength and stability of this foundation.

Described as a “towering figure in 20th century history” by www.history.co.uk, I think we can learn an incredible amount from Nelson Mandela.

In this post, I want us to learn 12 Powerful Lessons On Passion from this incredible 20th Century leader.

1. Passion Provides Life Direction

When you are passionate about something, you are able to establish your life direction.

For some (the very fortunate few), this happens very early on in their lives.

For most, it takes a while to bed this down. It’s often a struggle between a few passions. You have to try a few things out – which you often drop midway. You have to go through a few false starts. Ultimately though, when you understand the power and significance of passion, you make a concerted effort to try and find your most natural and authentic passion.

For Nelson Mandela, this happened at a very early age. His biography on www.nelsonmandela.org highlights that on “Hearing the elders’ stories of his ancestors’ valour during the wars of resistance, he dreamed also of making his own contribution to the freedom struggle of his people”.

2. Passion is Essential to Fulfilment in Life

Direction in life doesn’t automatically equate to life fulfilment.

You can have a fantastic career and know exactly where you want to be in the next 5 – 10 years.

And yet, with all that direction, you could find yourself lacking fulfilment.

Fulfilment comes when you are honest with yourself and deepest desires. A part of the previously described passion that Mandela had says the following: “…he dreamed also of making his own contribution to the freedom struggle of his people”.

Right there is deep desire. Not only that, but there is a powerful word that embodies fulfilment. That word is “contribution”

Fulfilment can only ever come when your passion contributes positively to society from a place of pure and honest motives.

3. Passion Helps You Avoid Getting Distracted by Money

Money is an incredibly powerful resource. As a result, most pursue money as a means of getting to their destination of passion, happiness and fulfilment.

Sadly, many stray down a money-driven career and/or business path that leads to painful dead-ends.

Money – one the back-end of pursuing your most loved passions – is incredibly satisfying and fulfilling. On the flip-side, money – on the back-end of pursuing money – can lead to incredible frustration.

Why? Because we all get used to money. Regardless of the amount, familiarity always catches up. Before you know it, money – regardless of it’s quantity – begins to mean less when it is acquired from a frustrating source.

In 1952, at the age of 34, Nelson Mandela in partnership with Oliver Tambo, established South Africa’s first black law firm.

I don’t know about you, but I would probably have seen this as the greatest platform to become incredibly rich.

Instead, Mandela stayed true to his passion. He didn’t allow the bells and whistles of monetary riches to deter him from his true passion: contributing to the freedom struggle of his people.

4. Passion Helps You to Serve People

I’ve already alluded to this by mentioning that contribution to others is vital.

However, serving people often becomes less of a priority when money begins to flow in abundance.

For many, the goal posts often shift from “serving people” as a priority to “becoming a millionaire or billionaire at a certain age” or even “appearing in the Forbes list of the rich and famous”.

All these accolades are great when they are achieved in the right context.

When accolades take priority over serving people, chances are very high you are starting to lose the plot.

5. Passion Enables You to Overcome Obstacles

Pursuing passion comes with an incredible amount of obstacles.

Some are monetary. Others are related to internal confusion – those crazy moments of self-talk where you wonder: am I really on the right path?

At times, enthusiasm just runs dry. You procrastinate, get tired, discouraged and just get sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Just because you are pursuing your passion does not mean you will travel down a journey of no obstacles. Quite on the contrary, you sometimes feel like the journey of “pursuing passion” is filled with most obstacles.

The point is this: obstacles will always be there. The difference is this – overcoming obstacles when you have an inner, deeply-routed drive called passion becomes easier and more effective.

In certain instances, you are able to survive and overcome life-threatening situations.

Alexander Hamilton once said “if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything”.

Such quotes can sound like cliches. But when you consider that Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964, and spent 27 years in prison, you begin to realise the power that lies in passion that drives you to stand (regardless of obstacles) for something you truly believe in.

6. Passion Helps You Stay Focused

Apart from obstacles, there are numerous distractions.

With the technological advancements, it is amazing how much time we lose as a result of social media. Apart from social media, ‘opportunities’ seem to crop up every other day. In most instances, these ‘opportunities’ achieve nothing but make your life unnecessarily hectic.

All these distractions have the potential to deflect you from your passion and purpose.

When your are focused, you are able to master your time schedule, do less but achieve more.

More significantly though is the ability to stay focused when everything is going well. It is often said that to achieve is one thing but to maintain your achievements is something completely different.

From 1994, when he became President, to the day he passed on in 2013, Mandela stayed completely focused. That’s almost two decades of complete devotion.

When he became President he could have considered that as his ultimate achievement because that was the beginning of an incredible milestone in South African history. Instead he maintained that achievement over a period of 19 years.

Why? Because he was focused and stayed completely devoted to his passion: making a contribution to the freedom struggle of his people.

7. Passion Overrules Personality

In a world that has now turned into “survival of the fittest” and “each man for himself”, doesn’t it seem like the extroverts always get what they want?

Those that are outspoken just seem to have that edge and spark over the more timid and quiet personalities.

Nelson Mandela – although he wasn’t timid – was by no means the natural extrovert. When you think of the likes of Barack Obama, he was by no means as outspoken and gifted in terms of public speaking and extrovert personalities.

And yet, because of his passion, he achieved what is considered by many a miracle.

You were born with the personality you have. Don’t try to emulate someone else because you feel intimidated.

Stay rooted to your passion and convictions and incredible things (miracles at times) will happen in your life.

8. Passion Helps You Become Contagious

Mandela was contagious. Today, South Africa, has survived its worst history and an appalling regime called apartheid because one man’s passion spread into the hearts of many fellow South Africans and others worldwide.

Passion is incredibly contagious. Anything that is contagious, has the potential to be lethal.

In serving others as a priority, our contagious passion should be lethal in a good way. One of the key reasons that inspired the RunForWealth blog is being able share and be contagious.

Ebola is described as an acute, serious illness which is often fatal if untreated. Likewise our passion should have an incredible potent effect on others (in a positive way).

More importantly, if we neglect our passions, they have the potential to damage us as the bearer of those passions. Nothing is as discouraging, frustrating, dis-heartening (and all the other colourful adjectives you can think of) as knowing that you are living a life that is completely opposite from your passions.

Like Ebola, untreated and neglected passions, will cause fatality.

9. Passion Requires an Incredible Amount of Sacrifice

This point goes without saying.

I have included it because we often under-estimate the amount of sacrifice required to pursue and fulfil passion.

Mandela is probably one of the best (if not the best) examples you can find of the extent of sacrifice required to pursue passion.

Life imprisonment is probably the most significant sacrifice one can make to fulfil passion. Imagine the amount of mental turmoil he must have felt. He spent 18 of his 27 years on Robben Island in a solitary cell.

Can you imagine spending 18 years in a 4x4m dimension prison? One where all you have is an iron bucket that serves as a toilet and thin blankets that serve as a bed.

Just fathom that for a minute (or 15 seconds)!

Your passion will get suppressed and restricted in ways you can never imagine.

BUT, Mandela had a little window of sun-rays and vision that allowed him to peak into the amazing limitless results of his passion.

Likewise, this same small window will keep you going as you navigate your way through the painful hardships of sacrifice.

In the end, what seems like a lifetime of sacrifices will come to an end. It might be 18 months or 27 years, but it will end.

10. Passion Helps You Enjoy Most of Your Life

Most of society spends most of their time at work or in their business to make ends meet. Sadly, most are spending all this time doing something they either hate or have very little passion for.

If you follow your passion, you’ll spend most of your life in “enjoyment mode”. This is why it is so important to list the benefits and fruits of all your efforts.

As a long-distance runner, I need to motivate myself at all times. That’s exactly why I have a list of all the benefits of running. It helps remind me why my passion for running brings joy to my life.

But, enjoyment can also come on the back-end of pain.

I enjoy watching rugby. I think it’s one of the most exciting sporting disciplines. One that provides incredible spectator value.

But, I must admit, I sometimes wonder how on earth these guys keep putting their bodies through such a pounding.

In fact recently, in a match between South Africa and Argentina, Jean De Villiers suffered a cracked jaw. Just typing “cracked jaw” gives me shivers. Because South Africa had run out of substitutes, he continued to play – making and taking tackles – right through to the end of the match.

I doubt anything can drive individuals through such pain either than this one magical word called passion.

In post-match interviews, rugby players personify enjoyment. Despite the body pounding and pain they suffer, they often symbolize what enjoyment is – especially if they win.

Nelson Mandela, on Robben Island, was forced to do hard labor. He was allowed one visitor a year for 30 minutes. He could only write and receive one letter every six months. However, through his intelligence, charm and dignified defiance, Mandela was eventually able to bend the most brutal prison officials to his will.

He went on to assume leadership over his jailed comrades and became the master of his own prison. Eventually he was released. And as they say, the rest is history.

Much like rugby players, Mandela – despite the pain of imprisonment for 27 years – lived a thoroughly enjoyable life.

Follow your passion and you’ll be sure to enjoy most of your life as well.

11. Passion Helps You Create Financial Wealth

I’ve deliberately included this as the second last point.

Whilst we often get taught to chase money at all costs, the most effective wealth will come when you stop chasing money and start fulfilling passion.

The financial returns of passion are not instant. If you want microwave success, then you need to forget about following your passion.

Your passion will often start you off on a financially broke journey – where you have absolutely nothing financial to show for your passion.

Then you’ll graduate. You’ll move from “financially broke” to “survival mode”, where your passion barely makes you a living.

Eventually the financial returns of your passion catch fire. When that happens, there’s nothing to stop you except yourself.

Mandela died financially wealthy.

As I write this post, almost two years post his death, his legacy continues to generate financial returns.

Whilst pursuing money can get you financial returns quicker, those returns seldom continue post your death.

Passion, on the other, is able to create true and authentic financial wealth – the type that outlives you.

12. Passion Should Always Be Bigger Than You

Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa. After just one term, he stepped down.

At the time, he was still a celebrated and incredibly respected leader. But, he knew too well that his passion was much bigger than the massive Mandela brand at the time. He was too much of a visionary to allow himself to stand in the way of the generational power of his passion.

Passion should always outlive us. Through your passion, you should seek to create a legacy.


On 10 December, a memorial service was held for the great man at the FNB Stadium in South Africa. Packed into that stadium were a total of 80 Head Of States.

That memorial service stands head and shoulders above every other event or symbolism of the type of change and influence Nelson Mandela’s passion brought into this world.

What a great man! May His Soul Rest In Peace.

To you and I, I hope we can learn from him and bring about changes (small or big) that will make this world a better place.

I hope you’ve enjoyed and found value in this post.

God Bless!

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