I’ve been working with people for years on discovering work they love and following their passion. In the process, I’ve noticed that the two biggest issues that make it hard to move forward are: getting clear on what their passion truly is, and then figuring out how to make a living at it.
In this article I will address both of these issues with exercises and practical tips, so that you can take the next steps in your own life without committing yourself to something you’ll regret later or risking your financial security.
Issue #1: Self-Doubt, or What is my Passion, Anyway?
Some people clearly know what they are passionate about. But for others, the whole process of “figuring out” their ideal job or life direction can be confusing and nebulous. Instead, they may have some vague ideas of what the experience of finding their passion will feel like.
When I finally find my passion, I will know it – it will just feel right and perfect
When I am working at something I’m passionate about, work will no longer be a struggle – I will be naturally motivated, and I won’t procrastinate or struggle to succeed
If I find what I’m passionate about – I won’t keep changing my mind – it will just stick
The problem with these ideas is they make it nearly impossible to decide whether or not you’ve actually “found” your passion or not. Why is this? Because nothing feels right and perfect all the time. Ask any artist, musician or writer if they struggle at getting motivated or sometimes just want to smash their instrument in frustration. They all do, and what keeps them going is determination more than passion.
If you change your mind a lot, it’s usually because you see potential in almost all the careers you’re considering. And this makes sense, because it’s not a specific activity or profession that creates passion. Passion is essentially engagement – getting fired up about something because it’s interesting or it matters to you. And for most of us, there are many things in the world that matter to us, and possibly endless things in the world to be interested in!
So how do you decide what “following your passion” means to you?
Here is an exercise you can do:
Notice moments in your life when you are engaged or absorbed in something: enjoying it, and also feeling useful while doing it. We can all get engaged in video games or arguments or a fun event, but the type of engagement I’m talking about is a little bit more specific. It’s when you are doing something that could be considered work, whether or not it feels like work. For example, maybe you love DIY home improvement projects and could lose yourself in them for hours. Or whenever there are numbers to analyze at work you love diving in and creating a spreadsheet that allows you to look at the data from several different angles. The activities themselves could be vastly different, but if you write down a sample of about twenty moments you were engaged in something productive, you may notice a pattern. That pattern is usually a reflection of your strengths and core values intersecting through a project. The “passion” comes from that intersection — or marriage — and it can express itself in many different ways.
Here’s an example. Let’s say I’m really good at writing (a strength), and one of the things I care a lot about is the environment (a value). I might have no problem helping a friend write a resume or putting out press releases for my company, but when I get an opportunity to write an article about a beach cleanup event, I absolutely come alive! The difference in my energy comes from utilizing my strength in support of my value, in this case helping the environment.
Maybe another value of yours is family and a strength are creative organization. Perhaps you’ve put together family memoirs, organized a family event, or set up a private family blog or Facebook site to share pictures – all for fun. But once you were asked to help a family member figure out his finances, and you noticed yourself procrastinating. No matter how much you cared about family, financial organization and spreadsheets were not a strength and the project drained you.
Your passion ignites when you marry your values and your strengths. In other words, when you use your strengths toward one or more of your values.
To put this concept into an equation: Strengths + Values = Passion
You can also slightly change the wording and use the sentence below as a template:
I’m passionate about using my strengths (enter them here) to make a positive contribution towards what I value (enter the things that matter to you here).
I’m passionate about using my strengths (coaching, training, facilitating, writing, leading) to make a positive contribution towards my values (personal growth, people achieving a higher potential, people’s happiness)
Once you define your passion, you can see that it provides some structure but also a lot of flexibility in not just your career but the rest of your life as well. For example, I can honor my passion through my coaching business, but even when I’m not working I can live my passion when I’m with my family or community in situations where I can have a positive impact on people.
In fact, your “passion” might be very similar to, or even synonymous with your “life purpose.”
But living your passion does NOT mean you will ALWAYS feel engaged.
It’s really important to understand that whether or not you are doing work you are passionate about — you will experience challenges, frustrations, and days when you are simply not motivated.
For me, I think the biggest difference between working on something I am or am not passionate about has been the effect my challenges have on me. When something doesn’t matter that much and I experience a challenge, there’s nothing inherently “worth” the effort of confronting that challenge. So, I avoid it until the consequences for avoiding it get too ugly and then I do it from a place of fear and deadline pressure, which is a miserable way to work.
When I’m working on something related to my core values, challenges still trip me up, but in a different way. I feel frustrated, but I’m also engaged and want to work things out. So even if I’m stuck I keep thinking about it. My brain keeps coming up with new ideas, and each idea brings some excitement. There’s plenty of energy to keep trying new things until I find a solution. I don’t have to motivate myself – the will to keep trying to overcome the challenge lives inside me – because figuring it out allows me to make a positive contribution to something that matters to me.
Issue #2: Money, or Can I Make my Passion Profitable?
Creating a job or business around one’s passion can be extremely fulfilling, but also scary. There are many practical and personal challenges related to money, which if left unresolved can leave you stuck. The three issues that I notice coming up the most are:
- Beliefs about money: The most important issue related to money is understanding that making money can come with baggage for some people, and that baggage around money doesn’t disappear just because you are doing something you are passionate about. If you have beliefs such as “there is never enough money,” or “people don’t value me,” or “people who are wealthy are selfish”… those beliefs will play out in your life no matter what line of work you are in.
- Selling Yourself: Making money has a skill set associated with it. You have to get clear on what you are offering and then spread the word so people know about it. You have to talk to people, learn your market value, and be willing to charge for your work. And if you really want to make a solid living, it helps to take sales and marketing classes and put some time into developing a sales and marketing system for yourself. Self-promotion can be a quandary for those who enjoy doing what they love, but who really don’t enjoy promoting themselves, and / or don’t enjoy developing the skills of sales and marketing.
- Market Conditions: The third issue is that sometimes the balance of supply and demand in your passion market is skewed in a way that makes it difficult to make money. You can work hard, have the right business skills, and be really good at what you do, but still struggle to earn money, just because of the way an industry or market works. Here are a few examples:
- A recent study shows that 91% of all musicians are completely undiscovered. This means that if you love music and you are amazing at playing an instrument, writing songs or singing – you still need a lot of luck to make a living at it.
- Another study shows that 54% of published authors make less than $1000 per year, with less than 8% of all authors making over $100K per year. Again, you can be an amazing writer and even get published, but you may need also need some luck to earn a solid living just from writing books.
- Life coaching, real estate, financial planning, and other independent professions tend to offer almost unlimited opportunity, but when you look at the reality, only a small percentage of these professionals achieve that potential. One website showed that more than 50% of Mary Kay Consultants only earned commissions of about $100 per year, while the top 50% averaged closer to $20,000 per year, and only .08% made 6 figure commissions.
These numbers aren’t listed here to discourage you, as many of these practitioners intentionally work part time and for fun. But if your goal is to make a viable salary from your work, you’ll want to be clear on the degree of sales effort it will take to overcome the odds and move yourself to the top of the income pyramid.
So how DO you make money in your passion profession?
Here are some practical steps you can take to make money while also following your passion:
- Take a job that utilizes your natural strengths in an industry devoted to something you are passionate about. For example, the music and publishing industries are huge. You could get a job in one of those industries and be surrounded by people who are passionate about the same things you are. You can develop a great network, which gives you a better opportunity to promote your own work when you are ready.
- If you want to have your own business, take advantage of all the sales and marketing classes that are offered through SCORE and local networking associations, and pick one or two approaches that you are willing to consistently execute on.
- If you think you might have beliefs about money holding you back, contact Nahid to start the process of identifying and changing those beliefs.
Option: If you really don’t want the pressure of money to influence the joy of your passion work, then separate your financial needs from your creative needs. You could get a job or “good enough” source of income that doesn’t drain your energy. This leaves you space to enjoy what you really love doing outside of work hours.
Decisions, or What do I Do Next?
Here are some questions to consider, as you decide whether it’s time for you to follow your passion:
- If following your passion thoroughly fulfilled you, but did not make you a steady source of income for five years, how would you manage it?
- If you need a steady income now, can you find a job doing something you are good at in your passion industry?
- If you currently are working, do you have enough energy outside of work hours to enjoy your passion and possibly build on it?
- If you want to devote 100% of your time to your passion, and you need to generate income, are you willing to devote about 1/3 of that time to sales/marketing/promotion?
No matter where you are in the discovery process, we can help you create a plan that will work with your situation. Keep in mind that the money issue and the joy issue are actually separate, and while the ideal scenario is to marry them, sometimes it works better to keep them separate until you have built enough momentum to combine them.
Finding your passion does not have to be an unrealistic “risk it all” endeavor. The best way to start the process is to identify your strengths and values and then brainstorm on different ways to incorporate them into your life. You may find that there are many more options than you thought, and although the process is a journey, each step you take brings more engagement, joy and energy your life. Are you ready to take the next step?