Rule #11: Find and Work Toward Your True Passions.

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14 money rulesA reader asked me if I could break down my ideas into a handful of principles. After some careful thought, I came up with a list of fourteen basic “rules” that summarize my money and life philosophy. I’ll be presenting these as a weekly series.

I’ve watched it over and over again: the people that succeed in a particular career path are the people who are able to tap into their natural passions and aim that fire hose into their professional life. They know what they love and they find ways to translate that into a way to make a living. Sometimes they make a nice income – and that’s awesome. At other times, they earn just enough to get by – and that’s awesome, too.

What matters is that, in both cases, it’s a joy to get out of bed in the morning and get started on your day. Your work itself fills you with joy and excitement. When you reach that point, the line between work and play disappears – you’re happy doing whatever your day throws at you. That has a value that can’t be measured in dollars and cents. It transforms your life.

I hear from many people who claim this is impossible. It’s not. Every single day, I get out of bed, excited to write. If anything, I write more each day than I did when my passion for writing was still new. I know others who feel the same way about what they do. It makes them want to get out of bed in the morning and get started. When you feel that passion surging through you, it makes a lot of the little difficulties of life not matter too much.

If this seems completely alien to you, you simply haven’t discovered your passion yet. I discussed this a while ago, but here are seven ways to figure out your passions:

1. Maximize your health. Eat well. Get some exercise. Get away from any and all situations that are emotionally holding you back. Get plenty of sleep. Without these pieces in place, it will be hard for you to open up to new opportunities and directions.

2. Ask lots of questions. If you come across something of interest to you, ask. Follow up with more questions until you’re satisfied – at least for the moment. Research interesting topics online. Do things like a “Wikipedia stumble” – start at a general topic you’re thinking about, then click on whatever article in Wikipedia that’s most interesting to you – and keep reading and following links.

3. Ignore what’s “cool.” Remember the idea that you should stop trying to impress other people? It comes through big time here. If you enjoy it, it doesn’t matter what others think. Don’t be afraid to dive into something that seems exciting to you over a fear that others might find it “dorky.” Their label says more about them than it does about the activity.

4. Dabble in everything. If something seems interesting, try it. You might not find it enjoyable or you might find it fascinating. It’s often hard to tell the difference until you dive in. For example, having a garden might seem interesting, but until you try it, it’s hard to tell whether it’s just conceptually interesting to you (but not necessarily in practice) or something that you truly enjoy.

5. When something piques your interest, dig in. You try it. You like it. So try it again. And again. There are many things that seem quite fun on the first shot, but grow boring quickly as you hit “the dip” (where the newness wears off but you’re not very good at it). If you’re passionate about something, you won’t mind that dip.

6. Associate with others that share this growing passion of yours. Look for events in your area where people might be involved with this interest. Look for groups online where people are talking about this activity. Join in, share your thoughts, and ask questions. Nothing’s better for fostering a growing interest than a group of like-minded people.

7. If it dries up, don’t push it. True passions are sustaining – you’ll keep coming back to them because you want to. If you no longer want to engage in it, don’t make yourself. Just back away and find another path. You may find yourself returning in the future, or you may find yourself on a completely different path.

You’ll know your passion when you find it. It’ll ring inside of you like a hammer hitting a church bell. It’ll consume your thoughts and your activities, even if you’re not very good at it yet. You’ll get up each morning excited to do more. This is how I feel about writing, for one.

What do you do if you discover your passion, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to translate that into income? After all, you have to pay the bills, and even though you’ve found something you love so much you’d be happy to do it every day, it doesn’t put food on the table.

There are countless avenues for channeling that passion into income. However, almost all of these paths require you to start doing it on a part-time basis. Give up the frivolous things you were spending your evenings on and devote some of that time to a new path. Here are ten suggestions for transforming that passion into cash.

Blog Start a blog on the topic you’re passionate about. Share something new every day on there. Put a few ads on the site to earn a bit of revenue.

Teach / tutor If you have patience, hang out your shingle and volunteer to teach your passion to others. This is a great avenue for a passionate musician.

Provide services Maybe you’ve found that you’re passionate about a particular task that others find to be drudgery – scooping snow or repairing computers. Sell these services directly to others.

Create videos If you want to teach how to do the things you love, consider making videos and sharing them online. Put them on YouTube and make a simple blog to share the videos. If you start gathering followers, sign up for their rewards program and you can translate this into solid income.

Sell at farmers markets If you make things, from soap to bread to wicker baskets, you can likely do well selling the items at farmers markets. It’s a great way to make some sales and meet people interested in what you’re doing.

Write freelance articles / books If you simply enjoy writing, practice and attempt to sell some of your best work as a freelancer. Expect plenty of rejections, but also expect feedback and suggestions, especially as you improve.

Develop projects through work Take what you’re passionate about and see how it can connect to your workplace. If you’re into catering, volunteer to spend some work time getting catering set up for a work event. If you’re into art, look for ways to incorporate your art into work projects.

Take classes Work towards a degree in the area of your passion. It’s a great way to get yourself into the marketplace and to connect with lots of like-minded folks.

Volunteer / apprentice Don’t be afraid to spend your spare time volunteering to share your passion with others. Time and time again, people who share their talents freely and build their skills find themselves in other opportunities to earn an income from it.

Sell by consignment If you have a product to sell, talk to local sellers and see if they sell by consignment. They provide the space and the sales work for a cut of the revenue, while you get to focus on what you love.

Finding your passion is a life-changing event. It pushes you in new directions that fulfill you in ways you’d never expect. If you’ve never found your passion, you’re missing out on life by not seeking it out.

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19 thoughts on “Rule #11: Find and Work Toward Your True Passions.

  1. “If it dries up, don’t push it.”

    How is this compatible with “pushing through the dip” a la Seth Godin?

  2. This is really what people should be pursuing, as opposed to money. We have it all backward.

    Money is seen as a way to attain a certain lifestyle, but what if you could attain that lifestyle without having money? The whole game would change. The lifestyle would produce the money, rather than relying on money to produce the lifestyle. That’s radical!

    It’s also a life well lived!

  3. I agree with the general theme of the post. If you have to work for money, you may as well be passionate about your work, even if it’s only a part time income. I think artists (writers, musicians, painters, photographers etc.) fall into this category. People don’t go into artistic careers for practical reasons. They do it because they are passionate about it.

    I became a project manager for practical reasons, not because I am passionate about it, but I indulge my passions of writing and music performance and make a few hundred dollars on the side every month.

    What I think I may disagree with is points 4 and 5. You can easily spread yourself too thin by indulging every whim that you find yourself interested in. I think there has to be a cut off point, for managing life sanely, to say, I have enough on my plate, I should be happy with that.

    I would rather side with, remove the unimportant so that you can focus on the important. It might be nice to grow my own tomatoes, but to manage a whole garden of various vegetables may be too much time and would take away from my other passions.

    That’s my two cents,
    -Charley

  4. Why is ‘start a blog’ always the first item on everyone’s list for making more income? Placing ads from the very beginning would mean going with something like AdSense, which even Trent has spoken his dislike for. Why recommend something you don’t use yourself?
    Most blogs don’t earn hardly any money, especially considering the time invested in them. I always know when someone posts about ‘easy’ ways to earn extra income that ‘start a blog’ will be first on the list.

  5. What if your passion is a seemingly unappreciated part of a whole, dying industry? I was a page designer at a daily newspaper until recently, when I took another job in a safer industry making a little more money (because newspapers do tend to underpay their employees when they don’t have to). These days it’s a struggle to go to work every day, when, back then, it was never a struggle. I was passionate, dedicated, always looked for ways to learn new things. Now, I just look forward to weekends. I want to get back in to newspapers, but obviously they’re not doing so well.

  6. I question the underlying premise, that is, that everyone has a “passion.” And if the response is that a person without a passion just hasn’t worked hard enough to find it, that’s just circular reasoning.

    That said, for people who do have a passion, I wish them all the luck and joy pursuing it.

  7. Perhaps not everyone does have a passion, but more likely they haven’t been in the way of discovering it yet. I was competent at a lot of things and making a good (though boring) living doing one of them, but at 32 I discovered (by chance, not by madly chasing every tangential interest) my passion was ballroom dancing.

    Now I’m a champion amateur competitor, certified instructor and teaching on the side while I continue my day job. Let me tell you, the day job is a lot less confining now that I have dance in my life.

    Re: starting a blog: it’s not necessarily about income – could be about articulating your interests and having a way for people to learn about you and see if they’re interested in working with you.

  8. Let’s see, I could be a fishing guide, but I don’t like the meager income to put up with people’s BS. I could farm, but that might not leave me enough free time to enjoy other pursuits. I could do photography and starve. I could race and starve and not have a home to live in.

    Hmm, guess I’ll continue working at a relatively high-paying computer job so I can have MORE time off later and be secure.

  9. Trent, I tried going through your 31 Days to Fix Your Finances a while ago and I got stuck on day 2 which is about defining goals. I have been thinking about it long and hard and I realized that even though my bachelor’s degree was in public health, what I really want to do is be a nurse and work with the American Red Cross helping people prepare for and respond to disasters. I learned about this in my public health courses too of course, but it took some soul searching to realize that my real passion would lie in being involved in the medical field. I am now on the path to taking some community college courses to fulfill some prerequisites and then going back to school. Finding your true passions takes a lot of introspection and time. Thanks for getting me started.

  10. A couple of good books to read are 48 Days to the Work You Love and No More Mondays, both by Dan Miller. Excellent reads that get you thinking.
    George, I’m in your same situation. But, making a dying 5 days a week so that you can enjoy 2 days off, is no way to live 40 years of your life. I’m finding out that finding your passion is way more than discovering what you’re interested in…it takes a commitment to really finding out who you are in a lot of other areas. Hope these books can help someone.

  11. Gwen, I think you discovered your goal, which is to help people manage disasters. The means to do that is first to have a nursing degree, then build on that. I have been a nurse for 40 years, and am now a Nurse Practitioner, but at one point I thought I wanted to be a math teacher. I went back to school, studied math, and then discovered that I could not ABIDE the culture of middle and high school education. I’ve never been unhappy with the various paths my nursing degrees have taken me.

  12. I agree it’s an amazing feeling jumping in to do something for fun every day.

    I do my money and investing blog for this.

    But I agree with the comment about how blogging is a really hard way to make money.

    I do my money and investing blog DESPITE this.

    My next goal is to turn one of my other passions/interests into something that doesn’t involve a computer screen. I’d love to use my hands, and other senses more.

  13. Trent, I’m enjoying your blog daily through my RSS reader and I seem to nearly always agree with you, except today, where you said “If you have patience, hang out your shingle and volunteer to teach your passion to others. This is a great avenue for a passionate musician.”

    Now, maybe you mean an amateur musician – someone who does music only as a hobby – but for me, a professional musician, this is a dangerous idea. Where does one whose income relies on performing and teaching music draw the line? How can you say to person X that you will charge them $20+ an hour and turn around and offer free services to person Y? It’s not right to discern simply by easy or difficult the music is, because it took 15-20 years of lessons and practicing just to gain the skills to be able to play either piece.

    For me, it’s the only service I can offer and I need to be careful not to discredit the importance of my skill (I play piano, flute, I sing and conduct). I’ve been asked to play for over 50 weddings, many for my own friends, and I had to really struggle to admit that I should still ask for compensation in these situations – because it is my career. Of course there are some cases where I decide to play gratis (usually for a family member) or offer a very nice discount (usually for a *very* good friend). But if I played free for any friend, I’d be caught in a spiral of expected volunteerism. For me, the only place I sometimes volunteer my musical skills for free is for small musical offerings in my church, as a way of giving back to my church.

    I’m sorry to write so much in my comment, but I was very surprised to hear this comment come from you!!! A musician’s career is still a career, and since we’re more likely to struggle, we should be very careful not to get caught up in giving our life’s work away for free. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on this!

  14. Trent,

    This post has had a big impact on me. My father passed away in July and I have felt my life has been “reset”. It is difficult to explain, but finding my passion I believe will be a part of my over all healing process. Thanks, Matt Sullivan

  15. To paraphrase Michael Bolton: “if everyone followed that advice there would be no janitors, because no one would clean shit up if they were following their passion.”

    There have to be SOME people doing jobs that no one else wants to do. Ideally, we would all love our work, but I don’t think it’s necessarily realistic.

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