The Five Ps: Breaking Down Big Dreams Into Little Steps

One of my most loyal readers, a person named Brad who first emailed me about The Simple Dollar about a week after it launched, sent me an email this week that really struck a chord with me. Here’s the key part.

Ever since I was a little kid, all I’ve wanted to do was play professional golf. I can’t dream of a better life than playing golf for a living, or even working in some way professionally in a way connected to golf.

Right now I work in an office and the closest I get to this is playing a couple of rounds each weekend. During the week, I’m too busy to hit the greens.

This makes me depressed. I hear you talking about reaching your dreams and I’m happy for you, but then I look around my office and I see mine slipping away and I get sad.

All right, a confession.

I fail at writing. A lot.

I’ve been writing in my personal journal every single day since 1991. When I started digging into my writing passion (writing in a little leatherbound journal my grandmother got me for Christmas 1990 when I was only twelve years old), I read that one should write at least 1,000 words each day. So I have. Since January 1991. Every. Single. Day. At this point, I’ve been writing 1,000 or more words a day for the majority of my life – and it’s usually more words. Way more.

In high school, I entered essay competitions and other contests and did middling at best. I probably would have given up then, feeling much the same way our friend here feels like giving up, if it hadn’t been for the constant and often subtle encouragement by my high school English teacher. Randy, if you’re out there reading this, I wouldn’t be writing for a living right now if it wasn’t for you.

I kept it up in college and in my early professional life. I wrote two full novels and a pile of short stories. I had a few glimmers of success with it, even going so far as to get what I considered to be a very strong bite from a publisher in 2003, but most of it was a pile of rejection letters. Failure, over and over again.

I kept writing. Why? I loved it. I still love it with every ounce of my being. I love writing short stories. I love writing essays. I love making words flow together. I love how they transfer meaning to someone else, to people I’ve never met and will likely never meet.

Finally, after seventeen years of this, I’m finally seeing a little bit of success with writing. Why is this happening? There are a lot of reasons: I intentionally write very conversationally, which works well on the internet; I’m writing about a topic that’s near to people’s hearts; and I have a lot of great readers who help me out and inspire me over and over again.

There’s another piece, too. I practice. I’ve written and edited so many things over the years that now the actual art of taking an idea and turning it into a written piece fits on me like a familiar glove. It’s only because of that familiarity that I’m able to write so much for The Simple Dollar – two original columns a day – plus freelance stuff elsewhere. Because of that practice, I am now pretty fast at brainstorming, separating the bad ideas from the good, organizing a good idea into a series of logical points, and fleshing out those points into a written piece.

Great. But that doesn’t help me with my dream.
But it does! There are a ton of lessons in that story that can help anyone with any dream that they want to achieve. Let’s walk through them and see how they fit into my story, into Brad’s story … and into your story as well.

passionPassion.
Every single morning, when I wake up and lift my feet out of bed, two things cross my mind. The first one usually is a thought related to my wife and my kids – my immediate focus is on getting everyone up, getting them dressed, making sure they’ve eaten something nutritious, and getting them started on their day.

The second thought, though, always revolves around writing. I think about crafting sentences and pulling together ideas. I think about the written word in all of its varieties.

I yearn to write. There are times when I am almost magnetically pulled to a keyboard or to a pad of paper – there’s an idea floating in my head and I have to start recording it.

That’s what passion is. It’s the things in your life that you’re drawn to over and over again. It’s the things that you can scarcely go a day without doing – or at least wanting to.

Brad’s golfing is a perfect example. Every day when he goes home, he yearns to golf and it tears him up not to be able to act on that passion. He has that first piece in hand – he knows dead-on what he’s passionate about.

I have another friend who is incredibly passionate about chess. His home is littered with chess boards, magazines, and books. I finally saw how deep his passion went when I discovered a chess set in his bathroom so he could work through problems while doing his business.

What if you don’t know what you’re passionate about. Not long ago, I listed in great detail seven steps to finding what you’re truly passionate about. Here they are in a nutshell (but that whole article is well worth reading):

1. Maximize your health
2. Ask questions
3. Ignore what’s “cool”
4. Dabble in everything
5. When something piques your interest, try it again – and again
6. Associate with people who share this burgeoning interest of yours
7. Don’t keep pushing it if the passion dries up quickly

Keep doing those steps and you’ll find your passion – or it will find you.

practicePractice.
I like watching basketball players practice. I’ve watched bad coaches lead practices, mediocre coaches lead practices, and good coaches lead practice.

At first, I thought that basketball practice was about intense scrimmages. I thought that the best way to coach would be to have your team run complete plays over and over again with the coach pointing out flaws and correcting them. In essence, I thought practice would be much like a game with the coach shouting instructions.

Wrong.

The best basketball team I’ve ever seen would have two and a half hour practices – and only scrimmage for ten minutes or so at the very end. Most of the practice was filled with very repetitive drills. They’d sprint from one end of the court to the other to do a layup. They’d run the same exact screen a hundred times. They’d all shoot fifty free throws. They’d do endurance sprints. In other words, the intense part of their practices were nothing like playing a game of basketball – they were instead a bunch of focused little pieces on specific attributes of playing basketball.

I got the opportunity to ask the coach why this was and he made it very simple: these kids would play basketball for fun all the time anyway, so scrimmages were kind of a waste of time. Instead, it was much more important to work on very specific fundamentals.

In other words, practice isn’t just about doing something over and over again. It’s about focusing in on very specific elements and techniques, hammering them in over and over again, and then seeking out feedback on that technique.

Not long ago on the New York Times Freakonomics blog, Stephen Dubner wrote about the value of using deliberate practice to make oneself very good at a particular skill. He broke such practice down into three pieces:

1. Focus on technique as opposed to outcome.
2. Set specific goals.
3. Get good, prompt feedback, and use it.

When writing, I do this by writing on a bunch of different topics. I write articles and guest postings on all sorts of topics. I write short stories. I try mixing up what I do and taking on new things. In order to get feedback on this stuff, I post it online in various places – sometimes as guest posts on blogs, sometimes on community sites where I’ll get comments. This lets me know pretty quickly whether I’m writing well – or I need to work on something.

Alternately, I’ll just take one little piece of a post for The Simple Dollar and polish it, honing a truly great paragraph. This moves me from working on just content creation into working on editing, another piece of the writer’s toolkit.

With my golfing friend, instead of going home each night and lamenting that he doesn’t have the time or cash to go golfing, he should go to a park or a field somewhere where there is a lot of open grass and practice specific shots. Lay a hula hoop on the ground, then back away fifty yards and practice hitting chip shots into that hula hoop for an hour nonstop. Do that every night and your chip shots will get better and better.

The key here is to not “practice” the whole of what you’re doing. The key is to practice specific elements. Focus wholly on the areas where you’re weakest and drill in on them. Do some intense work on just one specific element of what you’re trying to accomplish.

After that, have fun and notice how that practice helped you become more complete in the area you’re passionate about.

persistencePersistence.
Many people know what their passion is and how to practice to get better, but they are content with merely doing so every once in a while. They sit back and get complacent with what they know, only practicing every once in a while for a specific purpose.

For some, that’s enough. My mother-in-law is a very good piano player who can play stunningly well by ear; she also knows quite well how to practice to go from being very good to great. But the persistence isn’t there – she doesn’t sit down at the piano and practice chords over and over again or try banging through highly complex pieces or try mastering some of the more common techniques through repetition.

Persistence is the repetition of practice, and if anything, it’s the most important P. The gap that separates the very good from the great is the repetition of deliberate practice and the ability to keep at it no matter what.

It’s easy to echo countless stories and anecdotes about this. I like the story about Abraham Lincoln – during his adult life he was fired from his job, failed as an independent businessman, had a nervous breakdown, lost elections to the state legislature, state Speaker of the House, the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Senate again, and the Vice Presidency before finally becoming President. There were countless times he should have or could have quit, but he didn’t, and by persisting, he made an indelible mark on history.

I write thirteen articles for The Simple Dollar every single week. I’ve written at least 1,000 words every day for seventeen years. Sometimes, I won’t write anything at all that sets anyone on fire. At other times, I’ll write so much good stuff that it’s running out of my ears. But I don’t give up on those bad weeks – I keep at it because I know that when I stop being persistent about it, that’s when things will start to fall apart.

In Brad’s situation, he needs to stop by the park and practice some aspect of his game every single night. By making it an essential part of his day, something he must do without fail, he will put in the huge number of hours he needs to get better.

You know what your passion is. You know what you need to do to get better. Set aside some time right now to get better, every single day. It’s a tough choice, but it’s the one you need to make to pull your dreams closer one baby step at a time.

patiencePatience.
About once a week, I’ll get an email from a disheartened writer. They read The Simple Dollar, thought that they could do the same, then sat down to crank out their own blog. The desire to write burned inside of them, they knew exactly what needed to be done to develop and produce good articles, and they understood the need to write every single day.

What they found out is that after two or three months, their site still only received a handful of visitors. They’d write to me wondering what was wrong, expressing some serious disillusionment. Usually, it didn’t matter what I wrote back to them – they’d usually abandon blogging, often with the sense that it was a scam or something or that the system was rigged against them.

There is no scam. They lacked patience.

Take Brad’s golfing passion, for example. Let’s imagine Brad gets the memo and starts practicing every day at the park for an hour. He practices his chip shots, his putts, and even his iron play from the rough. He hits the same shots over and over again and begins to get a real feel for his game.

Then he goes out on the course and hits an 88. He’s devastated. That was the same score he shot before he even started practicing! He tosses this stupid practice thing in the dumpster and gives up.

Patience, Brad. Look at Tiger Woods. He’s the best golfer in the world and can hit below 70 with stunning regularity, but even he hits a 74 every once in a while. The last time you shot an 88, it was on a day where you were naturally playing a bit above average. Now, when you shoot an 88, it’s an average day. All of that practice managed to shave a consistent stroke or two off of your score, but you’re judging that progress based on one round – and that’s not nearly enough.

In my own life, I went through periods where I was ready to give up the writing dream. I’d write every day, but I’d feel like I was, if anything, getting worse as a writer. I’d see no success in getting anything published – all I’d see were rejections. It often took everything I had to keep going, but I knew that if I stopped, the dream I had of being a writer would never happen. So I kept plugging away.

A while back, I noted nine techniques for developing patience:

Figure out what your actual destination is.
Make a “Plan B,” too.
Take the other side’s perspective.
Break down big goals into tiny ones.
Wait. Just a little.
Recognize that there are some things that you simply can’t control.
Think about the things that make you react on impulse.
Recognize when you do act on impulse.
Forget the results, enjoy the process.

Whenever you feel like you’re about to give up on your dreams even after investing a lot of passion and effort into them, look at these techniques. After all, all you need is just a little patience.

participationParticipation.
Passion, practice, persistence, and patience will make you very, very good at something, but true greatness requires even more. It requires learning from others and also sharing what you know.

Every truly great person got there by participating in a wider community. They either brought something to the table that hadn’t existed before or helped someone else stand on the shoulders of giants. They changed the game, not just for themselves, but for others as well.

For me, this means interacting with other writers. It means participating in interviews. It means mentoring new bloggers. It means sharing what I know freely and also learning what others can teach me along the way.

For Brad, the possibilities of participation are nearly endless. He can teach others how to play golf. He can participate in community events, like organizing charity tournaments at the local public golf course. He can get kids interested in the game he cares so much about. He can use his passion and practice and persistence and patience as tools to not only make himself better, but bring something of value into the lives of others as well.

Don’t know where to start? You can begin by participating in general community events and meeting as many people as you can. You’d be shocked how many opportunities there are to share your passions with others, and from there the word can only spread outward.

It is only through that kind of participation that doors will open and you’ll be able to truly live your dream. Your passion, your improved skills, and your desire to share what you have with the world will make you stand out, and when things fall into place and the right opportunity comes around, you’ll be ready and waiting.

Starting on a Big Dream Right Now
Those five elements are all you need to start in on your dream right now.

Passion. Find it and know it.
Practice. Break your passion down into pieces and deliberately work on the elements.
Persistence. Practice as much as you can on an extremely regular basis, like clockwork.
Patience. Don’t expect to be great in a day, a month, or even a year.
Participation. Find new ways to get involved and share what you know.

Today, my friend, is a great day to get started.

Many thanks to Images of American Political History for helping me find public domain images for this post. For those curious, Passion was represented by Thomas Paine, Practice was represented by Benjamin Franklin, Persistence was represented by Douglas MacArthur, Patience was represented by Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr., and Participation was represented by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The life stories of all of these people taught me valuable lessons about achieving my dreams.

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  1. Carol says:

    Hi Trent,

    I read Simple Dollar every day for close to a year. This column speaks to me in a big way. I have been one of those people who have given up, but your tips (which are much more than tips) to Brad are going to be a big help to me too. Thank you for all of your articles; you are in inspiration to me. I hope that Brad will be heartened by all you have written.

  2. MoneyBlogga says:

    I really enjoy reading your blog – I try to check in every day. Good work!

  3. Excellent post! No question about it… you have to make time for the things that are important to you and keep plugging away. I have found that setting smaller more attainable goals along the way has really helped me keep my eye on the finish line.

  4. Very inspiring!
    One of my high school teachers used to repeat something that still sticks with me today that you mention above-regarding practice and persistence with learning latin vocabulary words. He would repeat ad nauseum:
    “Repetition, Repetition, Repetition!” to get us to practice the words until it was burned in our skulls. Sometimes by just going through the motions with consistent practice-whether writing, golfing, or anything else you can become quite proficient at something.

  5. Saving Freak says:

    Great post. It is interesting to see the difference between those who achieve mediocrity and those who struggle their way to greatness. Any one of the areas is not part of the equation and you get mediocrity.

  6. sushma says:

    Great Post! Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Hopefully I’ll get off my backside today for my destiny……

  7. Valerie says:

    Inspiring, Trent. Thanks for coaching us and bringing us back to the basics.

  8. Frugal Dad says:

    A stubborn persistence has helped many successful people reach where they are today. I use the word “stubborn” because at times you have to be practically bull-headed about pursuing your dreams. Imagine a football player breaking eleven tackles to reach the goal line. Nothing stands between him and his dream without getting run over.

    Trent, this post is an instant classic! When you are able to harness the power of words to inspire others to action you know you have reached the endzone. Awesome job!

  9. This is definitely a great post, and something I need to be reminded of constantly – particularly the persistence and patience parts! I thought I would become an overnight sensation with my trizm puzzle concept and the story behind its inception. I still think it will take off, but I am finding out that it takes a long time and a lot of hard work to become an “overnight” sensation!

    Andrew Blakeslee

  10. Andy says:

    Excellent article. My problem, however, is that I either haven’t found my passion, or my passion is dabbling. I love learning about and doing new things all the time. I don’t know if I just haven’t found my passion, or there isn’t one passion for me. Can I be successful as a dabbler?

  11. !wanda says:

    It seems to me that something like golf is very different from something like writing. I don’t know much about golf, so let me switch the example to playing the violin or piano. If you start playing the piano or violin at 12, you’re already out of the game; there were plenty of people who started at 4 or 5, and you will never catch up to them. No matter how much you love it, it will only be a hobby, and you’ll need to find another way to make a living.

  12. Faculties says:

    Dabblers make good journalists — you learn all about something, you write about it, and then you move on to the next thing. Maybe practicing dabbling is a good skill!

  13. Trent says:

    “If you start playing the piano or violin at 12, you’re already out of the game; there were plenty of people who started at 4 or 5, and you will never catch up to them.”

    That is so incredibly wrong. The best piano player I know started in her twenties.

  14. Jeff says:

    @!wanda – I think your view is the wrong way to look at things like playing golf or music. Who says that he has to go on to be a professional golfer? Perhaps his passion will lead him to opening up his own golf shop? Or maybe he will become good enough to give lessons to the very 4 and 5 year olds that you speak of?

    The opportunities are there if you are willing to look for them.

  15. Thanks for this article! A little extra inspiration is always a help. :)

  16. Susannah says:

    Great article! I will re-read it often (repetition repetition repetition!!)

  17. Patience. That’s my biggest challenge. It is so easy to fall into the trap of expecting instant gratification.

    Thank you for an inspiring post.

  18. My Small Cents says:

    My husband is an incredible guitar player, and it’s because he’s been (unwittingly) putting the five Ps into play for over half his life. I often wonder at his talent, but I know how much work is behind it.

    I love writing too; communication in many forms has always been very important to me. It’s one of the reasons I so enjoy blogging.

  19. Collision says:

    My brother is a professional golfer. He pursued this passion from the age of 10, first by spending hours hitting my Fathers discarded golf balls with sticks, then by participating in a local golf courses lessons and competitions. After he finished school he did nothing else but practice or play golf encouraged and supported by our parents who also loved the game. He would spend hour after hour at the driving range. Through persistence and some talent he became a scratch player. In his 20s he played the European Tour and mostly lost money but never lost his drive. In his early 30s he got married and had to give up touring to make a living, but nobody questioned that this would be from golf, not his understanding wife and especially not him. He concentrated on being a club professional, first as an assistant, then at a small hotel course, until now he is the pro at a medium sized course. He makes a decent living and he participates by teaching and supporting all the kids who are just like he was.

    Brad may have left it too late to follow this plan, eventually our lives have too much weight. But there are other ways. My Father found golf later in life and it quickly became his passion. As well as playing whenever he could he was able to participate by becoming active in the local golf course activities and committees, freely volunteering his time and energy. Eventually he was rewarded by becoming club Captain (twice !) and County President, and of course by seeing his passion ignited in his son.

  20. Michael says:

    !wanda, you are right. Trent, you must not know any truly great piano players, or perhaps you misjudged the skill of your friend. It could be that she has extraordinary talent — but then there are people with the same talent who started earlier, and they are better.

    I don’t mean people shouldn’t do as best they can, but if they become serious about something later in life, they have less time to practice, their bodies fight harder against them, and they don’t go as far.

  21. MS says:

    George Leonard wrote a book about mastering skills that has some similar themes. A couple of the big points are that you have to learn to enjoy the practice itself and that breakthroughs in skill often come with some readjustment as they are integrated into the task (like the 88 round). Overall, it’s a good (and quick) read.

  22. You know what Trent, you just made my day. I wanted to switch to a sewing business, and although I started taking the baby steps towards it, I wasn’t feeling that motivated. Your post, specially the part where you talked about practicing one particular skill at a time, really hit home. Thanks a bunch.

  23. Kim says:

    Trent, I love your blog. So often you write excellent articles that speak to people on many levels. Just wanted to say that I think this is your best EVER. Very inspiring. Well done.

  24. KJ says:

    What a wonderful way to start today, Trent. This is a spectacular piece.

    @!wanda and @Michael: There are _lots_ of professionally successful musicians out there who are actually not terribly skilled at their instruments, as there are professional singers whose voices aren’t honed sufficiently for difficult pieces. Many times, what the audience hears is heart…

    …BUT I think you guys miss the bigger picture in lamenting that the neurons are set young…

    …and the big picture is about how great it is to live with the things that are important to you. In Trent’s post here, I mean “participation.”

    If you can’t learn to play the classical violin in the style of Perlman (a childhood hero of mine!), then write your own music that you are able to play
    OR volunteer to teach little kids how to start playing and host a recital for the 4th graders
    OR pick up the mandolin/bluegrass fiddle and switch genres
    OR get involved in ushering for the local symphony OR join the local high school music booster club…

    You get the idea. It’s great that the motivator for lots of folks is the dream of genius…but the thing that will bring joy is participation in meaningful and important things.

  25. Kris says:

    This story is exactly what I needed today. Thanks Trent!

  26. Wizie says:

    Trent, It took me a very long time to find my vocation. I left my full-time job to go back to school. However, finding your vocation is like riding a roller coaster or falling in love, it is very exciting at the beginning, but then you realize that it is a lot of hard work. It is at that point that you have to love the slow pace of the donkey ride and admire the flowers beside the path. Very talented people make it look easy for a reason; there is a lot of work behind it. I am still finding this out… Thank you for the excellent article.

  27. Shevy says:

    Trent, this is possibly the best piece I’ve read on the Simple Dollar (and I’ve read every post in the archives).

    What a couple of commenters are missing is that the point of following your passion *isn’t* to become the “best” golfer, pianist, etc. in the entire world. If Brad never becomes the next Tiger Woods then he hasn’t somehow missed the boat, as they seem to imply.

    In particular, I’m thinking of the comment: No matter how much you love it, it will only be a hobby, and you’ll need to find another way to make a living.

    That’s both wrong and beside the point. Some people *do* go on to achieve significant recogition for something taken up late in life (Grandma Moses, anyone?) but other people either make enough money playing golf/piano/painting to live adequately or they find themselves successful in a related area. For example, teaching beginners, opening an art gallery, designing sports clothing. Other people happily work at very ordinary jobs that fund their particular passion.

    If Brad were only to focus on the fact that he’ll never overtake Tiger Woods in the PGA he might as well never play a round of golf again. But then the same goes for every other avid golfer out there.

    The point isn’t competing with the best of the best with everyone from number 2 on down being a failure. It may include competing with *yourself*, becoming incrementally better over time or it may just mean *enjoying yourself* and making time for your passion.

  28. DimKnit says:

    I just wanted to say thank you. I’ve been having the worst 3 weeks of my working life, in a job I’m not sure that I like, let alone love.

    I love your site, but sometimes get a little weepy at thinking life is passing me by when reading about yours. What you reminded me is that I do have some control, and need to exercise it.

    This is one of the best posts I’ve read. So thank you again!

  29. T says:

    Trent,

    What are the technique items you work on as a writer? I’m curious, as a writer/editor myself. :)

  30. Fran says:

    Way to go, Trent…one of the best posts yet! This resonated with me in two aspects of my life: my writing and my music. I have always wanted to take voice and guitar lessons, but was unable to do so until well into adulthood (long story). I did my first vocal recital six months after I started taking lessons. Guitar has taken longer. I’m almost at a point where I could be unleashed on the general public :).
    T, have you read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird? She talks about “single frame microscopic assignments” in the process of writing. So true in all areas of life!

  31. Joe says:

    I just started reading this piece as a distraction from something that was really bothering, a hopeless situation. This piece moved me more than anything I can remember reading. I’m with Kim on this one- I think this is your absolute best piece… so far.

    I feel like someone explained this to me in a heart-to-heart. Perhaps thats what you were doing for Brad- and in a way that could touch anyone else who came along. I really take something away from your writing. Thanks.

  32. imelda says:

    Ach, Trent, you’re breaking my heart– in a good way. It feels like waking up. Thanks for this really inspirational entry. It means so much to me that you’ve been pushing at writing for 17 years before really succeeding. I’m 22, and I already feel like a failure at writing.

    But this is strong and inspiring and realistic advice, and it makes me realize I have to, above all, be patient and persistent. I’m going to give myself 1,000 words a day and 17 more years before I decide to give up on writing. I feel…truly filled with hope, after reading this, and I thank you for it!

  33. aaron says:

    Fantastic article. I was an aspiring writer while in high school and forgot about it the day I graduated. Now, unhappy with where I’m at, I’ve started writing daily in my journal again and constantly have on my mind that I want to do this for a living, because I love writing. So thank you for this article, very encouraging and excellent advice.

  34. Andy says:

    Trent, this was a STELLAR article. Judging by the comments (for the most part) it appears that you have inspired a lot of readers to dust off their old hobbies and passions and maybe just give them another shot.

    Great job on the pictures, too. I think they really add a lot of powerfulness (is that even a word? This is why I am not a professional writer…LOL) to the post!

  35. RubiaLala says:

    I am sure you have done the math, but the second I read that you had been writing at least 1,000 words a day for 17 years I had to calculate the total. That means you have written a minimum of 6,205,000 words. That’s a lot.

    Thanks for the encouraging post. I really liked it.

  36. DrFunZ says:

    Wonderful post!! Inspiring! (I must say, I am getting a bit bored with 13th installation of book discussion. Sorry – no kids, and I only need to read once that the world is poised to make consumers of us all starting at a very early age, so beware!) Perhaps you can keep the book discussions to about 4 or 5, leaving time for these more practical pieces.

  37. christianPF says:

    Trent,
    I, like a few others, are astounded at the amount you write. That is like a 4 page essay every day of your life!! I used to dread writing essays in school, and it would take me a week to write something that long!! I should have started the same habit back when I was 12, it would have made college quite a bit easier!!

  38. Jules says:

    ‘Tis awesomeness, indeed. Though you should also add: don’t be surprised if your passion isn’t what you thought it was.

    I always thought my passion was for writing. I’m good at it (well, I think so, anyway, and the people on Helium keep voting my articles into the top 5 slots, for whatever that’s worth), and I like it–but it’s not something I can do consistently. It’s not something that absorbs me, body and soul, the way baking does. So far, baking is only a hobby, but I suspect it will grow–especially if I can find a bakery willing to take me on as an apprentice.

  39. Christine says:

    Thank you, simply thank you. Have a wonderful day!

  40. Lenore says:

    So Trent, when are you going to share one of your short stories on the blog? I bet you have at least one with financial themes. If not, maybe you could write a fictionalized account of your own childhood conditioning toward commercialism and adult struggle against overspending. That would be very interesting, edifying and likely to resonate with many of your readers.

  41. Margaret says:

    I’m adding my voice to those who think this is the best Simple Dollar column. I’m going to forward it to my music students, and to others who might need a pep talk (some days, me). I wanted to say to !wanda and Michael that it’s not true what you believe about professional musicians. Some excellent professionals on my instrument didn’t start until 10 or 12. I didn’t start until I was 9, and have an active, successful performing career in a symphony and beyond. I’ve taught music for many years, and one thing I’ve noticed is that the people who start later almost always DO catch up to the ones who started earlier. By the time they reach high school, the starting age has become a non-issue. For both early and late starters, the predictors of success are active curiosity and a mongoose-like attitude to the learning process, passion, persistence, and maybe a lack of fear (although a teacher, and the learning process itself, can help you overcome fear). My best student, who is very good indeed, started at age 11. It’s true that it’s much harder to reach a very high level of proficiency once you reach adulthood, but I believe that this is mostly due to the necessary time spent on other things that compete for your time. And most importantly, aside from all this–I do think you missed the point. Following your passion will have rewards in and of itself. It doesn’t always matter whether you end up making your career in your chosen field. You’ll feel fulfilled just by having followed the path outlined in Trent’s column, and your whole life will change. Although I went to a music conservatory, I was torn between that and becoming a veterinarian. For almost 30 years now, I’ve been maintaining a large pack of dogs and cats (not the same ones, of course!), all but one of them rescued. I’m proud of the fact that they live to grand old age in comfort and happiness. As a survivor of domestic violence, I’ve been wondering what I could do to help more animals and other women, and just last week I had an “Aha!” moment, and offered my services to Alternatives for Battered Women as a foster mother for pets of women and kids who had to enter shelters for an extended period. I feel every bit as good about this as I do about my highly satisfying career in music. I suppose you could ask, “Fine, but that’s volunteerism–where does the dollar come in?”, and that’s true. But I’ve been able to merge my two loves by presenting concerts that have raised thousands of dollars for our local humane society. I think it’s a wonderful thing to follow where your passions lead, although you can’t always see the end of the path. Take that first step! You won’t regret it.

  42. sandspiral says:

    To Andy in comment #10–I just finished a good book called “The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One” by Margaret Lobenstine. Sounds like you’re a “Renaissance Soul” just like me, and I found a lot of helpful material to think over in the book.

    And Trent, I agree–one of your best posts I’ve read yet!

  43. Bethany says:

    Trent,

    Thank you. Thank you for sharing the behind-the-scenes of how to got where you are. If you have been writing 1,000 words every day for nearly two decades, then in no sense is this blog a “overnight success” – which it has seemed to me to be for you to quit your “day job” after only blogging a couple years.

    I just wrote a somewhat similar piece on my blog about the importance of not giving up while we wait for our dreams. And I just put in my two weeks notice to work part-time so I can focus more on freelance work and writing. It’s scary, but I don’t want to end my life with a lot of excuses.

    Bravo. Thanks for the inspiration.

  44. Mol says:

    Really inspirational article Trent, but I find my body too exhausted to do anything but lay in bed by the time I get home from work and the gym and take care of cooking and cleaning, and I do get a good ammount of sleep (generally 8-10 hours) do you have any suggestions for those of us who have the desire to work towards our passions, but don’t even feel physically capable of doing so? I have a feeling ‘baby steps’ will likely be the answer. Keep up the great work! =)

  45. Jen says:

    @Margaret: fostering DV pets was a GREAT idea!

  46. Jeff R says:

    I would like to add my voice to the choir of those who find the Simple Dollar a daily inspiration. It is one of the first things I read each morning when I first sit down with my cup of coffee and review my emails.

    I would be interested to know how much time it now takes (approximately) to write the 1,000 words each day.

    I wrote professionally for three years for a medium-sized newspaper in a NJ suburb and found it a challenge to compose an EXCELLENT once-a-week article. Thanks for all the good thoughts.

  47. This reminds me of a quote: “How do you eat an elephant? One bight at a time”. Unfortunately, I don’t remember who wrote it – maybe someone else does?

    Thank you for another great article.

  48. Curtis says:

    I’d like to second the request (comment #29) for what writing “practice” means. “writing on a lot of different topics” is less specific than the technique drills you recommend for Brad. I’m a writer (of academic articles) and a triathlete. Following similar principles to your five P’s I have had improved a lot as a triathlon and have achieved some goals that I wouldn’t have believed were possible for me five years ago. When it comes to writing I think I’ve got the passion, persistence, patience, and to some extent, the participation; your article inspired me to work on my practice, which right now is the equivalent of a lot of basketball scrimmages, i.e., just trying to write a lot. What are the drills you find useful?
    Thanks in advance

  49. KellyKelly says:

    MARGARET (#41),

    Your post is the best. Thanks for all the wisdom in it.

    I have a similar way of looking at things. I make money in my arts career (writing) but am very involved in animal volunteering, and am planning to merge that with a third major passion I have.

    Oh, the good life is SO not solely about the money! If you die tomorrow, you will die a “winner” in my opinion, because you found ways to do all the stuff you wanted to do. Well the major stuff (music, animals, and now helping DV victims).

    Only in the past five years or so have I really “got it” that life is not a dress rehearsal. I can’t put off the things that I love until 1) retirement or 2) until I pay off my debt or 3) unti I am not so busy or 4) until the house or yard or basement or yard or xyz is “finished.”

    I’ve seen person after person just drop dead — car accident, aneurysm, cancer. People in their 30s and 40s.

    I make less now than I did in the past, but my life is better. However, I am always looking for ways to increase my income … but I’m very hesitant to do that at the expense of my “full” life.

    Thanks for your post.

  50. Murali says:

    The entire piece was Inspiring and great. I think each one of us ought to think and act in the way that our heart leads to and not just follow what life offers.

  51. lee says:

    Thank you so, so much for this post.

  52. Lara says:

    Hi, I’m generally inspired by your articles and people’s comments. I either want to implement ideas I’ve read about or I say “I already do that”. As far as goal posting and positive ideas, thank you! It seems we have to search harder for positive things/information whereas the negative one’s are shoved and yelled at us. Thank you for spreading your positive attitude!

  53. Sara says:

    I really like this post. One of your comments mentioned starting a musical instrument late in life. Well, I started the violin at 45. I have a wonderful teacher, and while I may never play professoinally – have no desire too, actually, I have a great new career I am attending grad school for now – but I have a joyful hobby I hope to continue for the rest of my life. With a part-time job, grad school and two kids and a recent divorce, my time is tight. However I do “snowflake” my time on the violin – Sometimes my practice is 15 minutes when I get up and another 15 minutes at night. I am also snowflaking my physical fitness. I take a yoga break in an unused office with my lunch break at work. I do 20 push-ups before I jump in the shower in the AM, etc. It really does work. I try not to “snowflake” my time with my kids, though!!! They need the whole deal!

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