Updated on 03.21.11

The Limits You Choose

Trent Hamm

A few days ago, Kenia left a very interesting comment on my earlier post What You Are – and What You’re Not:

Great post, Trent. Very inspiring. I have to disagree slightly though…

“There’s still nothing keeping you from having a life filled with doing the things you love. Focus instead on who you are, what skills you can build, and what you can do.”

I agree with you, 100%, that you can definitely involve yourself in some other way (i.e. sports blogger) even if some goals are unrealistic for you (i.e. be an NBA player). But there can still be things keeping you from what you love. There can still be things keeping you from becoming an avid basketball blogger: Family. Responsibilities. I am a firm believer that you don’t necessarily have to be rich to succeed in life: with enough **time** and commitment you can succeed at almost anything…but the key is to have the *time.* Many people, for example, would have to take extra time on top of their day jobs to make a career transition – but with family obligations, and making sure you are prioritizing time nurturing relationships that matter (family, great friends), this is just not possible for most. Lucky is the person who (if in a loving relationship that you’re not about to compromise for a career) has a partner who fully supports them in their pursuits & passions – because it takes time, and that time is usually time taken from the relationship.

In late 2006, I had a full time job that often bled into more than full time work. I had a marriage that required time and attention and love. I also had an infant son that required time and attention and love.

It was in that situation that I launched and built up The Simple Dollar. I did it without sacrificing my work, without damaging my marriage, and without disrupting my relationship with my son.

How did I do that? I made some fundamental decisions about how I was going to spend my time and energy. Instead of staying up late websurfing or watching television, I researched articles or focused on my writing. Whenever I had an evening where my wife was at a conference or something like that, I chose to spend that time building the site. If I was the first one awake in our home, I would spend some time writing until everyone else woke up.

When my wife became pregnant with our second child, I found myself with a great deal of time to write. Our oldest child would sleep eleven or so hours a night and her sleep cycles matched the baby’s sleep. That left me with four or five hours a day without family members around, so I devoted that largely to building my side business.

In short, building The Simple Dollar became my main hobby. Not only did I want it to be a success, I deeply enjoyed the work. It was fun for me to write a great article (and it still is). It was fun for me to learn all about search engine optimization, site design, and other such things.

I’m not stating that my experience is a model for starting any side business. What I am saying is that passion is your driver.

Simply put, if you don’t have the passion for something that will convince you to spend your hour or two of evening free time chasing that dream, then it’s most likely never going to happen.

Many people have passions like this, but they’re told over and over again that they “can’t” do it, either directly or indirectly. I spent most of the previous decade (1996 through 2006) believing that I “couldn’t” be a writer. It shaped my college choice. It shaped my major choice. It shaped my job selection after college.

Through all of that, though, I didn’t abandon the dream. Writing is what I’ve been passionate about since I was a school boy, writing short stories in my Ninja Turtles notebook in fourth grade. I kept writing in my spare time, attempting to sell novels and short stories, starting blogs of various kinds, and so on.

None of them were successful. I kept writing.

The Simple Dollar was my first real glimmer of success and when I saw that, I gave it everything I had. Opportunities like this don’t come along too often.

It was the passion for writing that made me reach that point, and it was that passion that carried it through.

There are always limits. There are always easier things to do. There are always people telling you you can’t do things. There are always overstuffed schedules and a seeming lack of free time.

If you are truly drawn to doing something, though, you’ll find time and energy for it. You’ll cut back on other things to make time and energy for it.

Eventually, you’ll succeed. Why? The one thing that can’t be manufactured is passion. It makes you better and it makes you strive for something great. Passion is real, and it’s something people are always looking for. You just have to find your way in the door.

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  1. Mick says:

    I also believe that if you really want to do something then it will happen. Roadblocks will happen but if you want it enough you’ll find a way through.

    I’m 24 so a lot of my friends are at the confusion age I guess. I have a few that tell me about how they’re going to do all these great things but have no time. Yet, they have time to play XBox 3 hours a day…

    I like posts of this nature as a reminder to keep going. Thank you

  2. Trent, this is an excellent post. I write and research in work breaks during the day, and when my wife and two kids have gone to bed. I don’t think there’s anyone these days with a lot of time to kill. You have to prioritize.

  3. Tracy says:

    Keep in mind though, that the very nature of your passion – writing – is something that’s ideally suited TO do from home, and to do in odd hours.

    What if your passion was building houses? Landscaping? Sailing? Restoring old cars? Something else that required either travel, or even just spending daylight hours?

    You even mention that half of yours was sheer luck – that your wife, while pregnant, needed a lot more sleep than normal, so you had a lot more time than you otherwise would.

    In other words, Kenia is exactly right – you found yourself with unexpected time to make use of your passion. And your passion happened to be one that could benefit from unstructured time very, very easily.

  4. Hunter says:

    No matter what your profession, craft, or interest. It takes about ten years of dedication to really shine. This is the observation of Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers” and I tend to agree. Journalists, performers, even Navy Chiefs, take years to develop before they are labelled an “overnight success” in some instances. There’s a lot to be said for hard work, perseverance, and having a plan.

  5. Micayla says:

    Since you don’t watch much TV, I don’t know if you are familiar with the show “House.” House is a brilliant but arrogant doctor. In one episode, he saves a life by going against the rules. Someone comments that the rules are there because 95% of the time, they are the right thing to do. “What about the other 5%?” “The problem is that everyone thinks they’re the other 5%.”

    Yes, it’s possible that there are people who really, truly cannot make time for anything besides their basic responsibilities- they work multiple jobs just to pay the bills or care for a sick loved one. But there are many, many people who COULD find the time if they really, truly worked at it; It’s simply easier to say “I can’t.”

  6. valleycat1 says:

    What I took away from both of Trent’s posts is that if you have an area of strong interest, there are multiple ways to incorporate that into your life as it is now, and with sufficient passion & talent you can take it to increasing levels of achievement or involvement if you so desire.

    In the sports example, you don’t have the talent to play professionally & can’t find the time to devote to blogging about the sport. So, maybe you coach your child’s little league team. Or become a die-hard fan (of local teams or professional ones), or start an informal pick-up game with your friends, or use what time’s available to read everything you can get your hands on about the sport & become an armchair expert.

  7. PS says:

    You read the comments section??

  8. Rafiki says:

    Great response but remember passion can be a great spark that dies down over time so it has to be a lasting passion. Something you love like no other. Also Tracy makes a valid point. What if your passion was sailing instead of writing and you were under the same circumstances? And Hunter makes a valid comment as well. “There’s a lot to be said for hard work, perseverance, and having a plan.”

  9. Rachel says:


    I think you missed the point your reader was trying to make. Near the bottom of your response, you said you will “make time” for the activity or goal you are passionately pursuing. The point your reader was making is that “making time” means taking time away from other priorities that remain priorities (not everyone spends a couple of hours daily websurfing and doing nonproductive things). Most people who get really passionate about pursuing a dream cut into their relationship time and/or their sleep time. This is likely to affect their health and their relationships with their kids, friends, spouse or significant other. Even if your partner is in the venture with you and you can work towards a goal together, quality time with kids and friends is likely to be curtailed. We all have decisions and priorities to make, but the reader points out we need to recognize we can’t have everything all at once. It simply is not true, Trent, that everyone is like you and has X number of hours and amount of resources that are not well used and can be tapped to adequately feed their passion. In most cases, there will be financial and or relationship ramifications to pursuing big dreams.

  10. Pat S. says:

    On one of my first few flights during flight training (as a military pilot), one of my instructors told me that he hadn’t worked a day in his life. He discovered early one his passion for flying, and because he loved his job so dearly, felt like despite the hazards and challenges, the job was a job… but not work.

    Find something you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.

  11. This is very true Trent! When you’re passionate about something, you have so much more drive to do it. You make the necessary sacrifices/adjustments to make it work. I’m trying to do the same.

  12. Amanda says:

    I agree with Tracy and Kenia. Your role in the family can make a difference. Sometimes more is expected of the person fulfilling the TYPICAL duties of a “female” in a home. For example, consider my childhood. My mother spent those 4-5 hours you wrote doing dishes, laundry and other household chores while we were all sleeping.

  13. adaeze@couponsavingdeals.com says:

    I do agree that passion can help to fuel success. If you’re not passionate about something, yes, you can certainly do it, but it will seem more like work than fun. I also agree that having extra time to pursue a passion can help with success. If you have a passion, and no time, or maybe no money to make it work, it’ll be harder to succeed, no matter how passionate you may be about that. My take is that being passionate about something, and having enough time (which can be just a free hour or so that you can squeeze out and prioritize, as well as having some kind of funding, no matter how little, helps to get you from simply being passionate about something to being successful at it. All said, passion has to be there to get things moving, and if all othere align right, a dream can be pursued with more likelihood of success. And the role of a supportive family, who understand your passion and and need to spend time working that passion to become something bigger, can never be undermined.

  14. deRuiter says:

    I also had an infant son that required time and attention and love.
    Would prefer to see, “..infant son who required….” Hard work and passion can be useful for success, but stumbling on an idea whose time has come helps too. If Bill Gates had devoted his time to developing a superior buggy whip, he might have expended passion and hard work without much success. Because his passion was for computers, he became one of the richest men in the world. You have to have a good idea at the right time. Some ideas, no matter how much passion and hard work you lavish on them, will fail, and you must then search for a new, better idea or passion. Too much passion, if not channeled towards a sound idea, is not a good thing, think stalkers. They have passion, they expend a great deal of time, energy and money stalking, but it doesn’t tend to have a happy (successful) ending.

  15. pam says:

    I look forward to my daily dose of the simple dollar, and rarely comment, but this post hit home for me.

    I heard a saying many years ago that has been proven true over and over again, “Do what you love, and the money will follow.”

    I also dabble in creative writing and the key word is dabble. I joined a local writers group 8 or 9 years ago, and in that time period have seen several close friends write book after book until they wrote one that was published, which led to more books and several now write full-time. What did they all have in common? They made the time to write, got up early, stayed up late, wrote on the commute or lunch hour, whatever it took. One person wrote 10 or 11 books before she found success. Most people would have given up long before that point.

    I’m one of those who feels like she never has time to write, yet I do. I’m up early now, and it’s to get some work done. That’s where my passion is. I LOVE what I do, and look forward to going to work every day. I feel in love with my job when I first started it over 15 years ago and like the pilot mentioned by another commenter, my job is fun. Because of that passion, I’m inclined to put more time into my work, which has led to success.

    I still want to write more, but it’s more of a dream than a burning passion. I’m just not driven to make the time to write….not yet anyway.

    Also highly recommend that book outliers. It was fascinating and showed on average that it takes 10,000 hours to find success, to move from hobbyist to leader. Examples spanned all industries too, The Beatles, who were considered overnight successes by many, were far from it. They played relentlessly for years in any venue that would have them. Gates, was another example, who took advantage of every opportunity that came his way and was playing with computers at a local college while in high school (maybe middle school even?) and Stephen King, who wrote for years before hitting success with publication of Carrie…a book his wife literally rescued from the trash can.

  16. pam says:

    Another thing from Outliers that relates to this…what came through all the studies was that success was less about raw talent than it was about persistence.

    A famous author (forget who it was), mentioned that in his college writing class he was very average compared to many of his classmates, some who were remarkably talented. But, they never stayed with it. He did and eventually found huge success.

    One of the most interesting studies was when they looked at young violinists who were all studying at a professional music school. They followed them over the years and surprised to find that the violinists who found professional success were ones who were considered the most talented early on. Quite simply, it was the ones who put in the most time, who practiced the most, who became the best.

  17. pam says:

    Sorry, should have edited that last post…it should have read,

    “They were surprised to find that the violinists who found professional success were NOT the ones who were considered the most talented early on.”

    Amazing how one little word can change the whole meaning!

  18. kristine says:

    This is a squarely middle to upper class idea. A decent percentage of this country works 2 jobs, and cares for family. (AKA the working poor.) Not to mention that if you have no money, the very simple conveniences I can afford to buy, that save me time, are not an option for many. An impoverished single person, or couple, could swing it- but not once kids are in the picture-poor areas require twice the parenting, with half the resources, to keep your kids on track.

    Good point about the family role. I will bet that if Trent’s wife discovered her passion, say for writing children’s books, at that same point in time- she would not have burned the midnight oil writing the book, because her role as mother, and physicality, demanded otherwise. Really only 1 in a couple, with children can do this at a time, as the other is needed to provide stability, both financial and emotional, and health insurance.

  19. Dorothy says:

    While the principle is sound, those executing it will face a spectrum of support and, conversely, opposition.

    Trent has the single most helpful resource in achieving any goal: a wife. Kenia does not.

    The women commenters seem (in general) to grasp that point; the men … not so much.

    I’ve always said, it would be great to have a wife …

  20. Prime says:

    What most people don’t realize is that more than anything else, writing is a CRAFT , not just a hobby that you can pick up and abandon later. If you really want to do it , you must be prepared to spend your time honing it. You need passion, discipline and the stubborness to believe that yes, you can succeed as a writer!

  21. Nancy says:

    #7 & #9– I agree with you completely. However, the only way this is going to change is for women in relationships to insist that everything is shared equally. This is something that should be addressed at the beginning of a long-term relationship. Unfortunately, too often women just shrug their shoulders and say “this is the way it is”.

  22. VickiB says:

    Nancy – RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT. As I wind down my final two weeks in the corporate cubicle world – ready to launch into two new entrepreneurial ventures, I am still aghast at the way female coworkers doing 40+ hours STILL do that shrug ! I’ve been married 20 years now, and wouldn’t dream of bearing that whole household burden myself. Trent – I have really appreciated these recent posts – I am weaning myself OFF unproductive pursuits in my spare time – for me, they were a release at day’s end from an unhappy work life. As I put passion towards doing something I enjoy, my hope is that I won’t need the crutch of mindless television, video games,shopping, etc. I want ALL of my time devoted to my businesses, my aging parents, my husband, and my “vice”, which is my huge vegetable garden.

  23. Nicky says:

    Great post, and so very true. As a kid at school I was dissuaded from pursuing a career as a veterinarian, & was flat out told by one person that I’d never do it. I’m now 42 & not only did I make it as a veterinarian, but I went on to specialize in that field and now am chief of my section at MIT. You CAN absolutely do anything that you have a passion for. Passion is the greatest motivator, and also the greatest salary!

  24. Kris says:

    This article speaks to me on many levels, as do comments #7, 9, 10, & 11 – I’m the wife, but in my life, DH is my full partner – carrying more than his share at times.

    Chasing you passions requires support, no matter who you are.

  25. Heidi says:

    I agree with Kenia that many limits aren’t up to us. There are bad breaks and good breaks in life and sometimes hard work doesn’t pay off. That’s reality and not a popular notion since it goes against the American Dream that most people do believe in and are ready to defend.
    In my own case, I have a child who requires more care than average and has ever since he was a baby. That’s meant less sleep and more daily effort even now that he is 4. While I focus on what I can manage, he also has food allergies which means we travel 40 minutes each week to buy food, have spent 2 years developing the skills to cook for him, and still commit at least 4-5 hours each day in the kitchen. That’s a pretty big daily limit.
    As for fundamental decisions, we have never owned a tv, invested large amounts of time into entertainment hobbies, or had high expenses.

    Our hard work pays off with satisfaction in parenting but it doesn’t pay off with money or recognition or marketable skills–as Kenia pointed out, its time invested solely in the care and relationship.

  26. Jessica says:

    @Heidi- it sounds to me like your child is your passion…what a lucky boy! Too many parents care alot less for their kids, but you put your best effort day after day into the most important job ever, which is raising a child. And I say screw the American Dream if it takes away from your time as a parent…that’s no dream of mine.

    Also, I hope you do realize that you are not going to be the parent of a young one forever, so there may time to build on your other passions one day when your nest is empty.

  27. Natasha says:

    More power to and sympathy for Heidi- stories like hers make parenting sound massively unattractive, even though she obviously loves her kid

  28. #1Nana says:

    I agree that one needs to focus on goals in order to achieve them and that prioritizing those goals to make it a priority is something that all of us can do. But…Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would tell us that the most basic level of needs (food, shelter, security, love for example) must be taken care of before one can focus on secondary needs such as self fulfillment. I think that there are some people whose struggle to been basic needs does not leave them time to self-actualize.

    I just found your site and it looks likeyou will give me a lot of food for thought…when I’m not busy self-actualizing that is!

  29. Nana says:

    I agree that one needs to prioritize time and focus energy on goals. that being said, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need tells us that basic needs such as food, shelter, safety must be met before one can focus on secondary needs such as self fulfillment. Most Americans have the luxury of free time, but not everyone does.

    I just found this website and it looks like you will give me plenty of food for thought…when I’m not busy self-actualizing that is!

  30. Earth MaMa Jo says:

    I’ve digested what both Trent and Kenia wrote and would like to offer this advice to Kenia: Please find the time to read some books written by Barbara Sher. PBS stations used to air her lectures, I don’t know if they still do or perhaps there are DVD versions available at libraries. In essence, Barbara Sher changed my life. I went from feeling trapped in a life as a working mother and wife, to feeling like I had at least SOME power over wanting to pursue my dreams. My change in attitude and perspective allowed me to do things I never imagined. Just to share one concept of Barbara’s: if you want to be something, you don’t have to throw your life away to be it full time, you can be it for an hour a week….just find SOME time to be it. Barbara has her own website and there is a lot of information there to get the general idea of her philosophies. Her concepts are geared towards women, but I see no reason why men couldn’t benefit from them also.

  31. Heidi says:

    To Natasha,
    Parenting is something in life where you don’t know what you are going to get from your efforts. So, its character building and I know I am a better person, citizen, daughter, sister and friend through my parenting experiences.
    I wouldn’t have chosen this but, again, I’ve learned life can’t always be directed through our efforts and that American failure stories do exist. Many parents struggle with more difficult situations like autism.
    On the upside, kids are fun. They have a different perspective than adults and that is a gift to share. My husband and I rarely spend less than 10 minutes at night talking about interesting things they did that day.
    I suspect that most parents struggle with their sacrifices, while there are a few on each end that love or hate their role.
    As to the American Dream, it seems today’s successful citizens would like to reconsider Emma Lazarus’ words when considering those around them.

    “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

  32. Matt says:

    I hate to sound cynical, but I think Trent glossed over some of the time management details regarding the starting and launching of The Simple Dollar.

    In my life, I really don’t have 10 minutes to spare during the week. I get up at 5:00 AM to exercise; I’m out the door by 6:30 to catch the train to work. At work from 7:00 to 6:30, and get home at 7:00 PM. Then it’s feed-and-bath time for our 10-week-old daughter, then we feed ourselves, and by then it’s pushing 8:30 PM. We head to bed at 9:30 PM, so that’s barely an hour for my wife and I to have some “us” time.

    The weekends are where we play catch-up on errands and household chores, and non-rushed family time for the three of us.

    I’d argue that blogging is *logistically* one of the easiest hobbies to turn into a passion: you can do it virtually anywhere, and time, with a relatively cheap laptop. So even with an “easy” passion (logistically speaking) like blogging, I don’t see where I could find the time to launch something like TSD. At least not without sacrificing something else.

    My job? Cutting back on the hours is non-negotiable. On the train? That 30 minute commute is actually half walking, so it’s really about 15 minutes on the train, and at least half the time I have to stand because it’s too crowded. I can’t cut back on sleep, as I’m absolutely miserable on fewer than seven hours (I often get less than that anyway with the baby).

    I suppose I could give up a couple workouts a week, and squeeze in a few hours on the weekends. But I don’t think that’s enough time to turn the hobby into an actual paying venture like TSD.

    I’m not trying to shoot down the “follow your passions” notion. But I’ve read too many blog posts and even books that have the same theme as what Trent is saying: if you *really* love something, you’ll find a way to turn it into a “hobby job” (i.e. a paying venture that doesn’t actually feel like work). It’s simply not a reality for some of us, at least not without *major* sacrifice and/or risk.

    And what if one’s passions aren’t singular? My job touches on one of my passions—programming and system administration—but I don’t love it so much that I want to do it 60 hours a week. My other passions include physical fitness, music, and reading. I enjoy all of these things equally, but none so much that I want to do it 40+ hours a week. My ideal “job” would have me touch on each of those things a few hours every day… and still leave me with time for my family.

  33. Heidi says:

    Matt’s example is an excellent counterpart to mine. Whether you are taking care of kids at home or committing to a job sometimes there just isn’t time or flexibility.

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