It’s tough to follow a passion and make it your life. A lot of people will tell you to forget following your passion and try to find something that makes money that you don’t mind doing. In fact, telling people that following your passion is bad advice seems to be the new trend. Why? Because a lot of people either fail at making their passion into a viable living or they simply don’t know what their passion is.
Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, says that “The problem is that we don’t have much evidence that this is how passion works. ‘Follow your passion’ assumes: a) you have preexisting passion; and b) if you match this passion to your job then you’ll enjoy that job.
“When I studied the issue, it was more complex. Most people don’t have preexisting passions. And research on workplace satisfaction tells that people like their jobs for more nuanced reasons than simply it matches some innate interest.”
How can you follow a passion, then, if you don’t have one? Well, you can’t. But if you have a passion — even if it’s skiing or surfing, you can follow it or let it lead you to new and exciting possibilities.
I’m a dog musher and a writer. I don’t make a living as a dog musher, yet, although I hope to one day. However, I do make a living as a writer and editor. I use the money I make from one passion to pay for the other. And I hope that one day I will be able to gain enough sponsorship and race winnings to let dog mushing pay for itself.
1. Talk up your passion
If you let others know what your passion is, you will have a hard time hiding from it. Find occasions to make presentations about your passion. Are you a nature photographer? Maybe you could hold a class at the local library. Do you love to write? Start a writers’ group. Getting involved with other people who also love your passion is important for making us feel like it’s a worthwhile pursuit. I never feel better about the hours and days I spend alone on the trail with my dogs than when I’m at a symposium or race with other crazy dog mushing people who understand my obsession.
2. Be obsessed
I’ve been obsessed with dogsledding for about 20 years now. I read about it, think about it and do it all the time. In the summer when we can’t run sleds, I run my dogs on a bike. In the fall, we train on a four-wheeler. When I’m not writing fun articles like this one, I am usually writing or reading about dogsledding. Since my first ride in 1994, I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it…even during the times when I didn’t have a team and pursued other goals. Likewise, when I decided to become a writer, I was obsessed with publishing books. Accomplishing that goal and being published by a ‘big’ publisher was a dream come true. Following these passions and being obsessed with them has helped me accomplish the things I want to accomplish. Obsessions can be good — as long as you don’t ignore your kids or partner along the way.
3. Do it for love
You might not be able to support yourself with your passion, at least not in the beginning. And that’s OK. Do what you love for the love of it. Don’t worry about the money. While it’s true that the money will often follow, you will need to do something to pay the bills in the meantime. Try and find a job doing something close to what you love. I’ve worked in veterinarian’s offices, walked dogs and done other things just to make a living doing something ‘doggy.’ In fact, I’ve even baked dog treats for farmers markets and made collars and that sort of thing, just so I could talk dogs and make some money at the same time.
4. Keep hope alive
OK, this sounds cheesy, I know. But even during my darkest, non-dog-owning days, I always had a glimmer of hope that I could run dogs again one day. This helped me get through some really long days and even helped me sleep at night. If you can’t follow your passion right now, for whatever reason, don’t give up hope. Do the little things — visit related websites of people who are doing it, keep learning by reading books or taking classes in your passion’s field.
5. Easy doesn’t do it
Easy is getting a job at the ice cream shop in town. Becoming a professional golfer is hard. Really hard. If your passion — your true passion — is how you want to spend your days, then that’s how you need to spend your days. There is an old saying, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” If you truly love something, then doing the hard work — even the little tedious things — doesn’t really seem that hard.
6. Face the odds
I have many people in my life who are fond of telling me that the odds that I’ll win a sled dog race someday are pretty small. These are usually the same people who told me that the odds I could get my first book published by a ‘big’ publisher were pretty small. I smiled pretty big when my first book was published by Viking and had many reviews, including one in the Sunday New York Times Book Review. Don’t ever let anyone tell you the odds are against you — or if you’re like me, if they do, you’ll just want to make it even more.
7. Make it profitable
If you really want to make a living from your passion, then you need to find a way to make it profitable. More people than you think actually do this. Bakers, cake decorators, writers, photographers, all make a living doing something about which they are passionate. Or, maybe, you can support one passion for another, as I do. If you’re true passion is expedition kayaking, you might not be able to make that pay — but writing books and blogging about expedition kayaking might just work.
8. Cultivate passion
Maybe you don’t have a passion. Or maybe you really enjoy reading anime. Being passionate about something doesn’t mean it has to fall to you from the sky. You can seize opportunity and cultivate a passion too. Maybe you’ve noticed a need for a certain app in your life. Cultivate that passion by learning how to create the app and promote it. Sometimes hobbies should stay hobbies, but you can take a passion for something and let it lead you to something great.
According to Newport, “Steve Jobs, in his famous Stanford Commencement address, told the students (and I’m paraphrasing here): You’ve got to find what you love, don’t settle.
“If you read the press and social media that surrounded the event, it’s clear that many people interpreted this as him saying, ‘follow your passion.’ If you go back into the details of his biography, however, you discover this is not what he did. He stumbled into Apple computer (it was a scheme to make a quick $1,000) at a time when he was ‘passionate’ mainly about eastern mysticism.
But Jobs was open to opportunity. When he sensed that his scheme was bigger than he imagined, he pivoted and poured a lot of energy into building a company around selling computers. He cultivated passion. He didn’t follow it.”
9. Don’t lose steam
It happens. You start out really enthusiastic for a project and then, over time, you lose interest or excitement. Sometimes this is an indication that it’s not really what you’re meant to do. On the other hand, sometimes, you just have to keep plowing forward, even through the tedious times. Even the most exciting jobs and passions, like dog mushing or writing, have tedious times. I know when I’m writing that if I start to bore myself with what I’m writing, then it’s time to take a break. I also know that there are some mornings when the sheer effort involved in hooking up 12 or 14 dogs and going for a 40 mile run just seems exhausting. I have to, in those moments, put one foot in front of the other and get things done. Usually, after all of the tedium of hooking up and packing up is done and we are on our way, I find my joy again.
10. Get to work
It almost seems counterintuitive, but your passion or the thing that you love doing, should drive you to work hard for it. No one is going to pay you to sit on your couch and watch TV. If that’s your passion, you might need to cultivate a new one. Sometimes, finding a passion is not the same as finding passion — or joy — in our work. No job is perfect. But if you ask most people who enter one field or another, you’ll likely find that there are aspects of a job that they enjoy. A plumber might enjoy working alone, solving problems and working with his or her hands. It is doubtful that your plumber will say they have a passion for plumbing. But it’s likely there are things in the job that bring joy. Sometimes, that can be good enough.