Happy New Year! Here’s a sobering statistic
for you to start 2018 with: only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged in
their jobs, according to a Gallup
What about the other 87%? They don’t all hate their jobs. Some of them may even be quite good at what they do. But, mentally and emotionally, they’ve checked out. They’re going through the motions, doing what needs to be done to get their paycheck, and marking time until the next vacation.
If that sounds familiar to you, don’t worry—you’re in the right place. This article will help you to design a different kind of life in 2018: a more satisfying life, in which you get to do what you love.
To be clear, this isn't an article about manifesting your dream life by harnessing the law of attraction. I’ve got nothing against those articles, but I think there are enough of them out there already, and even an abundant Universe doesn’t need another one.
This article is more practical. It shows you what steps you can take right now, at the start of January 2018, to work towards a career you love. It shows you how to balance pursuing your passion with financial responsibility to yourself and anyone else who depends on you. And if you don't even know what your passion is yet, it will help you to work that out.
By the end, you’ll be able to see “doing what you love” not as a scary or impossible leap into the unknown, but as a serious possibility that you can begin working towards right now.
So, if you’re ready for a fresh start, let’s begin.
1. What Is Your Passion?
If you’re already very clear about what you want to do in life, you can skip ahead to the next section. But for many of us, the question of passion isn't so clear-cut. This could be because:
- You know what you don’t like, but aren’t so clear about what you do want to do.
- You’re torn between lots of different interests.
- You've got a passion for something that seems impossible to make a living from.
- You’ve spent so many years convincing yourself to be practical that your true passion has become completely buried.
- You've got an interest, but don’t feel strongly enough about it to call it a “passion”.
Before you can pursue your passion, you need to first understand what it is.
OK, so let’s untangle some of that. First, let’s be clear about exactly what we mean by “passion”. The word can be quite daunting because of its associations with love and romance. If you've got a passion for something, does that mean you need to be consumed by it day and night, unable to sleep or to think about anything else?
In a word, no. Forget Romeo and Juliet—in the context of a career, “passion” simply means a strong interest or enthusiasm for a particular subject or activity. So, don't overthink it or expect too much—if you enjoy doing something and would love to do it as a career, then that's your passion, even if it doesn't make your pulse race or your heart skip a beat.
Forget Practicality (Just for Now)
I know I said this was a practical article, but bear with me. At this stage, it’s really important to forget practicality for a while. That’s because many of us have been schooled to believe that certain careers (e.g. art or writing) are “impractical” and others (e.g. accountancy or welding) are “practical”. That can lead us to discard certain possibilities without considering them properly.
So, we need to detach ourselves from preconceptions and be free to brainstorm without any constraints. Later on, we’ll get to the practicalities of making money and finding jobs. But at this stage, pretend that you just won the lottery and don’t have to worry about money. Then what would you do?
Ask Yourself Specific Questions
If the question “What's your passion?” leaves you coming up blank, maybe you simply need to ask different questions. The answer is in there somewhere, but it may be buried in your subconscious, or perhaps you simply don’t relate to the terminology.
Ask yourself things like:
- What did you enjoy doing as a kid?
- What did you secretly dream of doing when you grew up?
- What aspects of your current job or life give you the most pleasure?
- What would you do if you didn’t have to be so responsible all the time?
- List five crazy things you’d like to try doing one day.
You can find more questions like this in section three of my article on making a profitable small business.
When you’ve finished answering the questions, look for patterns in your responses. Is there a particular type of activity or work that keeps recurring? Again, don’t judge your answers or discount anything. Even if your passion seems impractical as a career, just write it down for now. It's all part of the process of answering the question, "what do I love?"
Allow Yourself More Than One
Some people have a single, clear passion, while others have multiple passions. Relax—either possibility is fine. Just brainstorm freely, and don’t try to aim for a particular number of answers.
In the rest of this article, I’m going to talk about a “passion” in the singular, but that’s only because it’s easier than writing out “your passion or passions” every time. If you've got multiple passions, you can still follow the article and use exactly the same process.
2. Research the Possibilities
OK, now you can get practical again. You know what your passion is. How could you make money from it? How can you do what you love?
Be open-minded here. Some of the possibilities may seem distant or unreachable right now, but that’s OK. We’ll do more work later to figure out how to get there. Just write down the possible careers.
Could you start your own business? Get a job for an existing company? Do it freelance? Work in a related field that would also give you satisfaction? What kinds of jobs are out there?
For example, if you've got a passion for writing, here are some career possibilities:
- novelist (traditional or self-published)
- freelance blogger
- newspaper reporter
- magazine writer
- owner of your own publishing company
- corporate content writer
- advertising copywriter
That’s just a very short list to give you an idea—you could easily extend it. Notice that some of them may be more exciting to you, while others may seem like more “practical” career choices.
The same is likely to be true of any field you’ve chosen: there will be safer choices and wilder ones. Notice your reactions, but don’t eliminate anything from the list at this stage, either because it’s too boring or too impractical. Give yourself the widest possible range.
3. Draw a Map
You now know your passion, and you’ve gotten more specific and have listed some possible jobs or careers. Pick the one that most excites you first. That’s your destination.
However, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to reach your destination straight away from where you are right now. You might be lucky and be able to simply apply for your dream job and get it, but it’s much more likely that it’ll take some time, and you’ll need a map to find your way there.
For example, let’s pick a different example and say you want to be a neurosurgeon. The exact process varies by country, but it'll look something like:
- Get a medical degree at university.
- Complete some post-graduate work.
- Become a trainee.
- Complete some prescribed training and pass your exams.
- Get full certification as a neurosurgeon.
- Find a post at a hospital and start working as a neurosurgeon.
The whole process will take years. And depending on your starting point, you may need to add additional steps, such as getting the necessary school qualifications to allow you to do the medical degree, if you don’t already have them.
If you’re not sure of all the steps right now, don’t worry—just do as much as you can with some basic research. You can find out more of the details later. The idea is just to get a general idea of the kind of journey you’re looking at.
And feel free to be creative in how you draw the map—I’ve just used a simple numbered list, but you can draw an actual map if you like, showing the terrain you've got to cross and the hazards you may encounter. Making it fun and visual can help to make it seem more real.
It may be worth completing a few different maps for different destinations. For example, an alternative to being a neurosurgeon could be becoming a neuroscience nurse, a radiologist, an academic neuroscientist who does research but not surgery, or a range of other possibilities. Draw a few other maps, just to see what they look like.
Finish by picking one that you’d like to pursue as a first choice. You can keep the others in reserve for now.
4. Ask for Help
Now that you've got some clarity about your destination and what the journey looks like, it’s time to reach out and ask for help.
You can’t ask anyone to take the journey for you, of course, but you can ask for some advice and pointers. Make a list of some people who have achieved what you want to do, and reach out to ask for help and advice. Many people love to give a helping hand to someone who's just starting out.
For example, did you know that Mark Zuckerberg asked Steve Jobs for help in his early days at Facebook? Zuckerberg used the annual Macworld conference as the inspiration for Facebook’s F8 conference, and also followed his mentor’s recruitment strategy of getting to know potential new employees over long walks on the wooded trails near his office.
Of course, people are busy. Don’t ask for too much up front—just ask a couple of specific questions about things you need help with. And it helps if you've got some existing relationship or are a friend of a friend, or if you can do something nice for the person, like buying their book and giving it a great review (assuming you liked it) or praising their business on social media.
Even so, you can expect some people not to respond at all, and others to respond with polite refusals. But if you reach out to enough people with courteous emails asking for limited help, you’ll probably get at least one positive response. There’s nothing better than learning from people who have walked your path, and the connections you make may also have unexpected benefits later on.
5. Find a Balance
Although the privileged few can focus 100% on their passion without worrying about money, most of us have to pay rent and bills. Some of us have debts to clear. Many of us also have other important responsibilities, such as taking care of family members. These responsibilities can make it seem harder to do what you love, but you can still get there.
So how can you find a balance between meeting your immediate needs and pursuing longer-term goals related to your passion?
This is where you may need to make modifications to the map you drew earlier. Even with the same start and end points, different people will have to take different routes depending on their circumstances.
For example, let’s consider two people who currently work in retail jobs, but have a passion for visual art. The difference is that Nicola is a twenty-something with rich parents and no responsibilities, while Sara is a mother of two small kids and has a husband with a chronic illness that prevents him from working.
Nicola’s map may look something like:
- Quit my job.
- Go to Tuscany for a year or two and paint what I’m inspired to paint.
- Use my family connections to get exhibited at a SoHo gallery.
- Become a full-time artist.
Sara’s map, on the other hand, may be more like:
- Carve out an hour every morning to work on my art before work.
- Enroll in a part-time degree program to get an art qualification.
- Use that qualification to get a job related to art, e.g. teaching, curating, etc.
- Keep painting, and use the connections I make in my new job to build up an exhibition history.
- Start selling my paintings to supplement my income.
- When I’ve built up enough of a track record and following to sell my work reliably and at high enough prices, eventually aim to quit the job and become a full-time artist.
These are simplified examples, of course. Nicola’s path may not actually be so easy, despite her wealth and connections, and it’s always possible that Sara’s paintings will be so good that she doesn’t have to take the long road after all.
The point I’m making is that people’s circumstances are different, and for many of us, a leap into the unknown just isn’t possible. But we can still pursue our passions and reach our goals, while also keeping a balance and meeting all of our commitments.
The important thing to remember is that although your map may need to be altered, your destination remains the same. You don’t have to give up on your passion because you've got young kids, or are in debt, or have a sick parent to take care of. You may have to take a slightly longer route, but as long as you keep your eyes firmly fixed on your destination, you can still get there.
Conclusion: Take the First Step Today
The truth is that many of us never pursue our passion. We talk ourselves out of it, we decide we’re being too selfish and impractical, or we simply get overwhelmed by all the other things going on in our lives.
But you can be different. I’ve shown you in this article that pursuing your passion isn't an impractical dream, but a set of steps that you can take to reach your desired destination. The journey ahead of you may be a long one, but it’s a well-known fact that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
So, take the first step today. If you’ve read this article without doing the exercises, go back and do them. Figure out your passion, research some possible careers in that field, and draw a map of what it would take to get you from where you are now to where you want to be.
Or, if you’ve done all that already, then take another step. Send an email, apply for an internship, start a blog, sign up for a class.
Then go back to your map and start adding dates to each stage of it. If necessary, add smaller sub-steps—the more you can break things down into manageable chunks, the easier it will be to keep making progress. Allow your map to grow and evolve.
Make a point of taking a small step towards your ultimate goal every day. Even if it’s just writing a blog post or doing half an hour of creative work, do one small thing every day that inches you closer to the end goal of doing what you love.
Then keep taking those small steps until, before you know it, they become a journey of a thousand miles. You can do what you love if you start moving in the right direction.