Follow your dreams. Live your passion. Turn something you love into a business.
Is it as easy as that? What’s the reality of following your dreams? How can you protect your passion if you ask it to make money?
Follow your dreams. Live your passion. This sentence seemed to follow me around as a teenager, almost like every adult believed it to be the miracle cure to unhappiness. One hot summer’s day as final year exams crept closer, my mathematics teacher came to life and urged us all to “Do what you love and you’ll never have to work another day in your life again.” I remember little of the formulas or equations she taught. I recall only the urgency of her voice and shadow in her eyes, knowing that her every day was still a workday.
That urgency echoes today. Following your passion is big in the world of business and popular psychology. Follow your passion. Abandon the grey office cubicle and everything will be poolside and palm trees! So then we turn our passion, often our creativity, into a business and expect it to make money. Elizabeth Gilbert speaks poignantly on this in her book Big Magic. She loves writing but didn’t for many years expect it to pay her way. She didn’t want to put pressure on her creativity. She almost makes a case for leaving it alone, and cherishing it for the happiness a good hobby can bring you. Don’t expect your passion to put food on the table.
When it all goes wrong
I took something I loved and thought it would turn into meals eaten and bills paid. I wrote craft books and taught handmade classes, which did sell and make me income for a time. But I spent so much time on it that it didn’t take long for me to…well…really, really hate it with a passion. The pressure of expecting it to generate an income turned it into work. It felt like enforced creativity and that’s a terrible, terrible thing to do to creativity. It works because it is free, and not boxed in by desks and walls and cubicles. Perhaps Elizabeth Gilbert was right. So I left it and walked away. I abandoned it and didn’t come back to it – for fun or work – for several years. At the time, I felt that yes, it is possible to kill your passion.
Should work then have no passion?
There’s two ways to go from here, let it die and live like my grandparents who didn’t expect work to be fulfilling or inspirational. Work was something you did. It paid the bills and then you came home to do what you love. There’s a certain attraction to this and many in the past did live like this: postal clerk by day, jazz expert at night. Many still do. Is this realistic though for the rest of us? We believe that work should have meaning and passion. Without some connection to the work we spend our daylight hours on, how long would we really last?
The other way to go from here is to build a business, or to work, within your field of passion but recognise the perils that lay ahead. Passion needs to be protected from being overworked. Creativity doesn’t live in a box and we need to respect that. If you want to work in your field of passion, you must protect it fiercely.
Here’s five strategies that let you live your passion but not kill it:
- Mix it Up a Bit. Spending hours and hours every week working on your business or in your field of passion is not healthy. It’s easy to lose perspective and become narrowly focused. You can lose touch with what’s happening in the rest of the world. New innovations often come from cross-field collaborations. Your passion will benefit from a wide range of influences. Read books, watch films and connect with people outside your field of passion.
- Take time out. There’s a reason our ancestors fought for eight-hour days. Everyone needs time out. New research is showing that creativity needs space. Taking time out gives you the perspective and the new ideas you need. A few years ago, I had to force myself to stay away from my work for one whole day each week. It was a constant struggle to make a new habit of screen free time on Sundays. Now it’s just what I do and I come back to work on Monday with new clarity.
- The Artist’s Model. It can put a lot of pressure on something you love to pay the mortgage and feed the family, particularly if you turn it into a business with all the ups and downs of start-ups and cash flow. At least until you have proof of income, at the right level for you, cultivate multiple streams of income. Keep your day job and take the passion part-time. Work two jobs, the one that pays the bills, and the one that you love. Many artists and actors have a long history of doing this.
- Always learning. Just because you love doing it doesn’t mean it will be a viable business. Step out from your love for the passion. Ask other people’s opinions, and people who will actually know. Sometimes hard work doesn’t pay off and a passion cannot be turned into a viable business. But the things you learn can be useful for other endeavours. What do you love about your passion? What skills has it given you? Where can you take those skills now?
- It’s not your only thing. Having one passion, and working on it, places a lot of pressure on that to be your ‘everything’ – money earner, muse, creative outlet and more. There is a popular thought that argues that passion actually comes from doing something well. You develop a love for it as you grow your skills. Rather than just having one passion, cultivate and learn new skills. You never know, they may turn into a new passion in years to come.
Following your passion is not as simple as my mathematics teacher’s hope. Treating your passion, and your creativity, with respect recognises that following your dreams may just turn out to be a little bit more complex.