It’s become almost a cliché: quit your job and pursue your passion! Personally, I think that advice is way overused, but it’s also one of the worst pieces of advice to ever give to anyone. It sure sounds good, especially to someone who is in a job they hate and wanting nothing more than to abandon ship and jump into something new. You won’t hear that advice here on OutOfYourRut.com, despite my conviction that we all need to pursue our passions. The practical reality is usually something much different than expected.
Pursuing your passion should never be a flight of fancy but a well calculated journey.
More than a few people probably thought I was a few cards short of a full deck when I went into blogging/freelance blog writing and maybe they were right. But as the saying goes, desperate people do desperate things. And I was desperate. Being a refugee from the mortgage business in the middle of the Financial Meltdown, the term “washed up” was never far from my mind. But writing was my hidden passion, and when there’s nowhere else to go, pursuing your passion isn’t as risky as you might think.
To mitigate the risk, I spent several years doing contract work – working as a slash worker – as in blogger/accountant/forensic underwriter/whatever-temporary-gig-was-available-at-the-time. Get the picture? Pursuing your passion has a gritty, dark side, especially at the beginning. I spent six years doing doube-duty before I was able to go 100% at my passion. I didn’t have time to implement many of the strategies I’m going to lay out here, but if you’re thinking of pursuing your own passion, you might take full advantage of any lead time you have to do what you can to lower the risk.
Before you go taking a any wild dives into anything resembling your passion, first carefully evaluate what you’re trying to do, and be ready with a plan – and a backup plan – just in case.
First define your passion
Millions of people never truly know what their passion is. This can leave you ripe to waking up one day with an idea that you confuse for your passion.
A passion is not a momentary idea – it’s a path that has been in your mind and on your heart for many years. It may even go all the way back to your childhood. What’s more, it’s something that you know you have a talent for, or could if you spent some time developing it. A passion is a part of who you are, and never just a good-looking idea that suddenly shows up.
At the risk of trying to define the indefinable, let’s take a stab at creating some useful parameters that will help you to know if your passion is something worth pursuing:
- Is should be something you’ve done in the past, even if it was unpaid
- It should be something you’d do even if you didn’t get paid to do it
- You have relevant knowledge and skills that are at least above average
- You should be able to monetize it (best evidence is other people making money at it)
- There should be a reasonable time horizon to make it work
- Your financial situation should be prepared to make the transition (more on this later)
- It should fit neatly into your lifestyle and family situation
- The timing needs to be right (i.e., if you’re about to have a baby, pursuing your passion probably needs to wait)
Nope – don’t quit your job
If you’re holding a job, even though it isn’t your passion, it’s almost certainly because you need the money. That situation won’t change once you decide to put your passion into action. Understand that passion and a paycheck are two separate things, at least at the beginning. What’s more, not all passions can be converted into an income – some are destined never to be any more than a hobby.
Even if you can monetize your passion, it will take time and often more than you think. Along the way, you will face highs and lows, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. But if you have a paycheck when facing those obstacles, your chances of overcoming them rise tremendously. And that’s what your current job can do for you, and why you shouldn‘t be so anxious to quit your job when you decide to pursue your passion.
Pursuing your passion doesn’t mean that your bills or financial troubles magically go away under the weight of your new venture. They’ll still be there – plus a few more. If you hope to be a success, you have to be prepared to live with that reality.
If you’re ready to pursue your passion, start thinking of your job – not as an obstacle – but as a part of the journey into your passion. At a minimum, it will provide a cash flow that will both help you get started, and keep you going along the way.
Keep your job on a full-time basis while you’re getting your passion up and running, and until you generate a credible income from it. Pull the job back to part-time when your passion is earning solid money but not quite enough to make it completely. Quit your job only once you are clearly able to live entirely from your passion.
Before you pursue your passion, first get your finances prepared
We’ve already discussed that pursuing your passion can take a lot longer than you think before you start making serious money. But there’s another possibility you may need to prepare for: pursuing your passion may never earn you as much money as your current job does.
People don’t always pursue their passion as a way of making a fortune. The entire reason for doing it may be mostly about doing work that you love and/or that will better suit your lifestyle and personality. If you keep that fact in mind you will have a better chance of succeeding.
Pursuing your passion doesn’t always support the traditional suburban lifestyle. If you’re accustomed to living in a large home, driving late-model cars, eating out for dinner most nights, and taking exotic vacations, you may have to make a choice between pursuing your passion and preserving your lifestyle. Many times pursuing your passion will bring you closer to “starving artist” status than it will to suburban success.
A lot of people don’t want to make this choice, which is a major reason why so few people ever pursue their passion. If you’re serious about doing it, you’re going to have to make some tough choices, and it’s best to make them before you even start.
We’ve already discussed stair stepping your income from full time employee status to taking the leap of faith into your passion. But here are some recommendations regarding your lifestyle and finances that are at least as important:
- Find a less expensive place to live. Since housing is probably your biggest expense, you can cut your cost of living substantially by moving from a four bedroom spread in a swim and tennis neighborhood, to an apartment in a less expensive part of town.
- You may have to accept that you have already bought your last new car. Unless you start earning big money fast, your pattern may need to change to buying a used car every few years. New cars, and the debt they typically carry, may not be in your budget for a very long time.
- Discover the joys of home cooking. Restaurant meals may be something that you won’t be able afford on a lower and often erratic income.
- Build a solid cash reserve and plan to keep doing it for the rest of your life. Since pursuing your passion and self-employment are close companions, you’ll need to have a ready source of cash for those times when cash flow is on the lean side.
- Get out of debt, and resolve stay out for the rest of your life. Monthly debt payments work a lot better on a regular paycheck than they do when you’re self-employed, or something close to it.
- Find less expensive ways to entertain yourself. Since you’ll be doing work that you love, you should have less need for costly entertainment anyway.
- Develop a plan for better health. You can’t pursue your passion without good health, and you’ll have fewer benefits available should you lose it.
- Have a backup income source that you can fall back on when your income takes a dip. Pursuing your passion and steady income are not always close traveling companions. You should be prepared to do what you need to do, when you need to do it. This is why so many aspiring singers, actors, artists and writers are also driving for Uber or doing coffee duty at Starbucks.
- Be ready to work! Pursuing your passion doesn’t mean the end of hard work – it could even mean the beginning of the hardest work you’ve ever done in your life.
As you can see, pursuing your passion isn’t all about following a dream. The dream is the catalyst, but from there you need to take practical steps to help get you there. All the preparation itself may seem like too big of an effort, especially if you’re going to be holding onto your job for a long time. But doing so will put you in a much better position to achieve your goals.
Pursuing your passion should always include a plan of concrete steps and implementing necessary changes. Wishful thinking – unfortunately – is never a plan!