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Pursue Your Passion – But DON’T Quit Your Job

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

Pursue Your Passion – But DON’T Quit Your Job
Pursue Your Passion – But DON’T Quit Your Job

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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!

( Photo by katsrcool (Kool Cats Photography )

13 Responses to Pursue Your Passion – But DON’T Quit Your Job

  1. I am happy as an employee, but one good rule of thumb I’ve seen on a few blogs is to think about taking the leap once you are regularly making about half of your day job income through freelancing – the thinking being once you can devote all your time to self employment you can really ramp up your earnings.

  2. Yes, I’d say 50% at a mimimum! Even then, I’d try to reduce my day job down to part-time, or take a part-time job elsewhere. The reason I say this is that if you’re living on a reduced income, the financial struggle could interfere with your new business and actually have the opposite affect. Emotions (in this case fear) play a major role in the success or failure of a business venture.

    The alternative is to reduce your cost of living so that you are living on only half your job income anyway. Then the transition won’t put you into a struggle.

  3. This is spot on. I am glad that you put this together. I think a lot of people are thinking about this, but need to fully think about it.

  4. Hi Grayson–Having pursued my own passion (writing/blogging) this post is written “from the heart”. They’re suggestions based on my own path. Pursuing your passion is not usually the straight path we want it to be, so preparation and contingency planning are even more important.

  5. One other consideration is a somewhat pessimistic view that I have on this topic. The best way to ruin something you love (your passion) is to do it for a living. Then it just becomes a job!

  6. That’s so true Jose! I love writing, but much of the time a job is exactly what it is! (But I still wouldn’t trade it, at least not for jobs I’ve done in the past.)

  7. I think your points on finances are very helpful. My family and I have taken a hard look at our life and asked ourselves what do we really need to be able to live our passion. We have gotten rid of so much and we realized we didn’t need a lot of it to begin with. Thanks for sharing this helpful post!

  8. Hi Luke – It’s almost counterintuitive that the less you have, the easier it is to pursue your passion. I suppose this is because possessions (and the need to “keep” them) are counter to pursuing your passion. Flexibility and mobility are so under-rated in life!

  9. Thanks for the great article! I think you’re right that way too many people suggest quitting your job in corporate America and pursuing what you really want to do without explaining the important financial steps to take in order to prepare.

  10. Hi John – I’m all for pursuing your passion – it’s worked out for me and I wouldn’t trade it. But there’s a smart way to do it, and a not so smart way.

  11. Hi Kevin. Great article. Speaking from the heart also (at least my husband’s heart), I can tell you that often times people only see the present moment…the successful you. But they don’t see the you that went hungry, no paycheck, took a bus instead of doing car repairs, begged for more time to pay your gas bill, sacrificed, felt the worry, fear, anxiety..am I doing the right thing, lost sleep, put off marriage and family, on and on. It took almost 20 years before my husband started to see a profit from his business. Yes, he started to take a modest paycheck after a while, far less than he could have made elsewhere, but he only broke even for years. Necessary home repairs went undone or fixed haphazardly. Counter tops that were pieced together, windows nailed open or shut, etc. Every extra penny went back into building the business. Would he do it again? Absolutely! Why? Because he was born to do what he does. He loves it to his very soul, and it is a part of who he is. But your advice is SOUND. Don’t quit your day job until you’ve got all your finances under control and be willing to work harder than you ever thought you would or could. By the way, congrats to you and your family for making the sacrifices and the jump. I know it wasn’t always easy.

  12. That about describes it to a T Bev. It sounds like if you haven’t been through it yourself, you’ve certainly had a front row seat! I think that’s the part that so many people are afraid of, and I can’t say I blame them. We were watching Shark Tank yesterday, and they (the Sharks) were all talking about those humbling times in their lives that no one knows they experienced. My feeling is that surviving and overcoming a prolonged struggle makes you tougher, more resilient, and more confident. It’s actually empowering. I wouldn’t trade it for a more “secure” life (I put secure in quotes because it doesn’t really exist this side of Heaven. Getting comfortable with that realization is a revelation in itself.)

  13. Solid advice Kevin. The old saying goes, “You can have anything you want, just not everything.”

    At some point it can make sense to pursue a passion, but dialing back the lifestyle and planning for contingencies is a must, as you point out.

    Many thanks and great stuff!

    -Ian Bond

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