(The following is an adaptation from What Is Your WHAT?, the new New York Times bestseller by Steve Olsher. You can now get a free copy of the book at the What Is Your WHAT? website.)
We’re often told that if we pursue our passion and do what we love as a career, we will — to quote Confucius — never have to work a day in our life. And let’s not forget Oprah who popularized the phrase: “Do what you love and the money will follow.”
In theory, pursuing your passion as a career should be easy, effortless and create a monetary nirvana where income flows and happiness prevails. Reality, however, demonstrates that few who follow such advice will ever reach their desired destination.
When Passion-Following Turns Sour
It seems like a dirty trick. We’re encouraged to chase the carrot and before we know it, we’re miles down the rabbit hole with nothing to show for our efforts but mountains of debt that may take decades to repay. Consider the countless examples of those who quit their day jobs to pursue passion-related opportunities (cupcakes anyone?) only to end up emotionally, spiritually, and financially drained.
When you throw in the harsh realities of capitalism, the happy-go-lucky “if you build it, they will come” rhetoric is a blatant disservice to those who lack clarity on the elements truly needed to bring their anticipated utopia to fruition.
Now, before the hate mail starts rolling in, I’m not saying passion isn’t important. I am saying that you need to focus on cultivating a sustainable career… not merely engaging in a hobby.
Creating a flourishing existence that provides a strong sense of fulfillment, contribution and monetary reward is absolutely possible. To increase the odds of this happening, keep the following in mind:
1. Recognize that activities you enjoy often have nothing to do with how you’re naturally wired to excel. Frequently, people confuse what they’re passionate about with the true gifts they’ve been given.
For example, I love to sing (especially in the car… when I’m alone) and when I do, I’m passionate about it. When my favorite song of the moment plays on the radio, I’ll sing along at the top of my lungs.
Although I enjoy the sound of my voice, if the car window is open and others unwillingly end up with a front row seat to my performance, the look I get makes it clear they could live without the noise pollution I’m creating. For me, a successful singing career is highly unlikely unless there’s a sudden demand for the wistful lullabies of Tiny Tim.
You are wired to excel in very specific and powerful ways. Delineating between what you believe your passion is and what your innate gifts are is the key to cultivating a career that empowers you to do what you love, what you’re good at and what people will pay you for.
2. Understand that having passion is not enough. There is a monumental difference between enjoying a particular activity and being able to turn it into a thriving enterprise or career.
For example, perhaps you love gardening. Every year, your tomatoes are the talk of the town. They taste incredible, they’re perfect in color and all you have to do to grow vine after vine of your prized delicacies is sprinkle a bit of magic into the soil, add water, and voila… perfection is realized.
(MORE: Is Following Your Passion Bunk?)
But are you really going to buy a large parcel of land and invest the time, energy and resources required to build a full-flung tomato farm that provides significant income? Odds are, the answer is no.
Hiring, managing, and firing employees; sourcing and operating machinery; negotiating terms; buying products and raw materials; setting up distribution; marketing your little red delights and attaining profitability is a much different animal.
Few have the knowledge and ability needed to get to that level… and, far fewer have the desire to do so.
3. Identify the three crucial pieces missing from life’s most important equation. The notion that the secret of life can be found by identifying one’s passion has been perpetuated far too long. Most people are left with more questions than answers after identifying what they love to do because three crucial elements are absent from the conversation. It’s the combination of these three elements that comprise what I call your “WHAT.”
The first missing piece is identifying your gifts. They have chosen you; they are not what you have chosen.
The second missing piece is identifying the vehicle you will use to share your gifts with the world. For example, if your gift is healing, the vehicle you might choose to share it could be massage. If communication is your gift, your vehicle might be writing or speaking or both
The third, and perhaps most important, missing piece is identifying the people you are most compelled to serve. Identifying your gifts and the vehicle to share your gifts is meaningless unless you know your target audience.
Reflect on your life experiences, attributes, beliefs and interests to begin your exploration of who these people are. The more you are able to focus your efforts, the easier it will be for you to have massive impact.
Put these elements together and you’ll have the necessary foundation to affect not only those who share this lifetime with you, but also those of lifetimes to come. In the end, you’re the solution to someone else’s problem. They’re waiting for you now.