Over the years, as I’ve thought about my career and what it means to be an entrepreneur, I’ve regularly considered whether or not it was beneficial to follow my passions or chase the brass ring (a fat paycheck). I admit I used to think they were mutually exclusive, but I’m not so sure I feel that way today. Let me explain what I mean.
When Ryan O’Connor, a small construction company owner, asked Shark Tank judge and entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran, about following his passion, it caught my attention. He asked, “Hi Barbara, I’m a general contractor that’s owned my own company for the last 15 years. I like construction, but my passion lies in real estate … and I have my license. I would love to get your advice on where I should focus my attention—my passion or my construction business (where I’m making money)?”
Following your passion always makes you happy! I think you can both follow your passion and continue your construction business. Construction and real estate are natural bedfellows. How about you sell real estate and when you locate a neglected property, buy it for yourself, renovate it, and either flip it or rent it to a tenant. Most of the wealth in this country was made through real estate, but very little of it was made through general contracting.
Look for Opportunities Where You Are
I think there can be a lot of joy in a career that allows you to use your talents and skills doing something you enjoy. Hopefully, you’re passionate about it. But as Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe might suggest, there’s another option: “bring your passion with you to work.”
I agree with Barbara that following your passion can make you happy, but I also believe that it’s probably just as important to bring your passion to however you choose to follow your entrepreneurial dream — which can bring just as much joy and make what you do very fulfilling. If you’re good at it, it might even allow you to make a very good living.
Sometimes, the goal isn't to find work you're passionate about, but to bring passion to your work.
For example, I know a mechanic who had a very successful auto repair business until he retired several years ago. He had a son who had worked with him in the business and took over when my friend retired, but didn’t enjoy working on cars. The son didn’t have a passion for auto mechanics, but turned his dad’s business into a successful lawnmower and garden implement repair business — something he could enjoy and feel passionate about.
Although I’ve not been able to make a living as a professional motorcycle rider (something I am passionate about), I’ve been fortunate to spend my life doing things that I really enjoy. Even though I haven’t spent the last 35+ years of my career doing the same things, I can say I’ve felt passionate about what I was doing at the time. I’ve leveraged my talent, my creative interests, my aptitude and training, and my sense of adventure into a fulfilling career.
What Does “Follow Your Passion” Really Mean?
Fortunately, O’Connor’s passion is doing something with the potential to make a good living. That might not be the case for everyone. I have a number of friends with a passion for American literature, who aren’t able to make a living with that passion. Yet, they take their passion for learning, for history, and for a good story, and leverage that to build successful careers and businesses. As a result, they are very happy, make a good living, and feel passionate about the work they do.
I like Barbara’s advice because it implies that the choice doesn’t have to be simply about passion or money. It doesn’t have to be a black-and-white decision. No amount of money will help someone overcome the feeling of doing something they really hate — nor does anyone really have to live with a choice like that.
How Can You Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too?
If you don’t happen to work in a career you’re really passionate about, there are things you can do that may help you feel more connected to your profession:
- Identify the things you’re passionate about: You might be surprised to discover that many of these things can be part of what you do every day. For example, if you have a love of photography, you don’t necessarily need to be a professional photographer to express that at work. I know of a doctor who is a great landscape photographer and decorates his exam rooms with beautiful prints he’s made from his travels. If you mention them, he’ll gladly tell you about his adventures and how he made the images. He’s not only able to bring something he loves to the office with him everyday, he schedules time away to create new images every year allowing that to be an important part of his practice.
- Don’t ignore those passions: If the things you enjoy don’t make sense as part of your career, that doesn’t mean there’s no place for them in your life. I mentioned earlier that I’m an avid motorcyclist—but I also realize it might be difficult to get paid to explore what’s around the next bend. So, while there isn’t much opportunity to leverage that passion within my career, I make sure I don’t spend every waking hour working and devote some time to the wind in my face watching the road pass underneath my feet. I also find the occasional road trip recharges creative juices that allow me to think clearly and make me better at what I do. What’s more, spending time in the saddle also affords me the opportunity to get to know the small business owners along the road who tend to inspire me with ideas that eventually make it to work. Don’t ignore your passions.
- Don’t forget, passion is contagious: Regardless of whether you work at what you love or infuse your passion into your work, your enthusiasm will likely be felt by everyone in your company and shared by your employees with your customers. What’s more, by giving your employees the opportunity to bring their passions with them to work, you’ll create an environment where your business will not only be successful; it will be enjoyable and fulfilling.
Over the course of my career, there has been a lot of discussion about the challenges of achieving work-life balance. I think the real goal should be integrating your work and your life (or your passion and your work) so you can have a fulfilling career and a satisfying life.
Regardless of what you do, allow for time to follow your passions. If that means selling real estate and using your construction skills to improve properties for rent or sale, do that. On the other hand, it might mean taking your passion from other interests into your business with you. Much like an artisan leverages his or her love of art into making beautiful pottery, architecture, landscape design, or furniture. They might not be an artist in the truest sense of the word, but they are using their passion for art to make useful things beautiful.
If your business isn’t a true expression of your passion, make sure you set aside time to follow your dreams outside of your business, so you can take it with you to work. Successfully integrating your passion into your work will not only help you enjoy what you do, it will enable you to achieve the success you desire while being true to yourself.
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