Recently a coaching client of mine was having a hard time deciding whether to keep her job — a low-paying, low-opportunity position in her dream industry — or leave it all behind and try to launch a career as a screenwriter. Well into her 30s, with financial obligations that were making her minuscule paychecks unsustainable — but the idea of chucking it all and starting from scratch even scarier — she worried that she was running out of choices and time to turn her dream into a career.
As we talked, I pointed out that her natural work ethic and eagerness to please makes her an ideal employee — and that can be both a blessing and a curse. She’d made herself so indispensable at her job that she kept finding herself with more and more responsibilities, leaving less and less time for writing (let alone exercise, sleep, or eating well.) And even if she could have swung it financially, she’s so motivated by praise and positive feedback from her supervisors and peers that she worried launching a solo writing career would leave her feeling uncertain and adrift.
Together, we came up with a plan C: to apply her tendencies as an excellent employee to a much more reasonable, higher-paying job in a different field that would still allow her room and time for creativity (in her case, higher education.) Then, to use the time and energy that would be freed up by a more reasonable schedule, a shorter commute, and fewer financial pressures to work on her script. She wouldn’t be giving up on her dream, I argued — simply creating a more livable path to get her there. She agreed…with great relief and newfound enthusiasm.
So often when we try to decide if and how to try to make a living from our passions, we view it as an either/or proposition. We also tend to look way too narrowly at what it means to be a writer, an artist, etc, and miss all the ways we could potentially incorporate what we love to do into multitudes of careers.
Take me, for example. I am a natural communicator, like to explore ideas both verbally and in writing, came of age at a time when the internet made it much easier and faster to connect with others and get my writing out there, AND also have a rebellious, independent streak that makes working for others difficult. It’s basically the perfect combination of factors to make working as an independent writer, podcaster, and speaker a perfect fit.
In a different time and place, perhaps my unique combination of tendencies and skills would be better lent to another career entirely. On the other hand, if I was more comfortable in a corporate environment with a clear chain of command and rewards for good performance, I might be a lot happier working a more traditional job…and perhaps finding ways to scratch my communicating itch either in or outside of the office.
I believe that we are most fulfilled when we bring our true selves into our work, every single day. But the path from passion to paycheck isn’t always a direct one. It takes a lot of creativity and self-awareness to piece together careers that blend the best of our personalities with the activities we enjoy doing.
And sometimes, that thing we really love to do never needs to be more than that…a fact that can be difficult for those of us with entrepreneurial spirits to accept.
I love to sing, but I’ve chosen to keep it a hobby. I still invest money, energy, and time in voice lessons, because music is an important part of who I am. If I decided to turn singing into a career, it would drastically change the way I’d approach it. I’d need to become much more skilled and really hone my craft. I’d need to learn about how independent musicians earn money. I’d need to have a strategy in place. I couldn’t just show up, sing, and hope the money would follow.
But that doesn’t mean that just showing up and creating has no value, either. Even if I never earn a dime from music, it doesn’t make my singing any less or more of a valid way to spend my time than income-producing activities.
“Can I make a living doing what I love?” is not a yes-or-no question.
I believe that any time you’re asking yourself that, there are probably half a dozen possible ways to approach the answer.
“ Yes, but not right now.”
“ Yes, but I’m going to look for another job that I like better.”
“ Yes, but I’ll keep my foot in the door via freelancing or consulting.”
“ No, but I’ll look for ways to bring more of what I love into my day-to-day activities.”
“ No, but I’m going to talk to my boss about making changes in my position.”
“ No, but I’m going to really invest in my passions outside of work because I love them and they make me a happier, more interesting, more fulfilled person.”
If you’ve been feeling pressure to decide between dream career and day job, is it possible there’s an option c…or d, e, f, g, etc…that you haven’t yet considered?
(psst…did you know I also have a great email community where we discuss fun stuff like creativity, careers, and living with purpose and heart? If you’re interested, join here!)