Update: 575 of your fellow adventurers have now enrolled in Submersion, our new 60-day Subjective Reality deep dive. What more becomes possible when you're living in a simulation? Join us for this epic journey!
This material was originally part of a productivity debate about the merits of hard work vs. laziness. The website that hosted the debate in 2005 has long since gone offline, so I’m resharing my contributions to the debate here.
The money and the passion… You seem to encourage paying less attention to how much money you make, and pay more attention to what you’re passionate about. With that in mind, please address the following:
a. What if your passion IS money?
Your passion isn’t money. Really it isn’t… unless you have a fetish about collecting smelly pieces of paper with pictures of dead people. 🙂
What you might be passionate about is what you think money can get you. But money itself is just a means to an end, and often it’s far more effective to work directly on the specific end you want to achieve. For example, if you think money will buy you security, then go to work directly on your fears and insecurities and develop your capacity for courage. If you think money will buy you a sense of abundance, then focus on overcoming your lack of appreciation for what you already have, and begin to live with an attitude of gratitude.
So what is the end that you think money will get you. What are you really passionate about? What if you already had all the money you could possibly want? Then what?
What should I do if my passion requires money, and in order to make money, I need to work a whole bunch of hours per week at a job I’m not passionate about, leaving no time for my passion?
First, question to what degree your passion really does require money. Is that truly an accurate assumption? Can you think of anyone else pursuing your passion in a manner that doesn’t require much money? I don’t know the answer for your particular situation, but it’s very common that people use a lack of money as an excuse for not pursuing their passion. So first, do a gut check on your assumptions. I would say that most of the time when people believe they need money to pursue their passion, they’re wrong, and there will be plenty of counter-examples of people pursuing a similar passion without money. But I’ll also wholeheartedly acknowledge that many ventures would be extremely difficult to pursue without adequate cash. So use your logic and thinking skills to figure out the truth of the matter for your own situation. How important is money to your passion? What’s the objective truth of the matter?
Now let’s assume for the moment that your passion does indeed require money, and you’re currently stuck working long hours at a job that doesn’t leave you much room for your passion. How are you going to solve that problem?
First, let’s acknowledge that this is indeed a difficult situation and respect it as such. I’m not going to insult you by suggesting this is going to be easy for you. If you want out of this situation, it will not be easy. It will almost certainly be extremely challenging and will push you to your limits. But it can be done.
Here’s what I recommend. You need to answer these four questions for yourself:
1. What do I need?
Think about what your actual needs are. You need enough money to eat, to shelter yourself, and to pay your bills. But what don’t you need? How can you cut costs? You don’t need magazine and newspaper subscriptions. You don’t need cable TV. You don’t need to eat out. Consider what your true needs really are. Both in your current situation and as you make the transition, you must meet your needs. But how low are you able to go? What are you willing to sacrifice? Get clear about this. Figure out your baseline for meeting your actually needs.
2. What do I want?
Take the time to clarify your desires. What do you really want from your life? Even if you don’t think you can get it, be brutally honest with yourself and admit what you truly desire. In tackling this question, don’t concern yourself with practicality. Just get absolutely clear about what you want, assuming there are no limits or obstacles to getting it. I’m not promising you can necessarily achieve this ideal. For now just clarify what the ideal actually is for you.
3. What can I do?
Now think about your abilities, skills, talents, and education. What are you honestly capable of? Don’t idealize here. Get down-to-earth practical. But also consider what you could become really good at, maybe even world-class, if you put in the time to develop your knowledge and skills. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? How can you best capitalize on those strengths?
4. What should I do?
Now consult your conscience, your inner sense of right and wrong. What do you feel is the purpose of your life? Do you think you even have a purpose? Why are you here? What do your most deeply held spiritual and philosophical beliefs tell you? What kinds of people (living or dead) do you respect most? Why? Do you feel any urgings from your conscience to move in a particular direction?
Answer the above 4 questions individually. If you keep a journal, that’s a great place to do it. Write or type in an exploratory manner. Dive deeply into each question and see where each one leads you. Once you’ve done that, think of your answers to each question as a circle. Your goal is to find a way to get all four of these circles to overlap. This means you must identify a situation where you’re successfully meeting your needs, doing what you love, working from your strengths, and contributing in a way that’s meaningful to you.
If you can find a way where these four circles can overlap, then you can start to transition right away. But most likely if you’re feeling stuck, then all four won’t share a common area of intersection. In that situation you must move the circles.
You can move the first circle by further reducing your needs. Shove them down even further. Share a room with someone. Cut your costs to the bare minimum. Sell all your unneeded stuff to get some extra cash. Live as cheaply as you can. The lower you can push your expenses, the more extra cash you can accumulate, cash that can be very useful for navigating your transition.
You can move the second circle by reassessing your desires. Can you reduce them a bit, just for now, in order to allow you to complete the transition? Would you be willing to work longer hours initially? Would you be willing to get up earlier? Would you be willing to start at the bottom?
You can move the third circle by improving your skills. This is one of the best circles to move. Can you educate and train yourself to earn more money? Can you learn how to attract investors and leverage other people’s money and other people’s time? Can you expand your network of contacts to broaden your opportunities? Can you land a higher paying job with shorter hours? What new strengths could you develop if you wanted to? What weaknesses could you eliminate?
Finally, you can move the fourth circle by getting in deeper touch with your conscience and becoming even more clear about possible paths that you’d consider “right” and “good” for you. But I think this circle is rarely one that needs to be moved.
Now by iterating through this process again and again (however long it takes), you’ll eventually be able to get all four of these circles to overlap. Think of it as a negotiation process where you need to get all four of these areas to reach an agreement they can all live with. Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to transition. You might have to rough it at first, but once you begin working within the sweet spot of overlap between your needs, desires, abilities, and conscience, you’ll be able to expand that area in all directions. You’ll be satisfying your basic needs, so you’ll be fine there and can maintain some basic security. You’ll be doing some kind of work you enjoy, so you’ll be reasonably well motivated. You’ll be good at what you’re doing, so you’ll be leveraging your strengths well enough to succeed. And you’ll be contributing in a way you find meaningful, so this alignment with your conscience will boost your drive even more.
Once you get yourself into this area of overlap, even if it’s a bit sloppily done at first, you’ll be in the best position to improve your situation year after year, expanding your capacity in every direction. Need will become abundance. Desire will become passion. Ability will become talent. And conscience will become purpose.
I’m not saying this process is the only way to navigate this transition. But these are the four key factors in play. Again, this is not going to be easy. If it were easy, you’d have already done it. Accept that it’s going to be hard. But your life will feel a lot easier as soon as you get yourself into this area of overlap. And once that’s achieved, you’ll have the drive, ability, and means to take it wherever you want.
But whatever you do, don’t remain stuck in a job you hate. Don’t give up on your dreams. It’s hard to make the transition, but let me tell you as someone who went through this process myself within the past year, it’s absolutely, positively worth it.
One last thing I want to note is that these four circles will also shift on their own. As you grow and mature, your needs, desires, abilities, and conscience will all change. So your target area of overlap will not remain fixed. But you can always get yourself back into the sweet spot by answering these four questions and using them to plot a course.
Conversely, what should I do if I know that my passion is staying home with my family (or similar non-paying passion), but doing that won’t pay the bills? How can I reconcile being away from my family/passion in order to “just” make money?
Go through the same process as above. It doesn’t matter what your starting situation is. You still need to balance these four areas, both in finding a way to identify the potential area of overlap and in navigating the transition from here to there.
When you find yourself in a situation where these four circles don’t overlap, you’re correct in assuming that something has to give. And it may be very hard to make that choice. But if these four areas are out of balance, then something is already giving, and it’s causing you pain right now. You’re better off confronting the situation consciously than unconsciously avoiding it. You’re already sacrificing something you don’t want to sacrifice. Maybe you’re experiencing too much scarcity in your life. Maybe you’re doing work you dislike. Maybe you’re working in a field which doesn’t capitalize on your strengths. Or maybe you’re not listening to your conscience as it urges you to do something more meaningful with your life. Assert conscious control over this situation by using these questions as a guide to help you plot a course out of your current situation.
What I like about this four-question model is that it allows you to gain tremendous clarity by confronting the brutal facts, but in a manner that’s focused on finding a solution. It doesn’t require you to blindly pursue your passion if you’re not sure you’ll be able to support yourself doing it. It doesn’t force you to stay in a job you hate out of a misdirected sense of duty. It doesn’t suggest you do something you don’t think you’re capable of doing. And most of all, it doesn’t suggest you must violate your own morals and ethics.
I’ve explored this subject extensively in previous blog posts, so if you want to read even more, here are some further links:
Be patient with yourself. Such transitions can be very challenging and will push you to your limits. But it’s worth it.
* * *
Many people are held back by the limiting belief that you can’t make money doing what you love. But I think that a lot of people don’t feel comfortable challenging that assumption until they can mentally envision a safe path for themselves from where they are now to where they want to go. This is why I outlined a decision-making process to help people understand exactly how to do that. Once you can envision a path and believe it will work, then it’s a lot easier to drop limiting beliefs and get moving. You don’t have to blindly dive into pursuing your passion and risk it all — that certainly works for some people, but it’s very risky and has a high failure rate too. It will take some courage no matter what path you take, but it doesn’t require a blind leap of faith in my opinion. I think it’s important to consider how you’re going to pay your rent and support your family and whether you can actually make a living from your passion… before you make your move.
For example, when I wanted to transition to my new career in speaking and writing, I outlined a plan to navigate the transition that would keep in balance my needs (like paying my mortgage), abilities (do I have the talent and skills to pull this off?), passion (will I be doing what I love?), and conscience (will I be contributing and making a meaningful difference in the world?). This included cutting some of my expenses to keep my cashflow needs reasonable, keeping my old business running on the side, and planning to build a new high-traffic web site with lots of free content and eventually info products for sale; developing my speaking skills via Toastmasters and competing in speech contests; spending the majority of my time doing work I love (like writing and speaking); and doing work that I believed was truly helping people. It was easier to get moving when I could see on paper just how this transition was going to work AND convinced myself that it would work. Even with all this planning, it still took courage to commit to this transition and get started, and I certainly met a lot of resistance from those who preferred to see me stay put, but I knew it was just a matter of overcoming inertia until the momentum would carry me forward (as it’s doing now).
I agree that passion is critical. If you overemphasize passion though, especially as you make the transition to living with more passion, then you risk neglecting your needs, failing to upgrade your skills, and building a career that’s devoid of meaning. And these factors will ultimately degrade your passion if you don’t address them. Your passion will enjoy great support if you achieve abundance instead of scarcity, if you become more skilled at doing what you love, and if you’re making a meaningful contribution.