We have all heard the mantra, “Live your passion and the money will follow.” It is tempting and often easy to follow your passion. There are many businesses ready to help you do this. Some examples of businesses ready to help you follow your passion are health-coach certification companies, massage schools, or yoga instructor bootcamps, just to name a few. The problem is that you can easily spend thousands of dollars chasing a passion, and find either the money does not follow or you discover this passion is not what you really want or like to do.
Several years ago, I took a personal training certification course as a way to follow my passion of health and fitness. This was an in-person course and I met several other students who were equally passionate about the idea of helping other people to become fit through physical exercise. I developed a friendship with one of the students as we had a lot in common. We both started the course working full-time jobs and were able to complete the first three segments during nights and weekends. The last segment of the training required an unpaid six-week internship in the gym. The students were required to work the hours the gym asked.
This was a fork in the road. At this point, we had to decide whether to quit our full-time jobs to continue the internship. The internship was not necessary to obtain the personal training certification, but after completing the internship the school was offering a commission-based position in their “high end” gym.
My friend went all in. He quit his law clerk job, which he said he hated, got his personal training certification and completed the internship. He was hired by the gym, but his initial modest salary was actually a loan because he didn’t have any paying clients. After several months, he was not able to enroll enough paying clients to meet his needs and he became more and more discouraged. Ultimately, he abandoned his “passion” and he went back to work for the law firm.
What happened to my friend and what could he have done differently to avoid his failed outcome?
There were some good aspects about his path. He was clear about what he wanted. He moved beyond a vague notion of, “I want to help people live healthier” to a concrete goal of being a personal trainer in a gym.
He took action by enrolling in the personal training school. But, here is where he went wrong: he did not understand the realities of being a personal trainer. He only had a vague notion of what it took to be successful financially and how much money he could make.
If making money is important to you, then you have to understand the business realities of that profession
If making money is important to you, then you have to understand the business realities of that profession. You need to understand how you will get customers, how much selling you will have to do, how you will get paid, and how many hours it takes to make a successful transition.
For established occupations, getting information is easy to do. Find people who have traveled the path you are considering. You can find online affinity groups for almost everything, and my experience is that the people are usually very willing to share their successes and frustrations and you will get honest and helpful information from these groups. Have lunch with someone doing what you want to do. Do not be bashful. Learn from these people and make an informed decision.
The passion schools are somewhat culpable. They cover their backs with disclaimers like “results not typical” or “we cover the business realities in one of our modules” but have clever sales tactics complete with success testimonials and make it easy to get you on your way and to take a lot of your money in the process.
In my case, I did not take the path of the internship but completed the online personal training certification and started to coach clients part-time while keeping my full-time job. I avoided a dead-end in this case, but I had a different false start of my own a few years later.
I had a different false start of my own a few years later
About three years after taking the personal training course, I was frustrated with my full-time job and I decided I wanted to travel the world. I asked myself, “If not now, when?” “If not me, who?” I resigned from my position, sold my car and belongings, terminated my lease and moved to a retreat on the Big Island of Hawaii. To receive room and board I paid $600 per month and I worked in the kitchen 30 hours a week. In the kitchen I washed dishes, chopped vegetables, and cleaned tables. This is very different from the technical work that I had been doing.
Living this dream was fun for a few months. I proved to myself I could disconnect from my life and follow this passion. I did some amazing activities like hike the Kilauea Volcano and met some really great people. However, even though I was living in “paradise” and I had structure and community, I was bored. I left Hawaii and continued to travel. But, after I left Hawaii, my experience was actually worse. I had no structure or community or purpose or challenge. Six months after quitting my job, I decided to return to the US to resume my prior career. It took me almost a year to get a job equivalent to the one I quit.
I should have been clear about what I wanted to do or experience and then started small and tested my idea by actually doing it on an extended, but limited, basis. One of the positives of this experience was that I realized how important purpose and challenge are for me. I consider this my mini retirement and now I know that retiring, at least for me, without purpose and challenge is not going to be good for me.
If following your passion is on your mind, think about what really makes you happy
If following your passion is on your mind, think about what really makes you happy. Does making other people happy make you happy? Is it expressing yourself? Is it solving problems with other people? If what makes you happy are the trappings of success, Cal Newport, from his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, suggests that many people mainly want to be and feel important and have control over their work and environment. His suggestion is the path to this could be to become an established expert in your existing profession.
Based on my experiences and my observations of others, you should NOT follow your passion if you only have a vague notion of what you want to do. Get really clear about what your passion is and why it is important to you.
You should NOT follow your passion if you do not have experience doing the activities related to your passion. At a minimum, get information from the community of people already doing this. Volunteer or do whatever it takes to do some time in this space to see if you really like doing this activity.
You should NOT follow your passion if you do not know how much money most people in that line of work achieve and, even more importantly, what it will take to make your passion financially sustainable.
Do things that you like to do every day
My suggestion is to do things that you like to do every day. If you want to do something different, transition by taking small steps to test if this really is something that you really can and want to do and, if you need money to come from this, test to see if this is practical.
My final suggestion is this: After having done your research, if you do decide to take the plunge, go all in. Don’t look back. Make sure that you get the most out of your commitment and investment and, in the worst case, you’ll learn a lot about yourself.
What are your experiences with following your passion? Drop a note below. I would love to hear your stories.
Written by Gregory Damian: I am a 61-year-old author, motivational speaker, health and fitness disruptor and a coach. My book, Abs at 60: The Four Steps to Look and Feel Younger at Any Age was recently released on Amazon. My mission is to assist men over 50 to overcome perceived limits of their age to look and feel younger. I do this by applying my four-step DOLR(TM) system that is described in the book. Each chapter has a set of questions for you to answer. You can download a free workbook that includes all of these questions at www.absat60.com