Not a day seems to go by without hearing someone talk about their passion and how the mysteries of life magically dissipate once its power is unleashed. We’re often told that if we simply pursue our passion and do what we love as a career, we’ll never have to work a day in our life. And let’s not forget Oprah who added fuel to the fire by popularizing 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.

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. Inevitably, this setback squashes one’s willingness to take future risks, a return to the 8-5 grind, and an unfettered bitterness directed towards those who led them down their ill-fated passion path. It seems like a dirty trick. We’re told to chase the carrot. In fact, we’re encouraged to do so. And then, 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.

Nowhere is the fallacy of the “if you build it, they will come” mantra more evident than in the passion-turned-career world. Life is complex enough on its own — throw in the harsh realities of capitalism and this happy-go-lucky rhetoric reveals itself as a blatant disservice to those who lack clarity on the additional elements needed to bring their anticipated utopia to fruition. A significant part of the problem stems from the word passion itself and our collective understanding of what it means. Whereas, the belief is that one’s passion aligns with who we are and what we should pursue, Webster’s Dictionary defines passion as “a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something; a strong feeling (such as anger) that causes you to act in a dangerous way; a strong sexual or romantic feeling for someone.”

Notice anything? In each definition, the word feeling is present. Feelings can work both to your benefit and to your detriment due to the infiltration of emotion. By its literal definition, passion often clouds judgment instead of enhancing it. Now, before the hate mail starts rolling in at the mere thought of throwing water on your fire, note that this discussion is not centered on whether or not passion is important.  It is focused on cultivating a sustainable career… not engaging in a hobby.

Creating a flourishing existence that inevitably provides a strong sense of fulfillment, contribution, and monetary reward is absolutely possible. To massively 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.

Within your DNA lies a singular blueprint that guides you towards your unique talents and an over-arching theme that encompasses your abilities (e.g. communication, healing, entertaining). 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 is played on the radio, I’ll sing along with it at the top of my lungs. While I may enjoy the sound of my own 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 very clear they could live without the noise pollution I’m creating. Attempting to create a singing career is highly unlikely unless there is 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 Gifts unequivocally 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 isn’t enough.

There is a monumental difference between enjoying a particular activity and turning 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. 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 good the answer is no. Even if you did, selling jars of tomatoes to your neighbors takes little skill once word gets out about how amazing they are.

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 simply 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.

  • The first missing piece is identifying your Gifts. As previously discussed, your Gifts have chosen you — they are not that which you have chosen. Your Gifts are very different than your passion.
  • 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 your Gift could be massage. If Communication is your Gift, your Vehicle might be writing and/or speaking. Some argue that the terms Vehicle and passion are interchangeable. If it’s a question of semantics, use whichever word you prefer. The key is to start with one Vehicle and expand to additional Vehicles as you attain mastery, notoriety, and market penetration with the first Vehicle selected.
  • The final, and perhaps most important, missing piece is identifying the People you are most compelled to serve. Identifying your Gifts and the Vehicle you will use to share your Gifts is meaningless unless you know to whom you will direct your efforts. Reflect on your life experiences, attributes, beliefs and interests to begin your exploration of who they are. Examples include: children, people who suffer from cancer, business owners who need marketing help, or seniors who are interested in physical fitness. The more you are able to focus like a sniper, the easier it will be for you to have massive impact.

It is the combination of these three elements — your Gifts, Vehicle, and People — that comprise your WHAT and provide the necessary foundation for affecting not only those who share this lifetime with you, but also those of lifetimes to come. In the end, you are the solution to someone else’s problem. They’re waiting for you now.