by Srinivas Rao

There’s a harsh truth about getting paid to do what you love that most people aren’t aware of: If you’re not careful, you can follow your passion right into poverty.

In all our talk of meaning, purpose, four-hour workweeks, and lifestyle design, it’s easy to overlook the reality that people have to pay their bills, keep the lights on, and put food on their tables.

There are also so many parts of creative work that nobody sees—countless hours and years of deliberate practice. One big difference between amateurs and professionals is that professionals treat their creative work like a job—because it is one. They show up every single day because they understand the profound power (and importance) of consistency.

One reader emailed me a few weeks ago and asked me the following question:

I would love to get paid to do what I love, which is to write, to speak, to share my voice, and to act/produce. Working a corporate office job is soul-sucking for me, as I don’t care about job titles and I’m not purely money motivated. But I have no idea where to start.

I didn’t really have a good answer for him. So, I started writing, and ended up with these four insights on getting paid to do what you love:

1. There Has to Be a Market Demand

In No B.S. Wealth Attraction in the New Economy, Dan Kennedy attacks the “follow your passion” mantra in a hilarious way:

I like to lie in a hammock, eat pizza, and bet on horses. I have yet to find anybody who will pay me for this. My passion can multiply and nobody will pay me. Businesses have to be market driven.

 

If your passion doesn’t intersect with some sort of need in the market that people are willing to pay for, you’re not going to make a living from it.

That being said, if you hate what you’re doing, but there’s a market need, that’s probably not going to make you rich, either. It’s hard to show up as the best version of yourself when you can’t stand how you spend your days.

2. You Have to Create Value

If you want to get paid for anything, it has to create some value for other people.

As my friend Garrett Gunderson says, “Money is a byproduct of value creation.” Value that satisfies a market needs to falls into one of these three main categories: entertainment, education, and service.

  • Entertainment: As Jeff Goins brilliantly points out in his blog post, “Art Needs an Audience (Why Art for Art’s Sake Doesn’t Work)”, if you want to make a living from it, your work needs an audience. You can’t just paint, write, or do whatever it is you desire in a vacuum and expect money to fall from the sky. If there’s no audience for what you’ve created, the likelihood that it will make you money is almost zero.
  • Education: With creative work there often tends to be an overlap between education and entertainment—an author that teaches writing workshops, a professional guitarist who gives guitar lessons.
  • Service: Providing a service of some sort gives you the widest range of options in terms of getting paid for your work. For example, copywriters, web designers, and freelance writers all provide a service that increases traffic, conversion rates, and in some cases, even revenue.

Whether you entertain, educate, or serve, it’s going to take time to get paid to do the work you love. Start planting seeds today for who you want to eventually become.

3. You Need to Pay the Bills

While many people dream of quitting their job to pursue a passion, doing so without any means to survive is a bit like base jumping without a parachute.

Before you take the leap, you have to have figured out what your actual expenses are and build a financial runway. If you’re not at a comfortable state yet, take on a paying job that helps you to build transferable skills. After several failed businesses, a good friend of mine decided to join a startup. His day job is teaching him a whole new set of skills that he’s already applying to his next entrepreneurial venture.

If you’re worried about how to put a roof over your head, your mental bandwidth for creative endeavors will be hijacked.

4. There Are No Shortcuts

When trying to respond to this reader, I was a bit frustrated that despite reading hundreds of books and interviewing over 700 people, I couldn’t point him to any one resource that would be the solution.

That’s because there are no shortcuts in following your passion. Everybody’s path will be different. I know plenty of people who started later than I did who’ve surpassed me in revenue or success. But once I started to compare myself less to others and focus on creating and learning more, that’s when I started to gain momentum.

When you finally do get paid for the work you love, you haven’t made it.

In fact, the work is just beginning. The stakes are higher. Suddenly, your work is no longer just about you. Editors, agents, business partners, and customers are all counting on you. Creative success is an infinite game.

The only question is whether or not you’re up for it.

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