Figuring Out How to Make a Living Doing What You Love

January 17, 2012 · 21 comments

Want to free yourself from your day job? My eguide is full of practical advice: How I Surpassed My Day Job Income in Just 6 Months of Self-Employment.

Last week I woke up to a long note from a reader of my newsletter. He’s working as an interpreter for a manufacturing company, and he’s desperate to change course and become a travel photographer.

Except he doesn’t want to give up his salary. He doesn’t think he’ll be able to make real money in his dream job.

Sound familiar? If you don’t feel this way, chances are someone you know does.

Here’s what you have to remind yourself: If it was easy to make a living doing what you love, everyone would do it.

It’s not easy. It’s not easy because doing what you love often involves not working for a big employer (though it can), which means you’re not going to get a paycheck every two weeks. Instead, you have to figure out how to make money. This is the tough part. This is why most people just go with the paycheck.

On top of that, the things we enjoy doing often don’t pay well on the surface. Take travel photography, this reader’s dream. Do you know any travel photographers that make a good living? Sure, there are a few out there, the cream of the crop, the well-known photogs. But most people who are travel photographers make at least some of their money in round-about ways. They think outside the box about how to use their skills to bring in income, and they approach the career sideways, at least at first.

Sometimes the obvious income route — selling travel photos — isn’t the most lucrative. But what would happen if you were more creative? If you taught other people to take photos, or contracted with a company that needed photos of a certain place and did your own photography on the side, or instead took photos of something people would actually pay for? What if you approached the career sideways until you developed such a good reputation that people would pay well for your travel shots?

The same goes for writers. If you wrote fiction all day, think you could make a good living? Probably not — because having a passion isn’t enough. Sure, there are a few Jodi Picoults among us, but most everyone who’s a writer — making a living from doing what they love — uses their writing skills in some other way. They don’t just write fiction. And I don’t know Jodi Picoult’s story, but there was probably a long time when she didn’t just write fiction either. 

Having the determination and ingenuity to find the intersection of your passion and your income is where most people fail. You can’t expect to simply do what you love and start seeing money show up in your bank account. Money won’t follow automatically. It won’t follow until you figure out how to make it follow.

So how do you figure that out? By watching other people who are doing what they love, and by digging down into how they really make money, not how they want people to think they make money. For example, a whole lot of travel bloggers out there want you to think they make money off their blog. But in many cases, the truth is that they make a little bit of money off their blog and most of their money in other ways, either by working a full-time job or consulting or whatever. This may not be as shiny as making money off a blog, but it’s smart — and far more realistic.

So be creative about how to make this work for you. How can you turn what you love into a money-maker?

That money-maker could be a full-time job. If you can do what you love and get a consistent paycheck for it, go for it! Or it might be consulting or working for yourself. Or creating a product people will buy. (Here’s a great example of a woman who turned her online-dating smarts into a money-maker.)

But keep this in mind: finding the intersection between your passion and your paycheck will always be a work-in-progress. Even when you’re making money doing what you love, there will be parts of your week you don’t like. The goal is to have fewer and fewer of those parts. And if you’re creative about how to get there, if you put your business hat on top of your artist’s cap, you will figure that out.

Coincidentally, this post is a perfect intro to the next post in my queue: To Make Money as a Writer, Be More Than a Writer. Check back here for that Thursday.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Leah Cass January 17, 2012 at 9:13 am

Great post and exactly what I needed to hear today! Also, where is that picture? Definitely needs to be on my travel list!

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Alexis Grant January 18, 2012 at 10:57 pm

I’m not sure about the photo, Leah! I pulled that from iStock because I didn’t have any shots of photographers.

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Andi of My Beautiful Adventures January 17, 2012 at 10:50 am

He could always try to find a way to combine both jobs?

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Mindy January 17, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Great post. It does take creativity, but it is worth it to get to live the lifestyle you want! I know from experience that when I got serious about making a living as a freelance writer, I found far more paying work than I thought I would. I don’t write for glossy national magazines, but I make a good living writing and get to work around my kids’ schedules, which was my goal.

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Alexis Grant January 18, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Mindy — You are a great example of this!

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Elise Daly Parker January 17, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Clear, true, helpful, and encouraging! Thanks.

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Noch Noch | be me. be natural. January 18, 2012 at 9:47 am

i’m trying to be a writer. it’s a big change from manager / banker with a steady fat paycheck to nothing right now
so i look forward to your next post!
Noch Noch

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Patrick Ross January 18, 2012 at 11:35 am

Ah, you’ve hit upon my mission over the last year. I’m finding I have two perspectives on it. There’s “making a living doing what you love,” and “loving how you make a living.” They’re not necessarily the same. What I love to do–creative writing–generates modest income now and I’m working to increase its percentage of my pie. I also make an effort to love what I do to make a living, even if it isn’t my true love. I’m capable of loving more than one thing, of course!

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Alexis Grant January 18, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Great distinction. The “pie” is something I write about a lot in my Solopreneur Secrets newsetter — http://bit.ly/solosecrets — because my income pie doesn’t always match my effort pie or my enjoy pie. My goal is to have all of them in line!

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Erin January 18, 2012 at 9:02 pm

“finding the intersection between your passion and your paycheck will always be a work-in-progress.” Love this, and oh-so-true! And ditto what an earlier poster said re the picture. Is it BC? Alaska? Great post!

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Shae January 18, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Great article again Alexis. I’m in a similar dilemma too and it does take great courage to pursue your passion and dreams. However making the transition can be difficult when you have bills and expenses to pay NOW that can’t simply be deferred and I believe this is why many people feel unsure with taking that leap of faith. Often their focus is so short-term they can’t see past the present. Of course, having a strategy and plan in place helps but as we so often hear, if you truly believe in yourself and you have enough leverage to want to create a better/different way of life than the one you currently lead, then anything is possible.

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Alexis Grant January 18, 2012 at 11:01 pm

So right, Shae! Just got to keep putting the pieces in place little by little so you can make the transition despite financial challenges. Hail the side gig!

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Dean Whitling October 20, 2012 at 3:07 pm

I think if you can straddle the two whilst beginning it can take away some of the fear and make it easier. When I wanted to became a full time photographer, I kept working in the business I had with my wife until I felt I could really make it. Perhaps going part-time for your reader could be a good intermediary step.
Dean Whitling recently posted…Speedlight Portraits with Shallow DOFMy Profile

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