Earning a living doing what we Love: Fantasy or Possibility

We’ve all heard “if we do what we love, the money will follow”, but despite the wise advice, many people put their passions aside in order to pursue a conventional career that ‘pays the bills’. Why do we do this? Do we not know how to earn a living doing what we love, or is it that we don’t believe is possible?

Some people say that the reason why we give up our dreams is the result of the indoctrination of our parents, friends, school and society that with time force us to pursue conventional lives and become accountants, engineers or office managers. In the other hand, others believe that giving up our dreams is the results of growing older or the effect that big cities have on us. After all, we all acquire more responsibilities as we grow older and life demands more bills to pay and more of our time. But, why do we give up our dreams and passions? Is not our purpose to be happy? Why do we end up selling our souls to jobs that we don’t really want? This was exactly the topic of discussion in our latest Expanding Circles.

An actor, and IT professional, a banker, a student, an operations director and a dancer were some of the people that came together to exchange their views on the topic. The evening was insightful and certainly expanded the thinking of those that joined the Circle.

Highlights of the Conversation

We started by defining passion as ‘an activity that we find very enjoyable and that it gives us an immense sense of happiness when we are doing it’. A member of the Circle even used the word flow’ when attempting to define passion and this made wonder what the difference is between passion and the concept of flow popularised by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Mihaly argues that flow state is ‘an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he is doing’. I personally think that passion is the emotion, like or desire we have towards something, whereas flow is the emotion and feelings of experiencing or being engaged in that something.

This made us wonder if there is a link between our strengths or skills and the feeling of loving what we do. What we established was that when we play to our strengths and skills we are more likely to be in flow and we know that when we are in flow, we experience a sense of fulfilment. If that connection were to be true, then we could easily say that if we get to know well what our strengths and skills are and find a job that uses this strengths prominently, we would then probably earning a living doing what we love. The question that then emerged for many was: how do we know what our passions and strengths are and build a living around them?

In attempting to answer this question, something interesting emerged. Some Expanders said they have always known what their passions are and therefore, they have always done their best to pursue a career that is aligned to their passion. The same Expanders also said that when they engage in an occupation that is not in line with their passions, they have a gut feeling and they know they are less happy or satisfied with life. For others, in the other hand, the approach has been the other way round: they got a job and it has been through their jobs where they have discovered aspects of themselves that they now call their passions. For example, the Operations Manager for an Aviation Company who was part of the Circle said that he had never planned to have the job he has, but that he is very fulfilled and certainly earning a good living by doing what he loves.

The Circle was careful not to fall in the trap that the discussion was about ‘quitting the corporate career’ and ‘getting out of the rat-race’. It was made clear that the discussion was about ‘earning a living by doing what we love’ and that although for some people what they love can be the arts, baking or travelling, for others it can also be finance, law or teaching. This means that for those who love finance, earning a living doing what they love can indeed be working as a banker for a multinational corporation.

A Voice of Warning

One of the ideas that discussed was that the fact that loving something does not necessarily mean we are good at it; and that this can prevent us from earning a living doing it. I may love to play the guitar but I might not be very good at it. Quitting my job to pursue a career as a recording guitarist may not be a great idea after all. A degree of self-awareness and honesty is certainly needed.


We also discussed that the ability of earn a living doing what we love might depends on what our passion is. If your passion is decorating and renovating houses, you are more likely to earn a better living by working as a property developer than a person whose passion is to be a yoga teacher. The former occupation is more likely to be more profitable and marketable than the latter. There is definitely a link between the financial reward we get and the industry where our passion lies.

Something else to consider before you embark in the quest of building a life around what you love is if doing it for a living would still give you the same amount of enjoyment that it gives you today, would your passion be still your passion if you had to do it everyday for 6-8 hrs a day as a job? Would the level of happiness and fulfilment of an occasional engaging activity diminish as a result of a continuous and excessive engagement in such activity? I might love cooking, but I certainly wouldn’t enjoy it if I had to do it all day everyday.

Breaking away from a traditional job to pursue a career doing what you love might sound like a great idea, but it is also important to remember that you would also have to do other tasks that you might not enjoy or you might not be good at. For example: promoting yourself, networking, accounting, creating and managing your web and digital presence and doing admin. Expecting that we will only be performing our passion 24×7 could be a bit illusive and it is something we need to take into account before deciding to make big changes in our lives. You might find yourself enjoying yourself as much as being employed in a highly-paid job.

Half way through the heated conversation, an Expander started to question what are really the motivations to change careers. He asked, are you really following a passion or are you unconsciously trying to get out of something you don’t want? Are you escaping your lack of comfort with hierarchal structure by making yourself believe that your dream is to be a life coach or dancer?

Another Expander also challenged the Circle to think if they are really clear of the motivations behind wanting to follow their passions. She asked: Are you really self-aware enough to realise that you might not actually be after a particular activity but after the emotion or result that doing that activity gives you? What is it that you really want, she asked? Financial freedom, learning, a sense of belonging to team, an adrenaline rush or more free time?

While discussing other ideas, an expander mentioned that some people argue that they prefer to be happy by doing what they love instead of having money. The Circle however challenged this belief and wondered if this is really true happiness? For most of us in the Circle, this discussion was around what Maslow describes as self-actualisation in his Hierarchy of Needs Theory (having a sense of total fulfilment and purpose in our lives by doing what we love). However, we asked ourselves if we could really be happy by only pursuing self-actualisation when the basic needs of food, shelter and security are not met by not having a basic steady income. Would not the happiness we get from our passion be obscured by the anxiety of having to pay bills? Is the happiness we get from our passions big enough to make us ignore other needs.

It might looks as if most of the conversation around the Circle was about what prevent us from earning a living by doing what we love. However, most Expanders in the Circle were actually firm believers that we can but for he Circle did not actually discuss in detail how to get there. The only things that were mentioned in this regard were the ‘gradual approach’ and the exploration of ‘Portfolio Careers’. Given that the topic of the evening was so rich and enlightening for the Expanders that attended, Expanding Circles will be recalling the participants for a further conversation on this topic.

Thanks to everyone that attended. Powerful evening!

[Circle hosted and report written by Ernesto Moreno]

Here are some resources worth exploring if you want to dig deeper into the topic of Earning a Living doing What You Love:

Talk: ‘Follow your passion’ is wrong advice by Cal Newport

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