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Why You Should NOT Follow Your Passion

Start Earning Online – Lesson 4

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“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

You know who said that?

Confucius.

He was a Chinese philosopher who lived some 2,500 years ago. He said many a wise thing, but the above quote isn’t one of them.

To make amends, he grew some amazing eyebrows:

Confucius
Confucius and his mad eyebrows.

You may have heard the same advice in different words: “Follow your passion.”

Well, I’m here to tell you to ignore that advice.

Yes, really.

Forget passion.

Three reasons why…

1. To Follow Your Passion, You First Need To Find It

And that’s much easier said than done, right?

Most of us have no idea what we’re passionate about, or what kind of job we could possibly love so much that it never feels like work.

The danger is that we’ll invest tons of time and energy into finding our passion, trying all sorts of different things in expectation of a sudden eureka moment.

We see it unfolding like a movie, that moment when you’re engaged in some new activity and suddenly everything clicks and then you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that THIS IS WHAT I WAS PUT HERE ON EARTH TO DO!

To emphasize how silly this belief is, imagine if you believed romantic relationships worked the same way.

That is, you believed that you either fell in love with someone at first sight, or not at all.

Sounds ridiculous, right?

You might be physically attracted to someone immediately, or even feel some mysterious and powerful urge to go talk to them, but you won’t know for sure if you’re a good match until you go on a few dates, get jiggy, meet their parents, live together… etc.

See what I’m getting at here?

Just like very few people have their perfect partner fall out of the sky and into their arms, very few people have their perfect career do the same.

But even if that were to happen to you — if you were to find your passion (or your soulmate) overnight or otherwise — it’s not as if success would suddenly come easy.

That’s because…

2. Doing Meaningful Work Is Hard

Here’s a quote I prefer, by Thomas Edison:

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Just like you have to work at a relationship you care about, you have to work at a job you love. You can’t just cruise along and have everything fall into place.

I’ve worked on numerous passion projects over the years.

Building this website is the latest one.

I truly believe that building this site is the best way I could be contributing to the world right now — helping people achieve financial and location independence — and I enjoy the process of writing and sharing what I’ve learned.

All in all, I love my work.

And yet there are many days when I am massively resistant to actually sit down and do it.

Why is that??

Well, when you love something, there’s the fear that you’ll mess it up or that it won’t be nearly as good or as well received as you hope it will be.

And when you’re not afraid of something going wrong, you’re afraid of nothing going wrong.

Success equals transformation and some dark part of us wants us to fail because then nothing has to change.

We can go back to doing something safe and familiar instead of plowing ahead into unknown territory.

So yeah, doing work you’re passionate about ain’t easy. It’s often much easier (at least in the short-term) to do work you don’t give a shit about.

But doing work you’re passionate about isn’t just a tough road. It’s also a long road.

Which brings us to the third reason to ignore the advice of Confucius…

3. It May Take Years To Make Money From Your Passion

That’s if you can ever make any money from it at all, let alone enough to afford a decent standard of living.

And let’s face it: unless you’ve got a mattress full of cash to fall back on, you can’t afford to spend YEARS of your life turning your passion into a career.

Bills have to be paid.

Food has to be bought.

The occasional pint has to be enjoyed.

Not to mention the fact that many of the things we’re passionate about simply aren’t ever going to make us a living.

What if you’re passionate about carving matchsticks or collecting stamps or growing cacti?

What if you’re a teenage girl from Finland who loves nothing more than frolicking around on a fake horse?

Yup, this is a real thing.

Even if you invest years in becoming the best in the world at those things, it’s unlikely that anyone’s going to throw money at you. 2

Let’s take a moment and review what we’ve covered so far…

You should forget passion because:

  • If you don’t already know what you’re passionate about, there’s no guarantee you’ll figure it out anytime soon, no matter how hard you try.
  • Even if you do figure it out, doing work you’re passionate about isn’t any kind of cakewalk. If anything, working on something you’re passionate about is harder than working a regular job you have little interest in.
  • It can take years to turn passion into a viable business, if it’s possible at all.

Let me be clear here.

I’m not saying that you should drop your passion completely (assuming you know what it is). And I’m not saying you should resolve yourself to doing work you hate to make a living.

What I am saying may be best communicated by revising that Confucius quote to read as follows:

“Choose a job you like, can quickly excel at, and will be well paid for… and you will have a lot more options in the not-too-distant future.”

Let’s break that down.

Choose a job you like…

You don’t have to love what you do. Liking your work is perfectly fine.

The past eight years I’ve earned a living mostly as a freelance web developer. But I don’t love doing web development. It might have been my passion ten years ago, but the joy faded from it pretty fast.

Nowadays I like building websites. It’s something I know how to do and do well.

But doing freelance web development affords me a lot of freedom.

In large part because of that skill, I had the confidence to quit my 9-to-5 and the ability to travel the world for years on end.

Make money online from Tenerife
Me working online from a rented apartment in sunny Tenerife.

…can quickly excel at, and be well paid for…

As mentioned, passion projects often take years to pay off financially, if ever.

Some people glorify the struggle of living hand-to-mouth while chasing an elusive dream, like becoming a famous rock star or writer.

I am not one of those people.

Forget being a starving artist.

Put the dream on hold and learn some skills you can use to generate a reliable income within a few months. That means becoming good at something the world values and is happy to pay you for.

…and you will have a lot more options in the not-too-distant future.

Let’s say you can learn and deploy a new skill in the next three months that allows you to earn $1,000/month freelancing online.

That gives you options.

  • First of all, you suddenly have the option to work from ANYWHERE in the world. You can head off to a cheaper country with nicer weather, move closer to loved ones, or even travel indefinitely.
  • Hitting that $1,000/month mark also allows you to be more selective with the projects you choose to take on. You can start to diversify your client base and raise your rates.
  • Further down the road, as you gain more confidence and your business becomes more optimized, you can make more money in less time, eventually to the point where you can devote a few hours a day to working on a passion project, without worrying about how to make it financially viable.

See how that works?

By forgetting about passion and focusing on building skills that improve our options in the near future, we actually give ourselves a better chance of making our passion project an eventual success.

Let’s Review

When you’re just getting started working online, your main goal should be to build a steady stream of independent income, and to do it as fast as possible.

The best way to do that is to put your passion projects aside and focus on building a skill you can freelance. It should be something you like doing, can quickly excel at, and will be well paid for.

Now, you’re probably wondering which skill best fits that description for you.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to figure out in the next lesson.

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42 Comments

  1. I think any kind of software development, since it is my area of expertise, as well as online tutoring or Social Media Marketing could all work well and they’re things that I like, but not completely love.

  2. Together with my husband we address the interconnected components of the body, mind, and spirit. My gift is that of a natural/energy healer, his is with the mind and spirit. We see clients in person as well as remotely via telephone. Helping people to have well-balanced healthier lives is our passion. As far as profitability goes, we are grateful to have sufficient for our needs, but we are trading time for money. We would like to build upon this foundation, if we take our foot off the gas the car stalls. Niall, we are here to learn from you and we are thankful for what you have already taught us!
    ~Linda, nee Carroll of Irish ancestry

  3. I’m not really looking to do something online I’m “passionate” about. I’m really just looking for something that doesn’t make me want to punch myself in the face… the goal is to free up more time or at least be home with my family. But getting rid of the location aspect of work. I’m a contractor… work is physical… and can’t really be done from home. It also is very consuming for the limited payout. I make a decent salary but despise what I do. I loath the politics and bureaucracy of it all. I just want to do something that doesn’t suck the life out of me so I can focus on living the life I have left.

  4. Manuel Fernandez

    I should be able to pick up web development easily, I have some HTML experience and my last job was as a computer programmer. I’m open to anything though.

  5. I’v have lots of interest and can’t say I’m passionate about any of them as their all interlink in to my every day life and what I like doing, the reason for this is that I’m curious enough about stuff to learn more . At the age of 55 I’m sure you can understand why I such a diversity of interest .

  6. kathleen Edwards

    The only skill I have is probably writng in one form or another … thats what I have to figure out

  7. I really like Marketing and want more in-depth skills related to this. Copywriting is very much Marketing involved and I am very interested in learning and doing this, along with Digital Marketing, and Social Media Marketing.

  8. Managing, and building websites/businesses is how I will my break into the digital nomad world.
    I’m sure it’s on the site somewhere, but I’d like to hear more about your web-dev story and the details that come along with it!
    my passion you ask? It’s wiener dogs. My first business/website will probably be wientheday.com and it’s going to have EVERYTHING YOU COULD POSSIBLY RELATE TO WIENER DOGS. At the same time, it’ll be the first of it’s kind, that’s not just filled with random drop-shipping junk (I know not everything drop-shipped is junk) — People will measure their wiener, and let us know the dimensions. We will then make their wiener proper fitting sweaters, and others. It’s hard to find nice fitting knits for the pup. Wien today, and Wien tomorrow. #allwedoiswien

  9. Gregory Prince

    I’m a writer and creator. I’m very good at doing research online and following instructions so I am able to use almost any software quickly and efficiently. Presenting and speaking clearly is also among my skills and I think vlogging is in my wheelhouse though I haven’t tried this yet.

  10. I worked as a freelance professional photographer 18years. I still have passion for it . but I was a bad manager or self promotor, so All it is left is expiriences and skill I gained on that road

  11. This is a REALLY GOOD lesson. All that stuff about following your passion… the money will follow… is not nearly as sensible as the advice you’ve just given.

  12. Hey Niall, great material.
    I also do, both in real life and online, one thing that I like, although not love – teaching Hebrew for adults (I am a native Hebrew speaker from Israel and I’m a certified Hebrew teacher).
    As much as I enjoy teaching and love most of my students, I don’t like being an employee, and I don’t like grading exams, checking homework and sometimes preparing the same material but for different levels of students.
    I offered lessons on a website called italki.com, and it went quite well, I got excellent reviews, but I couldn’t get enough students to pay my bills – the average income for a few months was around 400-500 dollars. That’s why I thought I should leave the mediator website (italki), create my own material from my knowledge and experience, get traffic, maybe create online courses, maybe get involved in some affiliate marketing (there are quite a few Hebrew programs and books online for sale), and with time (aprx. 1-2 years) get a steady and passive income. I don’t mind teaching “off-line” in regular schools as I aim for this goal.
    I wonder if that makes sense, or is it a bit delusional. I’d love to hear your input on that.
    Thanks a lot!
    Ori

    1. Hey Ori,

      I like that idea a lot, though I haven’t done any research on that niche so I’m not sure how viable it is. I’d be looking at traffic data for other websites in the niche, see if there are any that look to be making good money. If so, that’s a great sign. Probably room for one more.

      with time (aprx. 1-2 years) get a steady and passive income.

      For a site like that you would be looking at 1-2 years, yeah. And that would be working at it consistently. Again, I’m not sure how much potential the niche actually has, but my guess is that you could get to 400-500 dollars a month within a year if you were writing several high-quality and SEO optimized articles each month.

      Have you ever used a tool called Ahrefs? It’s expensive, but they do a $7 trial for 7 days, and with that you could research a bunch of niches and figure out which one is the most promising for you.

  13. Aneliya Zheleva

    I’m thinking in the direction of subtitling, combined with translating, hoping that there are enough jobs for my language pairs.

    1. Do you have in mind how much you’d like to earn per hour, Aneliya? That will help you determine if subtitling + translating would work for you. $20/hour is about the maximum you could expect for that kind of work.

  14. My passionate work is that using power point and make presentable something,
    if something else is better for me to do then i am willing to learn it.
    thank you.

    1. Hi Rhoan, I think it is a skill – you could add on to that how to pack on a budget. I think experienced backpackers or travellers know how but there are so many new travellers who are overwhelmed with this. Great idea.

  15. Interesting read Niall. And I have to agree with you. I pursued a career as a musician for 5 years in Ireland & the UK and while we enjoyed a moderate level of success, there was never the kind of money coming in that could sustain our lifestyles. We were lucky enough to have identified our passion, but over time it actually became a bit of a burden.

    By working at something you like (or don’t hate) and get paid reasonably well to do, can then allow you the spare time to go and ENJOY your passion. After all, that’s what you passion is for; enjoyment. Pursuing your passion as a career can be rather conflicting when deadlines and client expectations don’t match with your own.

    1. Hey Darragh,

      Yeah, I hear you on that. Part of me worries that when I eventually give up freelancing and go all in on my own projects, I won’t find them as enjoyable!

  16. Totally agree with everything you said. Being passionate about something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good at it. I know quite a number of people who are passionate about singing but the sounds they make are torture to our ears. So rather be on the safe side, the reality side.

    1. Haha, yeah. Watch any of those “Got Talent” TV shows and you see no shortage of passion but not so much talent 😛

  17. I spend a lot of time at my day job writing and editing technical reports. Between this, tracking and analyzing data in spreadsheets, and breaking work down into a plan (as project manager), I have managed to stay in the web development field for 20 years, after starting as a coder. Not sure which skills will translate most easily into remote work. Companies seem to prefer on-site PMs and Agile facilitators. . .

  18. Hi Niall,
    I love doing start-ups, preferably helping people to build breweries.
    It pays well when it pays at all, and it’s hard work. The hard part is finding clients who live where I want to work, say, Madrid or Valletta right now…so I’d like to learn digital marketing.

  19. Claire Elliott

    Great post Niall and the point about NOT following your passion is very valid as I’ve struggled for years to find mine and got nowhere 🙂 Much better to focus on something you can do and build skills and confidence and get PAID for it!

  20. Hey Niall,

    I was thinking about web development. It’s something I like and I was even passionate about it now and then. There is one highschool project that proves it. My passion is writing. However, English is not my first language and I don’t think I can do this well enough to get paid.

    1. Niall Doherty

      Hi Ioana,

      Web development is a great one. I actually came across a free guide for that today by a digital nomad I trust: https://www.subscribepage.com/how-i-learned-to-code

      As for writing, you can make a decent living with that even if English isn’t your first language, but it’s a lower ceiling there. It would be tough to earn more than $3000/month even with a lot of work as a non-native English speaker. Web development would be better in that sense.

  21. What Confucius actually said is “enjoying learning is better than to love learning, and loving to learn is better than knowing how to learn.” It’s a common misconception that he said anything related to work or loving a job.

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