I spent nearly 15 years working in nonprofit management, mostly in fundraising and marketing. I was good at it—people told me so all the time. It came easily to me, paid the bills, and was a very comfortable career path.
And yet, I simply didn’t love it.
Don’t get me wrong—it was okay. I learned a lot and worked with some great people. But I envied those folks who had a spring in their step on the way to work—people who absolutely loved what they did and couldn’t wait to roll up their sleeves and get busy on the job. I always wanted to be one of those people.
I finally went for it. I left my mediocre non-profit job and started my own corporate communications business. It’s been nearly a year, and while there have been many bumps along the way, I can now say with full confidence that I really love what I do.
As Confucius said, “choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” It’s great advice, but it’s not always that simple—it can be difficult to figure out what you love and how to parlay that into a viable business or job. So here’s a step-by-step plan for pinpointing your passions—and four ways to help you start turning them into your career.
1. Remember What You Loved as a Child
Often, our truest passions emerge in childhood, only to be squelched by real life pressures. So think about what you loved long before you had to worry about your career. Writing? Science experiments? Taking care of people? Getting back in touch with those instincts is an important step in finding your passion.
2. Eliminate Money from the Equation
If money were no object, what would you do? Would you travel? Spend all of your time with your children? Would you start a charitable organization to help abused women? Of course money can’t be ignored, but don’t let financial pressures dictate your choices. Your career should ultimately lead to financial security, but if financial security is the defining motivator, it’s unlikely you’ll end up doing what you love.
3. Ask Your Friends for Feedback
Sometimes you’re just not the best judge of what makes you happy. Ask the people who know you intimately when you seem the happiest and what you do the most enthusiastically. Their answers may surprise you.
4. Read through a University Course Catalog
Find some quiet time and see which courses naturally interest you. What would you study if you could do it all over? What courses do you think you could teach? Which subjects scare you to death, and which ones do you find boring? Revisiting these possibilities will help point you in the direction of subjects and topics that you love.
5. Identify your Professional Hero
Of everyone you know, either personally or in your extended frame of reference (from your dermatologist to Oprah), whose career would you most want to emulate? Reach out to her to learn more about how she got to where she is, or, if that’s not possible, read everything you can about her career and life.
6. Think of What You Enjoy That You Also Do Well
After you’ve done these exercises, think about what you’ve learned. Focus on the things that you both enjoy and do well—whether you have a way with animals, make a killer lemon tart, or are crazy for origami—and write them down. Then, narrow the list to the top three or four things. Keep it handy, review it often, and use it as your jumping-off point when you’re plotting your career move.
Once you have a solid idea of what you love doing, it can still be a big leap to turn that passion into a viable career. Here are four easy steps to start making the change:
1. Talk to a Career Counselor
Career counselors help others figure out what they want for a living, and they’ll have insights and tools to help you zero in on the things you love most and do best, and also be able to offer ideas and guidance on how to find a career that best suits those passions. Take advantage of those resources.
2. Leverage Social Media
More than ever, we live in a social world. Once you’ve identified what it is that you love, get busy on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, connecting with people who share your areas of interest. Read blogs, join forums, and find out what it’s really like to do what you love.
3. Start Saving Money
Once you feel strongly that you want to start down this new path, start saving. A lot. The more money you have in the bank, the less finances will have to rule your decisions. And the less scary it will be if and when you do quit your job.
4. Just Do It
Ultimately, you won’t really know what you love to do unless you actually bite the bullet. Until you give it a go, it’s really just speculation. So, whether you take a small step like signing up for a class or you dive head-first into entrepreneurship, roll up your sleeves and do it. You’ll never know until you try.
I found my passion—and I’m grateful for that. But these tips are still serving me well as I go down this path, because it’s important that my work continues to be fueled by what I love most. And if that falls into place, I am hopeful that I’ll never have to work a day in my life.