June 2nd was my birthday, and when that day comes each year, I focus on doing a few things well: spend it with people I adore, reflect back on the year and see clearly the key lessons I need to learn from it, and finally, relish what’s appeared in my life and be grateful for it.
Towards that end, I’m deeply thankful for not only the achievements and happy experiences, but also the terribly hard pitfalls that tripped me up and pushed me to my knees, as these ultimately cleared the pathway to what I really enjoy doing in my life and work. Transforming from a very unhappy 18-year corporate career to a highly fulfilling life as a career coach, writer and business owner, and also figuring out how to make money pursuing my deepest passions, I’ve learned that it can be very hard to see things clearly for yourself – and take empowered action — when you’re lost in the muck and the mud.
Of all the questions I receive from folks desperately longing to change careers, the one that stumps them the most is this:
“Kathy, how do I figure out what my core passion, then build a lucrative career around it?”
After all, we all want to do what we’re passionate about, but we don’t want to go broke and lose everything pursuing it, right? (Here are what I believe are the top 8 reasons why people go broke pursuing their dreams.)
Personally speaking, years ago I faced deep financial challenges doing work I loved, and then figured out exactly why, and I teach those principles now. And I’ve answered this question in many other posts, videos, exercises and homework assignments (and in my Amazing Career Project online course). But I’d like to take a different tack today and offer six ways to identify what will make you happy to focus on in your career, then generate the great income you need and want from it.
To figure out what your mission and passion are:
Don’t just look at who you are today, but who you’ve always been.
I’ve seen through my clients’ revelations that who we are (what we care about, what we’re drawn to, what enlivens us) often emerges very early in life. For most of us, there were glaring signs and clues of our essential happiest selves in our teen and young adult years, and even earlier. Even if your parents suppressed your gifts and talents, you knew and felt they were there. But sadly, we don’t recognize these signs. We don’t see our own special talents, interests, gifts and exciting areas of focus as important or unique.
Tip: To tap into the awe-inspiring aspects of who you are and always will be, take some time over the next week to make a thorough inventory of everything you’ve ever loved and cared about when you were young and in your 20s. Then, spend some time thinking about what’s remained a constant in your life – what you still care about deeply and are drawn to – and develop new ideas for how to bring your gifts, talents or areas of passion forward more prominently in your life today.
Identify the skills you love to use.
One of the toughest lessons I’ve learned was the idea that just because you’re great at something doesn’t mean you should build a career around it. I realized late in life that I had become good at a number of tasks in my 18-year corporate career (such as presenting to a boardroom of senior executives on my programs’ P&L’s, or selling major bank clients on working with us in multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns) but I actually intensely disliked this work.
Tip: Think back on every job you’ve ever had – what you loved, hated, your biggest accomplishments, hardest lessons and, finally, what you want to bring forward from those experiences in a deeper way in your career now. Then do some critical research about jobs and careers that will allow you to draw on the specific skills and talents you love to use.
Figure out who you really want to help.
In my own business now, I use many of the same marketing and communications skills that I developed throughout my corporate career. But the biggest difference is that I’m using these skills and talents now for a completely different purpose and cause, one that I really care about — helping others who need support to build careers they love. In my previous corporate life, I felt that my talents and time were being utterly wasted on promoting meaningless products that contributed no real value to the world. Back then, it was all about the “bottom line,” and I wished the bottom line was focused on something more than just money.
You’ll find that if don’t believe in the outcomes you’re being asked to work toward, you’ll never enjoy your professional life. You’ll feel wasted, spent, lost and miserable.
Tip: Figure out as concretely and specifically as possible who you want to help, and the outcomes you wish to support in your work. Then, start networking extensively to help you land a role (or launch a business) that will give you the chance to support those causes and areas that most matter to you.
Now…how do you build a lucrative career around your passions?
Millions of people today believe that following your passions will break and ruin you. I’ve seen throughout my 10 years of career success coaching, however, that this is just a terribly misguided myth. Following your passions is not a recipe for failure, IF you do the right things (but so many people don’t). Here are three most powerful steps:
Learn how to monetize what you’re fabulous at.
My husband is a jazz percussionist, composer and music educator, and the world he’s immersed in is filled with an enormous array of incredible artists, creatives and highly gifted individuals. Some are extremely successful financially, but sadly, many others aren’t. I’ve seen that so many creatives (singers, filmmakers, painters, actors, jewelers, designers, sculptors, etc.) are amazing at their artistic talents, but aren’t clear on how to monetize their work and talents – how to promote and broadcast them, and create a fierce demand for what they do. Often, gifted individuals feel the world “owes” them because they’re so talented. But that’s not the way the world works. You have to identify what you’re fabulous at, illustrate why that’s important to the world, then find ways to be of service to others with your talents so that people (and organizations) are happy to pay richly for what you bring that enhances their goals and visions.
Tip: It’s not enough to be fabulous. Take the time to find new ways to be of service to others with your great talents. This week, brainstorm 30 new ways you can use and apply your immense talents to help others succeed and organizations grow and flourish. Then start sharing your vision for helping others with everyone you know, and asking people to connect you with others who might be helpful to speak with.
Build the necessary confidence to believe that you can earn great money.
I’ve seen firsthand that without confidence, you don’t make the right decisions and take the right actions to bring money and reward your way. And we’re not born with confidence – it’s BOLD action that generates confidence. To build a lucrative career, you have to be able to communicate confidently, and in compelling ways – not with arrogance and egotism, but in a way that illustrates clearly why people should hire you, and utilize your special skills. If you can’t speak and share with courage and confidence how you stand apart from the competition and why what you do is critical, you simply won’t move forward to earning sufficient income. And you won’t earn what you deserve.
Tip: As a start, read Peggy Klaus’ great book BRAG: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, and develop your own “bragologues” so you can share with others why your work is powerful, needed, and important. And if you feel your work isn’t yet at the highest level, do something about it this year to reach the next level of expertise.
If you’re very stuck, get outside help (and it’s all around you).
Finally, if all of these steps are too challenging for you, or you’re still left feeling dazed, confused, and paralyzed, there’s likely more going on within you than you realize that is keeping you stuck. Among the thousands of folks I’ve worked with, a solid majority have some form of financial or emotional block, and/or trauma left over from past experiences that they haven’t yet healed or addressed. And these blocks do stop you in your tracks.
This describes me in my former life – I was stuck because my boundaries were insufficient, my understanding of my talents was poor, I was angry and resentful, and I was rudderless – unsure what I cared about and how to find work that mattered. And I hadn’t recognized the need for inspiring role models, mentors and sponsors. Once I figured all that out, the path was cleared (but, of course, there is always internal and external work that needs to be done to continue to reach the level you long to). Therapy and coaching were essential for me to see what I couldn’t on my own.
Tip: If no matter what you do or what job you pursue, you’re unhappy and unsuccessful, it’s time to get some outside help – in some cases career coaching will help, in others it’s therapeutic support that’s needed (vist aamft.org for great therapeutic support in your area). And role models, mentors and sponsors are critical. As Einstein said so powerfully, “We cannot solve a problem on the level of consciousness that created it.” It’s very hard to see clearly what’s holding you back from the life you dream of, especially when the block is you.