Growing up near Portland, Oregon, son of ex-hippies with New Age beliefs, I was raised to believe in following my passion. I read The Alchemist and Jonathan Livingston Seagull and the Celestine Prophecy. Way before The Secret brought positive intention and manifesting desires to everyone, I stewed in the Northwestern liberalism that demanded I stay true to my passions, no matter what.
So I got fired and/or quit a bunch of jobs. They didn’t fulfill me. I didn’t like working.
I started painting and writing and trying to sell stuff. I did pretty well, but it took a lot of work. I traveled, slept till 1pm, did whatever I wanted to, asked my parents to bail me out when I got in trouble. I spent 10 years living like this.
Then I realized that I wanted more money, and I gave up on the idea that the universe would “just provide” as long as I focused on my passion.
I chased my dreams longer and harder than most people care to. I chased my dreams into relative success. I could have made a living off of art or writing. But I realized that it’s too much work to ask the world to pay you to do what you want.
And it’s so, so easy to make lots of money, by providing something other people want.
It doesn’t mean I have to stop being creative. It doesn’t mean I have to get a real job. I still wake up at 1pm. But I focus my energy and time thinking about what people will pay for.
This is a life realization that I think is valuable and necessary; I try to share it with other creative people.
All successful creatives, people who do what they love and make lots of money, agree with me.
But it’s still antithesis to ideology of my west coast upbringing.
After traveling the world for a year (Asia, Europe, S. America) coming back to Portland was surprising. There have always been homeless in Portland, but this time (2013) we were stunned by the age drop.
Instead of dirty, old, African American homeless asking for money outside of McDonalds, we got hit up by clean, white, twenty-year olds.
No other city in the world has as many good looking young people brazenly approaching strangers asking for handouts. Some of them had stories, others didn’t. Some held signs, took a break, chatted with friends and “went back to work.”
Standing in line to a club, we got asked for money 6 times, about every 2 minutes.
I understand that the economy sucks. I understand that hipsters are flocking to Portland and taking all the jobs and apartments, so that lots of young people get displaced. But I can’t feel pity for these kids.
They could move to the suburbs. They could move abroad. They could get their GED. Probably they quit school and left their family and moved into the city. They might be stuck. They might have no options. But it isn’t an isolated case.
There is something wrong with Portland
Last night I read So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport.
Cal’s main claim is that “Follow your Passion” is dangerous advice, that rarely leads to career success or financial independence. For nearly everyone, follow your passion is bad advice.
Cal’s secondary claim is that you need to get really good at something, and once you have those skills, you will be in the position to demand more control, set your own terms, and steer the course of your own life.
I think So Good They Can’t Ignore You mistakenly places emphasis on skills, rather than on the more critical foundation of success: making something other people want.
Cal acknowledges this by differentiating between a craftsman mindset and a passion mindset:
Whereas the craftsmen mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses on what the world can offer you.
Since the 70’s, with the groundbreaking “What Color is Your Parachute,” our culture has come to demand that our work and everything we do in life, every moment we live, is fulfilling and meaningful. We won’t accept anything less. As a result, while our beliefs about our ability to control our own destiny and our right to get paid to do what we love have increased, overall happiness and job satisfaction have been steadily deteriorating.
Portland is the place creative people go to work on their passions, because it’s relatively cheaper than other major US cities but still hip enough to appreciate draft beers and sarcastic mustaches. Portland is the home to some of the world’s biggest “Lifestyle Business” bloggers who instruct everyone to follow their passions, get paid to exist, and travel the world.
Almost everyone who follows their passion will fail
Most people don’t know what their passion is, so they do what they enjoy or what makes them happy. The majority of people claim as their passion a hobby like skiing or hiking or playing an instrument. The opportunities to become a professional in a specialized hobby like music or sports are extremely competitive, which means you will need to become one of the best; it will take thousands of hours of brow-furrowing concentration and work, and even then, not everyone will make it.
Other people follow their passion by choosing an exciting idea that they have no experience in: like taking a yoga course and starting a yoga school. They expect to succeed because they are excited to get started. They don’t care whether there is a market or whether anybody else likes what they are offering. They’ve bought into the mantra “do what you love and the universe will provide!”
Portland is probably the most active city in lifestyle experimentation, with a ton of highly creative people who don’t like to work real jobs and are exploring alternative ways of generating income to do nothing. That’s why we have a lot of cool shit: enough to fuel the TV show Portlandia.
Most Portlanders are not entrepreneurs. They don’t think big picture. They try to make enough to support themselves. They are crafty and make unique, personalized, one of a kind oddities. Some succeed. Lots fail.
I know a lot of people adamant about their ability to choose their life, who believe wholeheartedly in the miracle of manifesting their goals, that are serial failures. They start and quit dozens of careers. They quit something new as soon as it doesn’t feel exciting and enjoyable. As soon as it becomes work. So they never develop the “career capital” to take control by offering something valuable.
How to succeed at finding a high paying job that you love
Keep your day job: once you quit your job and expect your passion to bring you cash, you won’t have the time and resources to really offer anything of value. You’ll need money to build up your alternative lifestyle/hobby-based business. Take a job. Any job. Hopefully a job that gives you moments of reflection. Having a job you hate is powerful motivation for starting something new. Don’t look for fulfilling/exciting. Try to find something boring and manual (physical rather than mental-based; which allows you to think creatively about your own projects).
Begin by finding something that people want and focusing on what people will pay for. If you’re creative, you can make anything. Try to find something you can make a lot of, quickly, and sell to loads of people (that lots of people will want to buy).
Appraise the competition. Find the relevant skills, and become the best. Don’t start selling until your skills are obvious and your confidence is iron-clad (in an ideal world anyway… although more probably you will start selling early, learn a lot, revise your product, get better, and mature your business).
Practice. Do things that are challenging for you. Think on a bigger scale. Find partners and services that compliment your offerings.
Keep researching and keep trying new things. Get extremely educated about a specific field or area; become the go-to expert.
You don’t need college, but you’ll need a library card. Study entrepreneurialism, salesmanship, business books.
Hang out with people who are actually doing big things and making money from them (not just dreaming big and living poor).
Successful people are almost always entrepreneurs – not necessarily the most intelligent or creative.
They are the people who are thinking, “How can I make a lot of money quickly,” and they keep trying out opportunities to do so.
Find something you like to do, then think about what you could offer that other people will pay for, and how good you’ll need to be to command the type of prices that you want.
Once you’re in control of your earnings, making as much money as you want, having absolute financial freedom with no desk-job or boss, with the resources to explore the hobbies you’re interested in and support the charities or projects you appreciate, that’s when you find your passion. It comes at the end of the journey, after a lot of very focused, dedicated work.
What you can offer the world?
What do you think of Portland? Are you following a passion and chasing your dream? If so what is it, and how will it make you money?
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.