The Power of Specificity Turns Your Passion Into Financial Success


When I graduated from college, I had a big challenge in front of me. Namely, a few (tens of) thousands of dollars in student loan debt, a creative writing degree, and a general uncertainty about what I wanted to do with it. This I say with absolutely no embarrassment. I was (and am) a proud BA holder and in spite of my debt, I know attained an amazing education. That being said, pride and optimism aren’t always transferable to a measurable career. I might have had the gusto to pursue professional writing, but I had absolutely no idea how to do it.

There were a few issues at hand: inexperience, sky high expectations, and impatience. But the biggest issue of all came in my lack of direction. People advised me to pursue my passion but when hard pressed, I realized I didn’t actually know what the details of my passion were. That of course made it impossible to capitalize on my passion and incorporate it into my future career choices. As a consequence, my happiness suffered, my financial security suffered, and even my optimism suffered. Enthusiastic as I was, I was floundering in a sea of possibilities. It was only after I worked to truly define my passion that I finally felt in control of decisions.

Feeling overwhelmed by the task of pursuing a passion happens can happen at any stage of life. That means that we benefit from checking in periodically with our goals and our direction. Your passion 10 years ago may have shifted or changed entirely. As it relates to finance, your passion can give you the direction you need to take control of your decisions and to create life goals that are compatible with your financial goals.

If you’re ready gain control over your decisions and your future, here are a few tips to help you define your passion:

Defining Your Passion

“Do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.”  Familiar with that advice? It was a phrase I turned over and over in my mind when I first entered the workforce. What exactly was it that I loved doing?

It was easy to pinpoint the things in my life that brought me pleasure. Writing. Traveling. Cooking.

Great, I thought, I’ll pursue professions related to any of those interests. Writers write. Travelers travel. Cooks cook. Clearly, I’m meant to be a traveling journalist and chef… this didn’t exactly pan out for me. While I liked any combination of those interests, I wasn’t positioned to create a career around them. I was also listing off the most logical path to implementing them into my life without thinking about more specialized careers that might allow me to enjoy these interests while also enjoying more structure and stability.

Passion isn’t necessarily synonymous with our natural talents or interests. However, these interests can be powerful focus points for our passion. Keep your passions in mind but don’t assume that they’ll guide you to your path of success without combing out the details. Again, success for me came from narrowing the focus and tapping even deeper into the hows, whats, and whys of my passion.

Advice columns often tell you to think about what you like doing best and then optimize on your interests. Thus, if you like baking – become a baker. If you like finance – become a financial advisor. While a useful exercise, it’s simply applying a “one size fits all” answer to each individual dilemma. It’s important to consider where your interests lie, but it’s also important to frame them in a career or a profession that fits with your other skills and capabilities. Get into the nitty gritty, the details, and let your mind wander into the less expected routes.

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Narrowing the scope

So after ruling out traveling chef extraordinaire, I was ready to dig deeper. But the time and effort spent didn’t yield the results I wanted right away. I became so frustrated with defining a passion that I simply wanted somebody to tell me what my passion was. The parameters felt too broad and I didn’t feel capable of canvassing such a large landscape. In other words, I was overwhelmed. 

That right there was the core of the problem: how could I scope down limitless possibilities into something that felt manageable?  Even after thinking about my interests, I didn’t know how to implement them, I didn’t know the specifics of my plan. With that inability to hone in on my passion also came the reality that I couldn’t make money off of these passions. This is where the distilling part of the process came into play. I needed my personal mission statement or my passion sentence.

One of my favorite pieces of advice comes from an article in FastDesign. Tip #8 retells an anecdote involving former President Kennedy:

“While visiting John F. Kennedy early in his presidency, [Congresswoman Clare Booth Luce] expressed concern that Kennedy might be in danger of trying to do too much, thereby losing focus. She told him “a great man is a sentence”–meaning that a leader with a clear and strong purpose could be summed up in a single line (e.g., “Abraham Lincoln preserved the union and freed the slaves.”)”

I’m clearly not a president (or a man) but I certainly appreciate the value in having a personal statement. Even the biggest ideas have to be scaled down in order to communicate them effectively. Thus, being able to sum up a passion in a single sentence helps you to remain focused.

Stuck on writing your sentence? Here are a few ways to go about narrowing the scope:

Take mental (and physical) notes whenever something piques your attention
Ever hear a certain turn of phrase that just stops you in your tracks? Wow, you think. That’s everything I’ve ever wanted to say – summed up in the perfect sentence. What makes you stop, pause, and pay attention? With a world that’s so busy, there’s much to be learned from what makes us stop and listen. We all have different affinities and talents and that’s the beauty of defining your own personal passion. Keep a running doc of these so that you can later…

…draw parallels, even when things seem entirely unrelated
When we draw parallels between the different areas of our lives we realize that we can combine interests in a way we might not have considered before. A lawyer could staunchly support animal rights but continue to work as a defense attorney for people. A computer engineer could be passionate about theater.

Though these passions may seem to have little to do with one another, they showcase potential focus points for your career. Taking note of overlap is a useful exercise even if these parallels come to naught. Push yourself to draw the lines between your independent strengths and combine them.

What goes with your current vs. what goes against your current?
Once you have some of your specifics, consider what kind of energy you’ll need to put into each of them. In other words, which tasks feel easy (like you’re rowing along with the current)? Which tasks feel as if you’re perpetually rowing against the current? Consider which combination as related to a specific career or job will leave you with more energy than it takes away. Pursuing a passion successfully requires creating a plan that’s sustainable over the long term.

Ask others for help
Show people your sentence! When I began sussing out my passion I assumed I had to do it alone. After all, aren’t all great success stories dictated by independent perseverance? Not in the slightest. Not only was it exhausting to motivate myself independently, I was ignoring the wealth of resources available in my friends and colleagues.

When we limit interaction with other perspectives or mindsets we do a disservice to our goals. Professional mentors are wonderful. Talking through problems/brainstorming with others can do a world of good for opening your mind to new opportunities or directions. When defining your passion(s) don’t be afraid to ask for help or feedback from others.

Ask yourself: What advice a fellow colleague or friend?
We don’t always take our own advice but we do tend to give more objective advice to others. What would you advise to a friend or a co-worker? This can be an excellent way to hone in on a path without being dragged down by the details or over-ruminating the “what-ifs.” Keep it simple: what would you tell your friend to do? Learn from that.

Create a timeline (but know that you don’t have to stick to it to a t)
Once you’ve uncovered some of the details it’s time to create your idealized timeline of events. This is more an exercise of structure rather than an exercise in inflexible boundaries. The most important part is that you set out your goals and begin working towards reaching these milestones.

Ultimately – don’t be afraid to take chances/risks
There’s something to be said for creating a plan. But there’s arguably more to be said for taking (calculated) risks and chances. It’s unlikely that you’ll simply fall into whatever it is that results in your most fulfilling life. Take charge of your future by experimenting and exploring.

Defining your passion and taking steps to implement it into your career will also help you to set out and move towards your financial goals. When you feel confident (and happy) in the work you take on, you can begin to focus on setting financial goals that will help you to stabilize your future.

Now I want to hear about you… have you ever written a passion sentence, or combed out the details of your passion?

Image Credit: Brothers: Pippin & Ted Lee

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