By Matthew Tarpey, CareerBuilder Writer
Follow your dreams. Do what you love. Money will take care of itself once you find a job that you’re passionate about.
We constantly hear this advice from life coaches, school counselors, self-help books, psychologists and weekend seminars. It’s good advice. It’s inspiring, exciting and energizing. Unfortunately, it’s often not that simple. The world only needs so many movie stars and cowboys. Plus, when your dream career is in a highly competitive field, going up against other dream-chasers can make you worry about putting food on the table.
This is the debate that millions of Americans have every day. Is a steady paycheck really worth the endless hours of taking orders and sitting in a grey cubicle doing something you don’t care about? Is pursuing your dream worth the risk of taking a pay cut or being unemployed for an indeterminate amount of time before you finally start doing what you love — if that ever even happens?
Finding your passion
Jeff Reid, director of the entrepreneurial studies initiative at Georgetown University, urges would-be entrepreneurs to exercise honest self-reflection before following their passion. The first step: defining what that passion is. “A lot of the preparation should be introspective. Make sure that you know your own strengths, weaknesses, what gets you excited, how you deal with difficulty and how much of your motivation is internal,” he says. It’s an important, yet often skipped-over, step. Without a good understanding of what you hope to accomplish and what your passion is, you could find yourself diving headfirst into murky waters.
Once you’re clear about what your passion is, consider whether you’ll be able to meet basic living needs. For young professionals or recent graduates, living on modest means is much easier than it is for the primary breadwinner of a family. Each individual situation is different, but it is generally a good idea to have some money saved. “[Save] as much as possible, but don’t wait forever to take the leap,” Reid says. “I see so many people fall into a career trap in which they tell themselves that they will work on a startup after a few years at a big company so they can ‘pay down some student debt,’ or ‘learn from a big company,’ or ‘get a brand name on my résumé first.’” However, the more used to a regular paycheck you get, the harder it becomes to make the switch and live more frugally, even if only temporarily.
Making a big move
Not everyone’s passion requires entrepreneurship. In many cases, workers will find that their true passion is for non-entrepreneurial work, but in a different field from their current position. Making the leap across industries can be just as daunting a task as creating your own business. “It helps if you can do what I call building a bridge,” says Dawniel Patterson Winningham, president of Women Entrepreneurs of America’s Texas chapter. “Work [at] both temporarily, maybe even asking for reduced hours at your permanent job while you work to build your passion. That way, at least you still have your bird in the hand while you work on the one in the bush.”
“Become an expert in your desired field,” Reid adds. “Read everything you can. Attend industry conferences. Start a blog and share your own insights. Talk to as many people in that field as you can. Be prepared to take a cut in salary or title, but realize that if your new career is truly your dream job, you are going to be successful and enjoy the many rewards of doing what you love to do.”
If you’re unhappy with your current position, but you’re unsure how to build a bridge to your dream job, ask yourself these questions:
- What is it that you love about your dream job? Is it a particular industry or product, or is it the activities or lifestyle? Can you find those qualities in another position?
- What are your ultimate goals? Will working a job you love help you reach your career goals or just make you happy in the short term?
- How can you use your current experience and skills to make you a desirable candidate in your dream field? What can you bring to the table?
- Are there other projects within your current company that relate more to what you’d like to do?
- Can you take up your dream job as a hobby on the side to build experience and contacts?
- Do any local schools offer courses that can help you gain expertise in your dream field?
- What’s the worst that could happen if you fail? How difficult would it be to go from that scenario back to where you are now?