How “Do What You Love” Can Be A Realistic Career Option

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To quote a recent article I read titled “Do What You Love” Is Horrible Advice: “It’s easy to confuse a hobby or interest for a profound passion that will result in career and business fulfillment. The reality is, that type of preexisting passion is rarely valuable.”

Um…no.

If you haven’t read that article go ahead and take a trip over there when you get a chance…or not, if you’d rather not be fuming the rest of the day. The author is a great writer, with many other fantastic articles, but this one was just so…wildly inaccurate. I tried to just label it as one of those unfortunate things orbiting the internet, but it was just gnawing at me. How many potential artists are out there now, squashing their dreams because they’re reading fear-mongering articles like this on the internet?

Well hopefully not a lot, but still, the thought of some teenage kid selling his guitar because too many people told him music was a “hobby” and not a career choice just kills me. He’s a teenager. Anything is a career choice.

Of course people are all entitled to their own opinions, right?

Exactly, which is why I’m going to spout mine off right now.

Unconditional Support May Fade Fast…

As we’re growing up, we’re told we can be anything. We’re told we can be astronauts, painters, unicorn tamers and anything else our little minds can dream up. A 5 year-old proudly proclaims she’s going to be a “rockstar” and the adults laugh and smile and say, “My goodness honey, of course you are!”

Then somewhere down the line, we’re told to get real. We’re told to “get our heads out of the clouds” and start putting our efforts towards a feasible career. The idea of following our passion becomes a joke, and we’re told that art, in whatever capacity, is a hobby. People list off countless things they themselves are “passionate” about but could never get paid for, and then recite a mountain of inaccurate, old wives-tale statistics:

“You know you have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than you do of ‘making it’ as an actor…right?”

Riiiiiight…

Now there are two arguments here: 1.) Passion alone doesn’t get you anywhere, and 2.) Where is the market? If there is no one to pay you for it, even if you are good, how can you make a living?

And for those points I have two responses: 1.) The concepts of talent and passion are widely misunderstood, and 2.) There is always a market.

Now this is the part where many people will say I have entirely overstepped my boundaries and have finally reached the point where the advice I give new, emerging and struggling artists does them more harm than good. That in this era of realism, dreams serve the sole purpose of glittery fairy tales we tell our children until they reach puberty and then we shove a spatula and a job application in their hand while cynically smirking, “Life’s not fair, deal with it.”

Well, fuck that – and here’s why.

Dusk Thoughts

1.) Talent and Passion Are Not What You Think

Talent is no more than a word people use to describe a person’s skill level when they haven’t been around to witness first-hand the process of developing that skill. Musicians, dancers, painters, all of them, did you see their work when they first started out? They sucked. The hit wrong notes, had two left feet and couldn’t paint between the lines to save their damn lives.

They were absolute shit.

In fact, it wasn’t until they had already put hours and hours and hours of time in, before people started saying, “Wow, you’ve got a real talent for that.”

Because here’s the thing, while some people do naturally gravitate to box of colored pencils instead of a calculator, the act of producing art itself is still a skill, and I cant stress this enough – skills can be learned.

In fact, many features we take for naturally occurring personality traits (i.e. willpower, creativity, focus) are actually skills; all of which can be further developed with deliberate practice.

Quick side-note – I promise I’m not just blowing smoke up your ass and I would gladly link to peer-reviewed journals listing the relevant scientific data for all these claims, but it’s 3:30 in the morning and I just don’t want to. I will tell you though, that I have personally studied all of this, as I have a Master’s in Psychology, specializing in neurological processes and behavioral health. If you don’t believe me I encourage you to schedule an appointment with your local psychology professor. 

Okay, so what does passion have to do with anything?

The word “passion” is far overused in today’s common conversation. You hear people say, “I’m incredibly passionate about rock music,” when what they really mean is, “I, like, really, really like this one band I saw in concert last week.”

Passion is not just a love for something, it’s an obsession: an obsession capable of motivating people to practice a specific skill for an unrealistic amount of time. All those things that people list off to you as examples of things they are “passionate” about but could never get paid for – they’re right! But those aren’t passions they’re just stuff they like…as a hobby. And yes, if photography is your dream job but you dedicate the same amount of time to it as you would to any other hobby, you absolutely won’t be able to find anyone willing to pay you for it. However, if you’re really passionate about photography, you’ll spend every waking second trying to improve. You’ll stay up late on YouTube researching various lighting setups and editing techniques, you’ll make your own gear when the real thing costs too damn much (like this underwater camera housing) and you’ll take classes and workshops to further your skills, and all that extra time really adds up.

To put it bluntly, passion can get you everywhere, because it means you have the desire to put in a highly abnormal amount of work to excel at a particular skill; a skill, that when taken to a whole new level, is absolutely marketable.

So while you may suck right now, that’s okay, you already have the most important tool to producing amazing results. What you need now is practice and time.

Now on to my other point…

RoughDraft

2.) There is ALWAYS a Market

The article above (along with countless others spanning the internet) lists one question as the one you should be asking when pursing your dream job: “Will people pay me for it?”

But that’s not the right question. Instead, what you should really be asking yourself is, “How can I prove to people my work is worth paying for?”

I’ll explain. Here’s a line I’m sure we’ve all heard many times: “Well maybe you should still get an accounting degree or something. You know… just in case.”

Ah, yes. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone give me “just in case” advice to prepare myself for inevitable failure…well let’s just say I’d own an impressive collection of jet skis by now.

You never hear people tell accountants to get another degree, “just in case.” No one ever tells med school students that maybe they should learn welding, or construction or some other trade skill so when this whole “being a doctor” phase wears off they’ll at least have something to “fall back on”.

The fact is, people only pay for things they either want or need, and when your passion falls into a field that meets an obvious market need, following it is completely acceptable. People need doctors. People need accountants. Supply and demand; it makes perfect sense.

Art, on the other hand…

Art is seen as a “want”, which means that people have a harder time understanding the market for it unless they themselves are a part of that specific target audience. Someone that would never consider buying a piece of art for $1000 will have a very hard time reasoning how anyone else could possibly make a living selling art for $1000.

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But there surely can’t be a market for everything…

Yeah, actually, there pretty much is. You can make money doing virtually anything nowadays, provided you market it correctly. Ever heard of the NYC Naked Cowboy? He plays a guitar and sings songs in his underwear and a cowboy hat. And now he’s sponsored by Fruit of the Loom and has a net worth of over 2.5 million dollars.

Take that, guidance counselors of the world.

The point is, whether the market exists or not isn’t the problem – it’s real and it’s there. Reaching it is the issue. So develop a strategy – figure out what the hell you have to offer and how you’re going to get it out there. Who is your target audience? What value are you offering them? How do you explain to them that what your selling is going to benefit their lives in some measurable way?

I’m not saying that you can quit your day job, buy an art kit, take a modern watercolor class and begin a successful painting career next week – I’m saying that creating a career out of something you’re genuinely passionate about is a very, very real possibility, and contrary to popular opinion you’re not doomed to a life of waiting tables while you try and make something out of those “doodles” you’re always working on.

Put in the effort to hone your skills and create a comprehensive marketing strategy to sell the application of those skills. That, is how you begin a successful career of doing what you love.

And for the future photographers of the world – here’s a little something I made just for you to get you on your way.

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Posted on: June 13, 2014, by : jennamartinphoto@gmail.com

44 thoughts on “How “Do What You Love” Can Be A Realistic Career Option

  1. Seriously love you, and like Jim Carry said, you can just as easily fail at something you hate so why not go after something you love!

  2. This is wonderful! I tell you, I wish I had read this 20 years ago. I loved to draw portraits and was pretty darn good at it Yes, I started out crappy but as I practiced I got better and better at it. Anyways, I wanted to go into art but you “could never make a living doing it” so instead I went to nursing school… I lasted a whole 3 semesters and then went from major to major never once thinking I should go into Art. I think about it and could kick myself. A few years ago I discovered a love for photography and have been working on that but my point is that I could love my job, but guess what position I ended up in?… Accounting!!!

    1. I totally understand!! I have 3 degrees – 2 bachelors and my masters, all because I kept pushing my true passions to the side. I was so under-fulfilled I kept thinking another degree would lead to a better job a surely I’d like that one…but I was still just as miserable. I ended up with a mountain of student loans and 3 degrees I only use as credentials in blog posts :P. I always wonder what it would’ve been like to actually study art!

      My point is, it’s always an option. It’s always there, it’s not going anywhere. Keep honing your skills and planning out your business strategy (hell, a background in accounting is guaranteed to come in handy!!) and before you know it I’m sure you’ll be in a better place to take that leap :)!! Good luck!

  3. I love this. IMO, failure is a mind game perpetuated by society and anyone with real skill and true passion can succeed if they continue to educate themselves and respect their fears as they learn and grow. Great article!!! I also love how you drop eff bombs in your blog post. 🙂

    1. Ha I totally agree Andrew! And yeah I really enjoy using eff bombs in my day to day life…can’t really imagine leaving them out in the blog posts 😉

  4. Your article is spot on! I was a former elementary school teacher, and passion was something I always tried to fire up in my students. Teaching was something that I was incredibly passionate about. I was the first teacher on campus, and the last one to leave. There were even moments where I got there so early, the custodians weren’t even there to open the school, so I had to jump the fence to get to my classroom. During my last year of teaching, I won teacher of the year, but during a weird turn of events I also got a pink slip. Long story short, I switched careers and found a new passion in photography. It’s definitely a feeling well beyond love, like something similar to what I felt about teaching or how I feel about my wife. I definitely agree 100% with you and anyone who says any different is full of shit.

    1. That’s so awesome Jimmy! And I totally agree – teaching is an incredible passion of mine as well. It’s why I love giving workshops so much!! Seeing people light up when you give them brand new, useful information is a feeling like no other. I’m glad you’ve found photography – it sounds like the industry has gained an awesome photographer in you!!

  5. I just wish I had figured out what it was that I had wanted to do as a career long before now….but now that I do know…. Im going to kick butt!!!

  6. I hear ya, and I’m glad you bothered to go into the details of how it all happens rather than everybody’s usual article of “oh, it just kind of magically turns into success after a few years because people notice you’ve had this natural knack for it all along”. It IS hard work, it DOES take time, and people’s first works really are eye-blinding (especially my own!).

    I’m split about my own passions. I really do enjoy accounting and taxes because of my OCD, however dull and cringing the thought of it is anyway. But I love doing portraits and doing custom artwork. So my goal is to spend three and a half months of the year as an accountant with art as a hobby, then the rest of the year as an artist with bookkeeping as a hobby. It’s weird, but I like it, and it works for me.

    1. That sounds perfect! We all need to do exactly what it is that keeps us happy, and it looks like you may have found that! Good on you, keep it up! 😀

  7. Once again, thanks for the read.
    This applies to so much more than art. This is an excellent lesson in life.
    Thank you.

  8. Your reminders that your passion drives your success always come at the perfect times. Sometimes that old voice creeps up in my mind and every time I just have to remember to invalidate it. Eventually I won’t have to fight with it as much cause I’ll have conditioned myself to think otherwise.

    Just the last couple days, due to the advice of one of the photographers I met with, I started to question (however small) in my mind the success of continuing down this path I’m on. Thank you for taking the time to remind us.

    1. That’s awesome to hear Crystal! We’re all going to run into those people every now and then and usually they do mean the best for us, but we’ve just go know that we know ourselves and what we are capable more than anyone else. Just look at how far you’ve come! In less than a year!! I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you! 😀

  9. Thank you!!! I needed this! I just quit my desk job to give more time to learning and improving my photography! This was so encouraging…I was starting to think I made a big mistake quitting a well paying boring career!

    1. Oh I’m so glad! That first step is terrifying, but it’s just like any other job – you have to be smart in your marketing and really apply yourself to your work. Good luck with everything! Sounds like amazing things are in store for you! 😀

  10. Thanks for the realistic encouragement! I recently finished working at my day job (for multiple reasons) and I’m pursuing full-time photography, which is incredibly scary and terribly exciting all at once. The reminder that my passion is what will fuel the hard work that it takes to succeed is very helpful. Whenever I get discouraged I am going to come back and reread this post! So thanks. Love your work! 🙂

  11. SerIously, at 45 when i read this, going through a mid life crisis and having that terrible feeling that i am going to a job daily only to make ends meet than living a life I somehow thought I’d start living sometime in the future, makes things just worse- too late to break out of the rut now… But still somewhere down deep inside I keep thinking, I can still break the chain but I don’t know what I should do now while i still keep the lights on…
    Photography, amateur radio, radio jockey, career counsellor(!), teaching kids – things I’d do had I not been doing a technologists job stuck in a slippery economy.
    Thought i’d bounce off my thoughts off here…. How do I go about making a list of things I need to do and how I can go about them.

    1. Shrik – when people day it’s never too late, they’re serious! I started my photography business 3 years ago. THREE! And I had absolutely no experience in the field of photography or art. It takes a lot of work to get it off the ground, I’ll admit, but it’s possible.

      Three years is not very long. That means if you started now, you could hypothetically be where I am (making a living strictly on photography) by the time you were 48. And 48 is still plenty young enough to enjoy that business.

      Never think it’s too late. Whether it’s art or photography or music or whatever – plan it out and get it done!

      I hope this helps, best of luck to you!

      1. Hi Jenna,

        I’m just curious. Three years is a reasonably short time to transition into a full-time photo business. As the cost of living never goes away, did you maintain a full-time job while you were building up your business or did you have some form of low-risk financial support such as several months of savings, a working partner or family members to help out while you were starting out?
        Thanks
        Antony

        1. Hi Antony! To answer your question, the transition actually happened in about 6 months. I worked as a full-time freelance writer, blogger and social media marketer for the first 6 months when my business was just getting started. As I started making more money in photography, I took fewer and fewer writing jobs. By the 6-month mark, I was making about 3/4 of what I was in my full-time job, so I took the leap to photography full-time. No savings – that was part of the huge risk. I spent my entire savings to buy one camera and a 50mm lens. No family member help (haven’t had that ever), and my husband worked as an assistant baseball coach at the university, so his income was pretty negligible.

          It wasn’t about having extra money in the beginning, it was about really figuring out how to market myself properly to provide myself an income. Every second of free-time was spent thinking of creative marketing techniques.

          I’ll admit though, in the beginning I was shooting everything, and therefore marketing myself to everything. I started shooting families, pets, kids, weddings – everything! Slowly I focused more on weddings and cut out families and kids, then moved more into the art world. It’s only been this year that I have finally cut out weddings and now make a living solely on artwork and underwater photography. So it took 6 months to begin making a profit in photography – it took about 3 years to make a profit shooting exactly what I wanted to shoot :).

          1. Hi Jenna. Thanks for your reply. Its great that you are being so candid. These are the details that are generally left out from online photographer stories.

            I started out in photography with a study debt (trying to break into press photography! – What was I thinking) which left me having to work full-time in an office job 9-5, so probably not the smartest move on my part! I did spend the first two years squeezing freelance jobs (editorial and corporate events/portraiture) in my lunch break or before and after work if I could schedule it that way. Office jobs aren’t the most flexible way to break into freelancing and eventually I just got burnt out rushing around, trying to meet deadlines.

            Anyway, thanks for being so open.

            Cheers
            Antony

          2. Ooooh, yeah it can definitely be tough to break into press photography with an office job! I was lucky that the job I was working at the same time was also from home – so I didn’t have a rigid schedule to work around or a boss to ask for time off for shoots. What do you shoot now? Do you still shoot just for fun? I hope so!

  12. So glad you wrote this! I actually got that degree in accounting and did the “right” thing very successfully until one day at I decided that I needed to pursue what I had always wanted to do, photography. I was a voracious consumer of information and looked for learning opportunities everywhere. I worked hard to change my mind from that of a structured numbers guy, into that of an artist. I had no art training, the economy was tanking, we had just built a new home and had a huge mortgage. Everyone told me I was nuts to consider going into art, especially at that time. So, on New Years Day 2007, I made the decision to do what I loved or refer it forever. I quit my 4-60 hour a week job, and started working much harder doing what I loved and it never fealt like work. Since then I have created a very successful studio in the Washington DC suburbs, and I love it! I often work 60+ hour weeks and it’s fun! I have a client base that includes celebrities, Fortune 100 companies, infants, high school seniors, and have photographed weddings all over the world. I continually educate myself and now even teach new photographers on best business practices and social media marketing. I am now a PPA Master Photographer and will never look back!
    Live your dream! It will take work, but you can be anything you want to be!

    Mike Busada

    1. Yes! Exactly Mike! People go to college for 4 years to learn a skill, but then baulk at the idea of taking 4 years to learn something artistic. It takes the same amount of work and dedication as anything else, but it’s not impossible. So glad to see you having a successful go at it. Keep up the awesome work!! 😀

  13. my comment from petapixe :
    this
    “Someone that would never consider buying a piece of art for $1,000 will have a very hard time reasoning how anyone else could possibly make a living selling art for $1,000”
    is the reason I would probably never be able to be professional photographer, because I would never pay $1,000 for a photo. I never bought art myself and I am not going to. I was lately thinking about how even put photos out there, to get some audience, but there is just too much photographs and photographers and lots of good ones and just few outstanding. And I am not outstading yet, maybe never will be, or maybe just never will know about that 🙂
    also I hate all the social things about every business, networking, talking to people. I do not have audience, I just shoot because I like it and it’s fun. If somebody appreciate on some website, cool but I know that I am not good enough, not sure where I was heading ….

    1. Hi Filip! Yup, you make perfect sense :). A person who wants to do this full-time, as a career, also needs to put just as much time in with the social networking and marketing side of things. Pretty much everyone (besides the few savants out there) start at the same level, so don’t feel bad about only having a few outstanding photographs at the moment. It’s up to you to make the choice whether or not you’d like to pursue photography as a career, and in that case learning all the social media and marketing aspects of it, regardless of how much you hate them, will be worth it in the end :).

  14. Jenna!
    Thank you for writing this. I nearly teared up reading it. I am 40(odd) years old and I came into photography late in life. I did not know could sell my works until I got pushed by a dear friend. What I lack in talent I make up for with PASSION. And hard work. Others are more skilled than me, but I plan on out-working them.
    I am going to pass this article on my daughter. I smile so big when I see her with a sketchpad in one hand and a ‘How to Draw People’ book in the other. Like father, like daughter.

    Love this!

  15. Thank you so much for writing this post! It should be required reading for every student, parent, and teacher in the nation!

Thoughts? Let's hear 'em!

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