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Ten Tips for Figuring Out How to Get Paid to Do What You Love  

Valerie and her rescue dog,
"Cokie Roberts"

By Valerie Young

This article originally appeared in Issue 204 of the Changing Course Newsletter.

I love proving people wrong. Not all people… just the ones who are operating under the kind of faulty self-limited assumptions that prevent them – or the people around them – from working at what they really love. That was definitely the case for a client named Ellen (not her real name). Ellen was totally convinced she’d be, as she put it, my “first failure,” a belief she’d repeat several times throughout our session.

To prepare for our phone meeting, I asked Ellen to send me a list of things she loves to do. It was pretty clear right from the get-go that she held out little hope of turning any of her passions into viable income streams. “I don't think there is any money maker in my Love to Do's,” she wrote, adding, “I really worked at this list. I am not sure you can help since this is all I came up with.”

Boy was she wrong. By employing a few simple techniques, I was able to help Ellen come up with not one, not two, not three, but seven ways to make a living doing exactly what she loves.

Using Ellen as an example, I’ve put together ten tips to help you discover the income generating possibilities and opportunities hiding inside your own passions. In other words you’re about to attend Opportunity Analyst Boot Camp! And, just in case any of the books I recommended to Ellen resonate with you, for your convenience they’re available in the Changing Course Bookstore.

Before we begin, take a minute to read Ellen’s “Things I Love to Do” list to see if you can come up with any ways she might turn them into income. Ellen loves to:

  • Go to art museums
  • Travel
  • Politics
  • Photography
  • Writing
  • Research
  • Archeology
  • Planning things
  • Get dressed up
  • Different cultures
  • Okay, any ideas?

    If you came up empty or close to empty, that’s understandable. What often gets framed as a lack of creativity, I happen to think, is really just a lack of information. The information-gathering phase is critical to discovering ways to make a living from your passions. Which leads us to our first tip…

    1. Ask Good Questions

    If you want to come up with great income-generating ideas, you’ve got to get into the habit of asking questions… lots and lots of questions. Take Ellen’s list for example. Presumably, she knows what “research” and “planning things” mean, but did you? I didn’t.

    As silly as it might sound, you need to start asking yourself some questions too… questions like, “What exactly DO I mean when I tell people I love to cook or surf the net or write…?” What kind of cooking, surfing, or writing? Do I want to do it for or with other people? Do it at home? Do it outside of home? Do it every day, a few times a month, a few times a year…? I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

    For now, use Ellen’s list to practice flexing your Opportunity Analyst muscles by making a list of questions. For example, do you want to learn more about what her love for “politics” is all about? What does she mean when she says she loves “different cultures?”

    2. Focus on Your Life First, Work Second

    In short, despite everything we’ve learned from guidance or career counselors, making a living isn’t only about work, careers, or income. Making a living is also about making a life. Your quest for right livelihood must start with a clear vision of what you want your LIFE to look like. In fact, I can’t even begin to help someone figure out what their ideal job might be until I understand what they want their ideal life to be.

    Once you’ve determined the kind of life you want, your vision then becomes a bench mark by which to evaluate various career options – or what I call the Life First Test. For example, if you want to work from home and work best alone, opening a bookstore wouldn’t pass the Life First Test… but being a freelance writer might.

    Like a lot of people, Ellen’s ideal life is a combination of working from home and being out in the world. In her case, it means starting her day at home researching things that interest her… like history and travel. In the afternoon she’d like to get outside. When I asked Ellen what she might like to do outside the home, she reluctantly told me about what she called her “crazy dream job”… being the organizer of a big museum installation like the King Tut exhibit.

    I didn’t think Ellen could land her fantasy job overnight, but I didn’t think it was crazy either. What I did wonder was whether it would pass the Life First Test. You see, Ellen’s ideal life includes living in the country… so living in any city big enough to support a large museum was definitely out. But still, the excitement in her voice was too important to just dismiss this interest in big exhibits. Which leads to the next technique every Opportunity Analyst must know…

    3. Go Deeper

    I decided to probe beneath the surface to try to understand what exactly it is that Ellen likes about being in charge of a big museum installation. What really excites her is doing things on what she referred to as “a grand scale.” “The biggest event in most people's lives,” she explained, “is their own wedding. I think events like this should be really wonderful and grand."

    In this case, going deeper meant figuring out what kind of grand scale events, in addition to weddings, Ellen could put on that would really jazz her? I’ll give you a hint… the answer is in her list. Take a look… any ideas?

    Since Ellen loves history and research, I asked her what she thought of specializing in coordinating large and elaborate family reunions? Not only could she do all the event planning, but with a little training in genealogy, Ellen could also offer to research the family tree. And, depending on what she uncovered (and the client’s budget), she could get her grand-scale kicks by organizing historical re-enactments using local actors or somehow involving the family members themselves. Ellen loved the idea!

    To help launch her new business, I suggested she take a page out of Barbara Winter’s Establishing Yourself as an Expert class and create a tip sheet. She could put together The 10 Biggest Mistakes People Make in Planning a Family Reunion or a piece called 5 Ways to Guarantee a Stress-Free Family Reunion.

    She could use the tips in a press release to her local newspaper, include them in a brochure, or on her website. To educate herself on the event planning business, I also suggested Ellen get a copy of a book called Dollars & Events: How to Succeed in the Special Events Business by Joe Goldblatt, Frank Supovitz.

    And what about the Life First Test? If Ellen lived in jeans and sneakers and liked to be in bed by 9:00 p.m., we probably would have nixed the idea of putting on gala affairs. Instead we’d have explored how she could put her passion to work putting on fantastic children’s parties or mega- picnics. Fortunately, since Ellen loves dressing up and is a night owl, the family reunion and wedding planning idea passed the test with flying colors. But why stop here…

    4. Go Even Deeper

    We could have stopped here, and Ellen would have been perfectly happy, but during this same conversation she also told me about an armor exhibit she’d seen at the Metropolitan Museum. The fact that Ellen was not the least bit interested in medieval weaponry and yet clearly so taken with the exhibit told me there was more gold to be mined here. Time to keep digging.

    It didn’t take much probing before Ellen was practically gushing as she described how incredible the shiny armor looked displayed in front of the rich, colorful tapestry. As we talked, it became clear that Ellen also loves arranging things for maximum aesthetic value. Any ideas on how she might use this passion?

    Ellen was only mildly interested in room décor so we quickly dismissed interior decorating. Instead I suggested she think about freelancing as a window dresser for retail stores or as a photo stylist. Photo stylists are the people who clients pay to arrange products, props, food, and the like so they look good in print ads, catalogs, TV, film, and so on. I pointed Ellen to the Association of Stylists and Coordinators where she could learn all about what it takes to break into this fascinating field.

    5. Be Specific

    We know from Ellen’s list that she liked writing… but that’s pretty broad. Normally when I ask someone what kind of writing they like, he or she will say they enjoy fiction, non-fiction, romance, children’s books, technical writing, etc. But the first word that popped out of Ellen’s mouth was “concise.” Ellen likes writing paragraphs, not pages and she also prefers non-fiction. Any ideas leap to mind?

    My first thought was that Ellen had all the makings of a columnist. She loved the idea but naturally had lots of questions about how to get started… so I pointed her to a book called You Can Be A Columnist by Charlotte Digregorio. The more specific you are, the better able you are to pinpoint what kind of information you need to get started.

    6. Turn Deficits Into Benefits

    Ellen also enjoys politics. So writing a political column was a perfect fit. Unfortunately, political columns are the toughest kinds of columns to land. That’s because the powers that be want established “experts,” which is really just short hand for political insiders.

    The fact that Ellen is considered a commoner among the political elite doesn’t need to be a dream stopper. The trick is to find a way to make this apparent disadvantage work for her. For example, by calling her column (and maybe ending each one with), “But, Hey What Do I Know?” she just might be able to use her “just a regular Joe-anne,” “average woman on the street” type status to her advantage. It worked for Ross Perot! And if a millionaire businessman can convince millions of Americans that he’s just like them, then Ellen’s got a shot at selling her column to a local editor.

    7. Look for More Than One Way to Use Your Gifts

    Like most writers, Ellen also likes editing. What if, I suggested, she offered her editing services to professors and graduate students who need to write papers but for whom English is a second language? Since she also enjoys doing research, for an extra fee, she could also help them track down information.

    8. Think Outside the Box

    Chances are you may have wondered what kind of photography Ellen loves. Bridal? Portrait? Nature? Animals? Action? When I put this question to Ellen, she once again hesitated, fearing I’d find her answer odd. Quite the opposite… I found it utterly fascinating! You see Ellen’s loves photographing unusual buildings… and she works exclusively in black and white. How cool is that!

    Okay, you’re wondering, but who’s going to pay Ellen for her cool black and white photos of interesting buildings? Well, there’s a bank in my area that hands out free calendars featuring vintage photographs from the surrounding towns. What if she pitched the idea of a calendar featuring unusual architecture to a community-minded bank or to the Chamber of Commerce? If it worked out, it could lead to a whole series of calendars or perhaps even posters or framed photos. Which leads me to the next thing every Opportunity Analyst should know…

    9. Always Think Big!

    There’s more than one bank and more than one Chamber of Commerce. In fact, there are thousands of them, and they’re everywhere! Since Ellen loves to travel, why not make this same pitch in towns and cities all over the country? She could even make a name for herself as the unusual building photographer and publish a book – or better yet, a whole series of books!

    10. Leverage Your Time and Talents

    Since Ellen’s going to be traveling the country taking photographs anyway, why not tap into her love of writing by becoming a travel writer? Not only can she make some money, but travel writing is a great way to defray the costs.

    Just ask Duane and Harlene Harm. According to travel organizer Barb Perriello at Agora Travel, Duane and Harlene attended the American Writers and Artists Institute Travel Writing Course in Paris. Then they spent the following summer traveling across the western U.S.

    All told, they visited 23 different dude ranches in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana over a three-month period, staying for an average of three days at each ranch. The total value of their summer stays? About $55,000... and they didn't pay anything. Not one cent.

    What's more, they wrote an article for “Steamboat Magazine,” a high-end coffee-table publication based in Steamboat Springs, CO that comes out twice a year. And they were paid for their work. (You can learn more about careers for people who love to travel at ChangingCourse.com/cooljobs.htm.)

    Okay, back to your Opportunity Analyst training. You already know Ellen likes travel and writing, right? But there’s another clue that told me travel writing was the perfect fit… do you know what it is?

    It was Ellen’s reference to “different cultures.” By employing the previous nine tips, I discovered that Ellen has a real passion for learning about different cultures… but not by reading alone. What Ellen loves is tracking down and visiting the places the locals like to go. She’s also fascinated by local traditions and etiquette. All this tells me Ellen won’t be writing about the typical tourist haunts. Instead, she’ll be using her interest in cultural diversity to educate her fellow travel lovers about how to see an area through the eyes of its residents.

    Nobody likes to be proven wrong… that is unless the thing you’re wrong about is thinking you can’t profit from your passions. Follow these ten tips, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming an Opportunity Analyst… and one giant step closer to earning your living doing exactly what you love!

    P.S. Does thinking about creative ways to make a living without a j-o-b get you totally jazzed? Do you love the idea of getting paid to brainstorm ways that people can turn their interests into income? You’re not alone!

    In mid-December, I opened up my new “Outside the Job Box Career Expert and Small Business Idea Consultant” Self-Paced Training Program. The response was so overwhelming we had to temporarily close the program to new people. If all goes according to plan I SHOULD be able to open up some spots later this month.

    If you’d like to be notified when spots become available, sign up for the “First in Line” early notification list now at http://ChangingCourse.com/outsidethejobbox.htm

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    There are 4 comments. Add yours.

    1. This is incredible, Valerie. In fact, this article could become a seminar could become a book could become a ????? These action steps are power tools for bringing ideas to life. Bravo!

    2. M. Elizabeth Hancock

      I can relate to the subject — her interests/passions mirror my own to a large degree. Over the past few years I’ve sought to identify my passions and act on my desire to change my current
      career and move into a more personally rewarding and enriching career path — I, too, absolutely love to travel, I am totally delighted with photography and consider it my passion/hobby, and
      my current career encompasses research and writing. The most diffi-
      cult struggle is commanding the necessary resources to overcome fear of not having sufficient monetary resources to make the transition to a new career.

      I’ve visualized myself as a successful travel writer … I know tha
      each and every day in this career would be rewarding and inspire me
      to happiness each and every day.

      This article is great and inspires me (again) to get going to pursue the career I really want to live each day. Valerie, thanks, again for this inspiring article. I’ve been reading your newsletter for over five years, and it’s a great resource for information and inspiration.
      for being an

    3. Rae Darby

      Yes, but…
      I’d really like to read a hope-piece for introverts. The moment I get to the ‘talk with, organise, get out there, approach, ask friends’ part I lay it all aside.

      Tried and tested recipes for introverts around ‘how to do what extroverts do naturally without incurring intense discomfort’ would be something to build on.

      If you would, please?

    4. Valerie,
      These ten tips are great! Ellen’s story is a great example of creative thinking. It’s easy to assume you could never make a living doing something that isn’t a traditional, “regular” job or business that you’ve heard of before. Combining her interests into a custom way of earning and living a great life is awesome. I’ve been helping some clients with that myself and now that I’m taking your Out of the Job Box Career Expert course, I’m looking forward to learning even more about it!

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