The long winding road to doing what you love

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Those of you who have followed this blog for the last few years know that I believe in structuring a business around what you love. You also know that it is not always easy to find the business in the passion.

What better way to explain the subtleties of this sweet dilemma than this lovely post from Emma Newman, whom I was lucky enough to meet in person at my London workshop.

Thanks Emma for sharing your story. I know it will help and inspire many others.


The long winding road to doing what you love

Last April, I left a stable job to go out on my own as a copywriter. I have specialist skills, know the dark arts of writing for search engine visibility and know how the technical side works behind the scenes too. I knew that the model I could offer worked as I was already providing most parts of it as an employee, then a subcontractor. I knew what I had to do to grow the business, and had all the (intellectual) skills I needed.

That all being said, it took me no less than seven months to launch my business website. Seven months. The amount of resistance and fear I had to overcome to get that far was huge. Since launch I haven’t promoted it, I haven’t mined every networking opportunity I could, I have leveraged all my skills in the way I thought I would.

So that was just me being rubbish, right?

Years ago, I would have thought I was being lazy, but I’ve been working hard on that kind of self-abuse, and skipped straight onto thinking it was because of fear. And it was, but that wasn’t the whole story. Then I started to realise that I was in effect trying to launch two businesses at once: a copywriting business and a writing career.

Then I went to Pam Slim’s workshop in London last year and this dichotomy became glaringly apparent. I made a joke of being like a superhero with dual identities but no superpowers. But if only I had paid more attention! What did I enthuse about the most during the workshop? My Creative writing. What got a cheer in the room? The announcement that I’d just got a publisher. What did I see in my five year vision? Fabulous, eccentric clothing and a day filled with fiction writing. But I just kept telling myself that creative writing cannot support my family, and should be kept in the ‘serious hobby’ part of my brain. Business first, business first…

I tried to do both for the better part of a year. In the same time period it took me to build a business site and write a handful of posts, I did this for my writing career:

  • I started podcasting my novel
  • I started a short story club which now has 106 members who want to read my work every month
  • I got a publisher for my first novel
  • My blog posts received over 1000 comments
  • I gained over a thousand followers on Twitter with no icky software
  • I joined the Friday Flash movement and am writing fiction every week
  • I published my first e-anthology of short stories and actually started to sell them!

And what about the ‘serious’ business? Since April, I haven’t taken on one new copywriting client, I’ve simply retained the ones I had at business launch. In December last year I was offered a position with a company that fell through as I wouldn’t negotiate my salary to the levels they wanted to pay me. But you know what, I think that my heart knew it was the wrong place to go, and that’s why I wouldn’t budge.

Taking time to step back

At some point this January I actually stopped and looked at what I was doing. I compared my progress on my ‘business’ with the progress on my ‘hobby’.

I realised that there was no way that I could devote energy to both at the same time. But most importantly I realised that I needed to stop feeling guilty about having not put that energy into my new business. What a waste! Then I asked a dangerous question: what if I put all my energy into my creative writing?

The lure of “what you’re good at”

I’m very good at SEO copywriting and online marketing. But you know what, being good at something doesn’t automatically mean that you want to build your life around it. And when you start up a business all on your lonesome, you really need to be doing something you want to build your life around.

Sometimes though, the route from ‘what you’re good at’ leads more directly to earning a living. In my case I didn’t consider anything else; I am the sole breadwinner. I need to earn enough to support my family and pay the mortgage without fail every month.

But what doesn’t figure into the equation sometimes is that to make your own business lead to that money, you have to put your whole energy into it. Not to do the core work – the bit you’re good at – but to take you past all the other bits you find hard, or hate. Like selling. Or promoting yourself in person at business networking events, or invoicing. Whatever.

But if the thing you’re doing is what you love, there is enough energy behind that to help you over the hurdles. I have experienced resistance at every stage of my fiction writing activities, because there is a lot of fear. But there is also so much love for it, and sheer burning madness to write, that it pushes me past my own barriers.

What does this add up to?

I’m going to keep all my clients as they are now (I’m very fond of them) as I am earning enough to scrape by. We’ve lived frugally for a long time, we can carry on. And the work I do for them is second nature to me now, I don’t need lots of extra-zingy energy to push past fear, I’ve already done that.

I’m taking the energy from guilt, and the bits I misfired into my business, and diverting all of it into my heart-felt vocation.

In practical terms this means that the creative writing has time dedicated to it every day. I am prioritising it guilt-free in my mind, and looking for opportunities without a nagging feeling that I should be doing that for my copywriting business. And I will use my business skills to get behind my fiction writing and try and earn some money from it, so that one, day that’s all that my energy goes into.

The take home

If you are in your cubicle and about to leave, think hard about what you plan to do next. If, like me, you’re thinking “Hey, I could do this cubicle stuff on my own and earn all the money instead of a tiny bit” then take a step back. Do you love what you do? Or are you just good at it?

And if you are secretly burning to do something else, then pay attention. That burning doesn’t stop; it just singes the edges of anything else that tries to steal energy from it. Know thyself. Do what you love, with all of your being. That is all.

Author Bio Emma drinks too much tea, has too many ideas and writes too many stories. Only one of these is true. You can read her fiction and ramblings and join her short story club at Post-Apocalyptic Publishing.

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39 Responses to “The long winding road to doing what you love”

  1. […] The long winding road to doing what you love […]

  2. […] The long winding road to doing what you love […]

  3. Ahhh typos! I promise, I CAN type .. just not type and get excited at the same time, LOL!!

  4. This is JUST the post I was meant to read today 🙂 I’ve just shelved the 2nd idea I had for a business that I’d be good at, to focus on what I’n in love with – thansk for the sign I did the right thing, Big U!! And congrats Emma!

  5. […] advice on Twitter: Dave Navarro, The Launch Coach; Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Nonconformity, Pam Slim of Escape from Cubicle Nation, Lee Stranahan and Johnny B. Truant of Question the […]

  6. […] Pam Slim, I strongly believe in building a business and a career around your passions and curiosities. Here’s the rub, though – it […]

  7. […] The long winding road to doing what you love […]

  8. […] only recently discovered blogger/author/coach/trainer Pamela Slim, who helps people go from “Corporate Prisoners” to thriving entrepreneurs, with her […]

  9. Sandra says:

    You have no idea how much your blog post moved me Emma. I’m on the verge of tears. Your message is exactly what I needed to hear. I have worked for 9 years at what I’m good at, but not what I am passionate about.

    I’m tense, I’m tired, and I am unhappy because I do what I NEED to do to pay the bills. What keeps me even more trapped is medical benefits. I need to have them. There’s just no way around it.

    I’m hoping one day I can break free to pursue my life’s work, as Pam call it. Thank you for sharing your story.

  10. Great post! It is so easy to fall back on what you’re good at, but don’t love. I have worked at many office jobs because I am good at organizing and attention to detail and customer service, but I love art. I have made art my main priority now, even though I may need to do other things for money at times. I do have a similar trouble thought when it comes to graphic design—those activities that seem to be a different version of what you love, but more marketable, are tricky business—to an outsider, they seem so similar, but to the insider they are like night and day.

  11. Julia R says:

    Wait a sec, are you living my life??? Oh. No. Just the life I want — the kind with the guts, grit, and gumption to devote myself to creative writing.

    Right now, I’m at the point in your post where you write: “But you know what, being good at something doesn’t automatically mean that you want to build your life around it. ”

    Here’s hoping — no no, *planning* — that one day I can give someone a happy OOMPH like you’ve given me today. Thanks Emma! (and Pam for sharing her)

  12. Brenda says:

    I was destined to read this post today as I am at a very (eerily) similar crossroads regarding my writing career right this minute. Very inspiring, though-provoking and encouraging. Thank you, Emma and Pam, for sharing this message.

  13. Agata says:

    Bravo for persistence! I laughed when I started reading this post as I am in the ‘good at’ and ‘love it’ choice situation. Most of my income comes from a consulting company and I also started running an evening outfit rental. Imagine how guilty I feel that I enjoy sooo much more the latter!

  14. Adam says:

    Great stuff, a really inspiring article. I quit my job six months ago and am still at the ‘making it up as I go along’ stage. But slowly building a business, and enjoying having control over my own work…

    …and like Emma I’m pretty sure I’d turn down any staff jobs which come my way.

  15. […] just read a very honest story from Emma Newman where she shared how she learned to follow her passion versus doing what […]

  16. Tanja says:

    Love this line: “Know thyself. Do what you love, with all of your being. That is all.”

  17. […] has a guest post on her blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation, from a workshop attendee who writes about the long winding road to doing what you love.   It’s a wonderful post, but I see it as only part of the […]

  18. Amanda says:

    Such perfect timing on this article! I had to miss the London workshop last year, but after this post, seems like I got a little gem out of it anyway 😉 The energy thing is so true – I wake up on the weekends full of energy and can go all day working on my ‘projects’, totally losing track of time… in stark contrast to my hours in my office job. That’s a pretty clear signal about where I should be spending my time. Thanks for the insight and good luck with your writing!

  19. Kelly says:

    Doing what you do well vs. what you want to do (and probably do well) is a challenging choice. I, too, am the sole breadwinner and find myself constantly honing what I want to do. I think one of the biggest challenges is realizing that you don’t set out with a perfect plan on day 1: it requires ongoing questioning and tweaking, even when you “know” what you want to do.

    Hats off to finding a publisher! LONG LIVE PRINT!


  20. I am with so many others on thinking this post is straight on – and thanks Emma for sharing it. When I first read Pamela’s book I thought it was too touchy feely – to much on the emotional side – then somewhere it clicked that Pamela was dead on addressing the fear issues I see so often. Crippling fear and doubt – we all have it. I think we are taught in all our years of schooling to follow the crowd – and to do what we love and go it alone is really cutting against years of training.

    As I look at the people I meet and coach into business – I see these fears and thoughts the Emma has expressed every day. Then again – if I look in the mirror I see them looking back at me.

  21. Lisa says:

    Congratulations Emma. Great story and has made me step back and pause. For me I love what I do (marketing research), I just don’t necessarily love who I do it for (large companies with lots of CYA employees)–but they pay REALLY well.

    As someone brought up in our EFCN seminar, I have to view it as I’m being my own “venture capitalist” …So I work for the big companies and do pro-bono research on the side, for companies for whom I can really make a difference.

  22. Nancy says:

    OMG! Thank you Emma and Pam! This is exactly what I needed to read this morning. I so relate to it and even though choosing my writing AGAIN is what
    I must do and sometimes that scares me, this blog resonated so strongly in my belly (that’s where I feel my truth) that I know I must redirect my energy….No, I’m not abandoning my business–love my clients too!–but my writing is when I feel alive and like I’m doing the work I was put here to do. Plus, my memoir is almost done and since I stopped writing and focused on my business, the business has shrunk! When I’m writing and connected to Source my business grows as I need it to because I am honoring my truth. Thank you again….

  23. beto says:

    I love these enlightening stories so much, probably because I can relate to them too.

    This reminds me back when the Internet started piquing my curiosity in the mid-90’s. At that time, I was studying for a major in Graphic Design and had always been passionate about comics and animation. Suddenly the world needed an army of web designers and I felt that could bring me some much-needed money. I remember I said to myself “This sounds intriguing, let’s try 2 years at this and then go back to what I love”

    Guess what? The 2 years turned into 15, and counting. What I can say? Pay has been good, and experience counts a lot toward recognition and cushy corporate jobs. But is it what I really wanted to do in the first place?

    Or better put, do I have a lot of experience in that field? Yes. Do I envision myself doing that for the rest of my life? After much analysis, I think the answer is a resounding No. The drawing bug has always been there and I’m itching to get out and draw funny pictures – 20 years after I started my college studies.

    I am a firm believer in life cycles. Few people I know end up doing the same thing through their entire lives. When a cycle change is coming, you can feel it. And for me that time is closing in nearer every day. So what’s stopped me of making the big leap so far? Easy: money (or rather the lack thereof) and fear of failure. I’ve got enough savings to clear all my bank debts (yahoo!) but I still need a lot more to ensure myself at least a year of financial security to take the plunge. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to wait that much, though… I’m like the bull kicking and hitting at the rodeo gate. 🙂

  24. Emma Newman says:

    Wow, thank you for such wonderful comments everyone, I’m so thrilled that my story and muppetry have struck a chord!

    I also had an underlying fear that if I tried to earn money from something I love, it might tarnish that. But I’m happy to report that my new focus hasn’t had that effect, in fact I have never felt so contented – and I have *never* felt contentment on such a deep level in my career before.

    Now I’m off to fail fast 😉 But that’s part of the hero’s journey, right? And the best thing about all this? We can all be heroic. Raaaah!

  25. fas says:

    The thing is if you love doing what your doing, you never get tired doing it.

  26. Louise says:

    So many people tell me that I’m lucky I’ve figured out my “thing” is… my all-consuming passion, the one pursuit I want to focus on (and in reality I never had to figure it out, it fell on my head like a stack of bricks). They tell me that if they only knew what their “thing” was, they would finally be able to live their life.
    What I point out to them, and what you point out in this post, is that knowing what you want to do is really only just one tiny step in that direction. Actually DOING it is a whole ‘nother battle. It’s scary. There’s tons of resistance, doubt, excuses. You want to run away from it but you can’t!
    And in the end, as you say, it’s the love that gets you through. So beautiful, so true! We just need to keep feeling that love and let it pull and propel us forward.

  27. “Do you love what you do, or are you just good at it?” is about the best question I’ve heard in a month.

    So often we’re trapped in the spiral of do-well-get-promotion-do-more-get-another-promotion-burn out.

    Thanks for the great post.

    • Irishfan says:

      Good point Matt. I, like many other Generation Xers, have been fed the ‘promotion spiral.’ In my case, it has led to no work/life balance and the ‘golden handcuffs’ that I am now trying to escape from.

  28. Jen B says:

    What a great story! Made all the better in knowing it’s true. 🙂 Thanks for this, Emma. It’s lovely inspiration.

  29. Judy says:

    Emma, I can so relate to your story. A few years ago I started a copywriting business, most of my clients ended up wanting design so naturally I agreed… All the while longing for the day when I would have enough money saved to pursue my passions through internet marketing. Finally decided to take the plunge.

    Thanks much for sharing your inspiring story. And thank you Pam for introducing us to Emma.

  30. Dave Kaiser says:

    Congratulations, Emma! Now go fail fast and learn to succeed!

  31. Sally F says:

    Oh, yes. You have no idea how yes. Thank you for posting.

  32. Laurie Foley says:

    Pam and Emma – I LOVE this post! You totally choked me up. Then I had to go listen to my favorite song about the winding road:

    Yay Emma!

  33. Judy says:

    Congratulations Emma!

    You’ve totally inspired me.
    I was laid off from an uninspiring job last Friday. Although I feel afraid of the unknown, I am looking forward to creating a new life doing what I love to do.

  34. Nate says:

    Woah…..this definitely rang true for me. A lot of time we get ‘trapped’ in what we’re doing because we’ve gained skills and become good at it so we don’t want to leave because we’re getting paid for it, or like you say, we think we can do it on our own and start a business around that ‘strength’ even though there’s no passion or love behind it. What we need to do more is listen to our intuition. What are we drawn to? What hobbies do we have that we don’t get paid for and love to do? Look at those and then figure out if you can structure something around that to make a living.

    Such a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing and congratulations. It truly makes me happy to read stories like this and see people who have aligned their vocation with their true self.

  35. Richard says:

    7 months!?!? that’s nuthin’ I’ve been planning, saving and deciding how I want to break free for over 5 years now. The road has been treacherous and didn’t end up where I wanted to go. It’s sent me through toxic bosses, micromanaged work environments and cubile life that is so devoid of life and critical thinking that a life in solitary lockup at a supermax prision seems more appealing.

    This year I finally did it! I started my furniture making business and will work at a non-profit for the summer working on houses. Where I end up I’ll have no idea. At last I’ll be ‘living’ for the first time in 12 years.

    Congrats, Emma!

  36. Jay says:

    Congratulations on doing what you love! That’s really what life is about, spending your time on what excites you and makes you happy. My wife and I recently left our stable corporate jobs to embark on an adventure to something similar – doing what excites us with a longer-term goal of entering the start-up world. Good luck, Emma! It’s sounds like you’re off to a great start!

  37. Colette says:

    Go Emma! I feel a bit of kinship with you, as I know exactly what you mean about being pulled in too many directions. Congrats on your success!

  38. Christy says:

    Em! Yea! You’re on Pam’s blog! Double yea!

    To everyone else, I’ve been hanging out with Emma for awhile here on the interwebs. Enough to know which of the three items in her bio is true.

    This is *exactly* what I needed to hear. You have no idea. You are my superhero(ine)!