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I’m going to tell you something kind of embarrassing about myself. In 2015, I was working in student affairs full-time at the University of Iowa. I loved my coworkers and a lot of parts about my job, but overall, I wasn’t feeling happy or fulfilled in my role. I was waking up early each morning, making myself a kodiak pancake and watching an episode of something in bed before I got ready for work each day. The sad and embarrassing thing is that routine was the best part of my day. Looking back, I realize I must have been a highly functional depressed person, but it just felt normal to me at the time.
Two of the shows I was watching were, “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Suits”. And yes, I know that the legal industry doesn’t actually work the way it does in drama TV shows, but I saw that the main characters in those shows had something I didn’t. They had passion, purpose, and engagement in their lives.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. One of my supervisors at the time was an Iowa Law school graduate. And although he was working in program management and not as an attorney at the time, he was using the skills and knowledge he gained in law school every single week in his work.
And this is where I lost my way and convinced myself that I could find purpose and fulfillment by pursuing a career in law. My mind desperately tried to connect the dots. It took me back to high school when my English teacher pulled me aside and told me, “Jade, you’re a great writer. I think you’d make an excellent lawyer someday.”
My mind also took me back to the time in undergrad when I won $3,000 for getting first place in an ethics essay contest. My Intro to Law class forced us to enter that contest, and since I won, I thought maybe it was confirming what my teacher told me. Maybe I would make a great lawyer.
And finally, at the time all this was rolling around in my head, I picked up and read, “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. If you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, you’re missing out. Go listen to Bryan Stevenson’s TED Talk, and you’ll see how I convinced myself that I could find purpose in a career in law.
So what did I do? I spent about 2 years convincing myself that I should go to law school!! I took the LSAT twice. I probably spent over $1,000 on test fees, LSAT prep materials, and law school application fees, not to mention endless hours studying. I was accepted to a few schools, including Iowa Law, here in Iowa City.
And here’s where my saving grace came in. At the last minute, I wondered if I should get a dual degree and do the joint JD/MBA program. Instead of spending 3 years on a law degree and 2 years on an MBA, I could get both in four years and save some money.
When I went through the MBA application process, something clicked for me. I remember the interview feeling easy, not only that, but enjoyable. I was excited, not only for what I could do after graduating, but what I would get to do and learn in the program itself. I was reminded of how much I loved learning about management, entrepreneurship, and marketing as an undergraduate. Business has always made sense to me, and I realized that I had just wasted two years of my life pursuing someone else’s passion and purpose.
It didn’t matter how many hours I spent studying, what I scored on my LSAT, how many applications I filled out, or even how many scholarships I got. I learned that efficiency and progress and even goal achievement do not always mean you’re being productive or successful.
Can you be successful in a job you’re not passionate about?
Yes and no. Yes, I do believe that I could have brute forced my way through law school, found a job, and made a decent living. However, that’s not MY version of success. I would have traded time for money, worked long hours, and ended up in the same situation I was in before I quit my job in the first place. No matter how much money I made or promotions I got, I don’t think I would have ever felt successful. And I think the same is true for business owners. No matter how “successful” your business is, if you’re not passionate about your work or the life it enables you to have, you won’t feel successful at the end of the day.
Your business can meet all of the success standards associated with your industry, whether that’s $10k months, a $20k course launch, fully booked mini sessions, or a full coaching roster. But that doesn’t mean your business is successful or productive. In fact, you can hit milestone after milestone while building a business that’s counter-productive to your overall success.
Aligning your Business to Your Passion is Productive
Building a business that doesn’t align to your passions, strengths, lifestyle goals, and purpose is unproductive, no matter how much you achieve. Pursuing someone else’s version of success is unsustainable. It’s a waste of your time and energy!
So much of the conversation about being productive as a business owner is about organizing your to-do list, or setting up systems and workflows or “taking control” of your schedule. Those things are all very helpful pieces of the puzzle, but they’re small pieces of the puzzle, and they certainly aren’t the first step. If you start with those things, it’s like you’re skipping to the last chapter of the book, and missing all of the foundational elements that make that advice relevant.
Before you try to take your business to the next level, you need to get clear on what your version of success looks like. Angela Duckworth, who literally wrote the book on grit, says, “Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” In her book, she explains that people with passion tend to remain committed to the same goals for months and years. Growing a successful business is a long-term commitment. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes some grit. It takes some passion.
THE ROLE OF PASSION IN PRODUCTIVITY
I discovered Melissa Cardon’s work on entrepreneurial passion while reading the book Talk Like TED. Cardon is a Pace University Management professor who published a groundbreaking study titled, “The nature and experience of entrepreneurial passion” in 2009. Through her research, she was able to define what entrepreneurial passion is, the effects it has on businesses, and how you can measure it.
She defines entrepreneurial passion as, “A positive, intense feeling that you experience for something that is profoundly meaningful for you as an individual.” She also clarifies that your entrepreneurial passion should feel core to who you are. You can’t help but think about it and talk about it because it’s part of your identity.
Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. Let’s not wrap up our identities in our businesses, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying, and what I think Cardon is saying, is that the things you are truly passionate about don’t go away. They stick with you, even when you try to convince yourself you’re not passionate about them and apply for law school instead. They don’t come and go in phases. You can probably look back on past seasons of your life all the way back to your childhood and see the passionate threads that run through your story.
Here are a few things that result from entrepreneurial passion:
- You will have increased energy.
- You will have more commitment to your goals.
- You will have more creativity.
- You’re more likely to set higher goals.
- You’ll exhibit greater persistence.
- Your business will record better performance.
- You’re more likely to get investor funding.
Coming Full Circle
Toward the end of my MBA program, I asked one of my favorite professors to review my resume for me. In contrast with my high school teacher who told me that my writing ability would make me into a great lawyer, this professor told me something very different.
He said, “Jade, it’s clear that you can write and you can speak. You could do anything you want to do.” What a contrast. What I learned from this is that different people will have different opinions about what you should do or what you could do, but you need to trust your internal compass. Look for the arrows in your life and in your story that are pointing you in the right direction. Yes, seek advice, but filter that advice through what you know to be true about yourself.
LAST THOUGHTS ON PURSUING YOUR PASSIOn as a small business owner
Productivity isn’t only about how much you get done or even what you achieve. It’s about the person you’re becoming and the life you’re building. The business milestone isn’t the goal. The career accolades aren’t the goal. The goal is that you become more fully yourself and find a way to make your highest contribution to the world. THAT will feel like success! THAT will feel productive!
The goal is to do fulfilling work that matters, that excites you, that makes a difference, and yes, that pays the bills. The goal is to build a life that you don’t want to escape from by waking up at 6am to watch TV, or scroll social media, or take a vacation, or numb yourself with food or alcohol.
PRACTICAL NEXT STEPS FOR PURSUING YOUR PASSION
For the majority of business owners, it wouldn’t be a good move to fire all of your clients and try to start a new, more aligned business this week. So if you’re finding yourself in a position where you feel out of alignment and your work isn’t lighting you up like it used to, here are a few, less drastic next steps to consider.
Clarity on your passion and purpose starts with introspection. Get quiet and check in with yourself. Ask the hard questions. Answer honestly. Do you like the business you’re building? Do you like the life you’re living? Are you passionate about your work? Are you able to show up as fully yourself in your business? Get curious and let yourself sit in the uncomfortable questions and answers for a while.
The first thing I ask my coaching clients to do in my onboarding process is to fill out a comprehensive assessment that asks the hard questions and helps me understand if the foundational pieces are in place for them to build a highly productive business. If they’re not, that’s where we start.
Get an objective perspective by talking to people you trust and who know you and your business well. This could be a peer, mentor, or even therapist who will be honest with you. In my own business, I knew I wasn’t passionate about my brand photography business, but it took two really intentional conversations with my friend Arica Olaff who affirmed my strengths in systems, organization and productivity, and my friend Mariah Danielsen, who helped me find my why and put words to the pull I was feeling. Sometimes you just need someone who knows you to shake you a little bit and ask, “What are you doing here?! You’re missing it!”
Start Where You’re At
Lean into your passions in whatever way you can where you’re at. Take a step in the right direction, even if it’s a small step. Make a list of the things that light you up that you could talk about for hours. Brainstorm some ways that you could lean into those passions TODAY. Maybe you read a book, take a course, do some research, or put your knowledge into practice in some way. For example, maybe you realize that interior design is something you’re passionate about, but it’s not the business you currently have. You could subscribe to an interior design magazine or blog, listen to interior design podcasts or YouTube channels, book your next vacation at a fancy hotel, or decide to tackle an interior design project in your own home or for a friend. At the end of the day, you may realize it’s a passion that’s better kept as a personal interest, and that’s okay! But without taking action, you’ll never find clarity on what your underlying passions are or how you can integrate them into your business. Oprah is quoted saying, “You’ve got to follow your passion. You’ve got to figure out what it is you love – who you really are. And have the courage to do that. I believe that the only courage anybody ever needs is the courage to follow your own dreams.”
Follow your Own Dreams
I think as business owners, we can all agree that staying in a job you hate just because it pays the bills is a waste of time. But the more dangerous trap is to build a business that gives you status and financial success but still sucks your joy. This is MY passion. I’m passionate about helping women unlock their highest levels of productivity, not only by automating your client workflow or packaging a more scalable offer, but by leaning into your passions so you can truly unlock your potential and build a sustainable business that won’t burn you out.
The Business Edit Coaching Program is a 12-week program for creative business owners, think photographers, designers, coaches, writers, etc.) who are ready to break the cycle of overwhelm, step off of the hamster wheel, and start building a business that gives them the freedom and flexibility they crave.
If you feel stuck in your business, you don’t have to stay there. Take the next step and apply for the Business Edit Coaching Program today.
Links and Resources Mentioned in This Episode
- Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo
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