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Pursuing Your Passion to Develop Valued Expertise

March 19th, 2009 by Steve Pavlina

Common advice is to do what you love, and the money will follow. That's close to the truth, but it skips a few critical steps.

Here's a more detailed version. Do what you love. Then work at turning your passion into a practical skill set that allows you to create and deliver real value. Start sharing your creative output with people, and use their feedback to grow and improve, so that you're eventually providing something people truly appreciate. Get your work into people's hands (for free if possible) to build a following. Then set a fair price for your work, and the money will follow. Continue to develop your skill at doing what you love. Periodically adjust your prices to adapt to changes in supply and demand and to reflect the increased value of your service.

Those middle steps usually require a lot of time and effort. It's not that hard to think of something you enjoy doing. The hard part is taking years to really develop your interest into a serious skill set.

Lots of people try to take shortcuts here, and they almost always fail. For example, many people started personal development blogs around the same time I did, but most of those sites were total flops in terms of their ability to attract long-term readers. The people who started them usually gave up within a few months. Some complained that I was lying about my results. Others blamed blogging itself, claiming it was overhyped. Some wrote articles about why professional blogging was just a passing fad.

For the most part, these failure stories involved people in their early or mid-20s, some in their late teens. Most were interested in their topics, some even passionately so. But they hadn't yet put in the time to turn their hobbies into serious skills. They didn't understand how to provide value to others. Their failure was inevitable.

My Story

Before I started StevePavlina.com, I'd been working on personal growth for almost 15 years. I'd listened to dozens of audio programs (some of them more than 50 times each), attended seminars, and read hundreds of personal development books. I'd been conducting personal growth experiments for most of my adult life. I'd already been a vegetarian for 11 years and a vegan for 7 years. I had run a marathon and trained in martial arts. I'd been married for 6 years and had two kids. I'd served as president of a non-profit association.

In addition to that, I'd already written a couple dozen published articles, some of which had become very popular. I'd been getting feedback on my articles for years. I'd been paid thousands of dollars to write articles for a major online publication.

I was already an experienced entrepreneur with 10 years of experience. I'd learned how to make a sustainable income online. I knew how to create a website, achieve good search rankings, build traffic, sell downloadable products, and lots more.

I'd had almost 25 years of computer experience. I got my first email account in 1989. I created my first website in 1995.

The reason I started a personal development business in 2004 wasn't just because I was passionate about the topic. Tons of other people are passionate about it too. The reason I started a business was that I realized I could actually provide serious value for people. I believed I could provide a useful service that would help a lot of people grow. That requires a lot more than raw passion.

I would NOT have been qualified to run a successful personal development business when I was 22 years old. If I'd tried to do this back then, I doubt I'd have been very good at it. Heck, I wasn't even very good at starting my computer games business back then.

I'm not saying you can't succeed in your early 20s. I'm simply saying that if you want to generate real income from your passion, you need to develop some serious skills. You need to do more than crank out low-quality content or provide a low-quality service just because you enjoy it. It's great to be doing what you love, but you need to go a few steps beyond that to enjoy sustainable long-term success.

Erin's Story

Erin began having unusual psychic experiences at a very young age. When she was only 4 years old, she used to go around telling people she had ESP. She would tell people she could read their minds. She'd blurt out predictions that would later come to pass. She was good at freaking people out. :)

In high school Erin started giving psychic readings to her classmates. In her spare time, she would practice astral projection with a few friends who were deeply into it. Things got so serious that she had to back off for a while. Suffice it to say that she had an unusual reputation in high school.

Years before she began offering readings professionally, Erin was studying paranormal phenomena. When I first met her in 1994, I noticed that she had many well-worn books about lucid dreaming, astral projection, psychic development, and more. She'd also gotten readings from other professional psychics and had some memorable experiences.

When Erin decided to go pro in 2006, she worked to develop her talent into a serious skill that could provide strong value for others. She read more books, listened to audio programs, and attended live workshops with some of the best psychic mediums and professional intuitives on earth. She practiced different styles of meditation to see which enabled her to tune in best. She got readings with other psychics to learn from them. She did dozens of free readings to hone her skills. She even tuned in to her spirit guides and got advice from them. She did all of this to hone a talent she'd already been using for 30+ years.

As a result of pushing herself, Erin saw tremendous growth in her abilities, which allowed her to deliver more value to her clients in less time. As she completed hundreds of readings and word of mouth spread, she had to keep raising her rates to keep up with the demand. Consequently, her reading prices today are about 10 times higher than they were when she first went pro in 2006. (If she didn't set her rates at this level, she'd likely be stricken with a multi-year waiting list, which would be a ridiculous situation since no one would be able to get a timely appointment.)

Erin could have coasted if she wanted to. She could have settled for "good enough." She could have been content with the talent and skill she had. She could have given $15 readings like many amateurs in her field do. Instead she pushed herself to get really good. She's always seeking to gain that extra edge that helps her become a clearer channel, so she can provide a better service for her clients.

The key point is that Erin took deliberate steps to turn her passion into a serious skill capable of delivering real value to people. This is why she gets feedback from clients like, "I'm stunned. You just helped me figure out in 30 minutes what would have taken me 3 years of therapy to unravel." The reason she's able to earn such a high rate for her work (currently $497 for a 30-minute phone reading) isn't because of her innate talent. It's because she worked hard to turn that talent into a service that helps people achieve breakthroughs quickly. Many people have some intuitive ability, but very few take the time to develop it into skill that can change people's lives in a matter of minutes.

I encourage you to commit to a similar process of skill refinement if you haven't already done so. Take what you're passionate about, and put some serious effort into it. Turn your passion into a skill that can be used to create a lot of value for others. This is a pattern common to high achievers. Who wants to spend their life as an under-achiever anyway?

Everyone has hobbies. We all have activities we enjoy doing. But few will go that extra mile and turn their interests into major skills.

By the way, our daughter is named Emily Skye Pavlina. So as it turned out, Erin really did have ESP. ;)

Developing Expertise

Here's some advice on how to become an expert in your chosen field.

Leverage your natural strengths and talents.

You can build skill in almost any field through sheer force of will; however, you'll get better results if you focus on areas where you already possess some natural talent. Erin learned that she had unusual psychic and intuitive skills; she could perceive things that other people couldn't. I learned that I was unusually good at problem-solving; I could see solutions that others couldn't. Through many years of self development, Erin and I built these natural talents into major strengths. We also developed other skills to further leverage these strengths, such as our writing and communication skills.

Do what you love.

Experts love their work. They work in fields they're deeply passionate about. Money is NOT their primary motivation. Even self-made multi-millionaires are generally more enthralled by the game and the challenge of earning large sums of money vs. the money itself. Let your passion drive your expertise. In my own life, the main role of money is simply to make my work as sustainable as possible. Generating a sufficient level of income from my passion means I can do more of what I love without being distracted by scarcity-induced problems.

Learn from other experts.

Experts typically spend years, often decades, honing their knowledge and skills in a particular field. Accelerate your learning by buying their educational products, attending their workshops, and if possible, communicating with them one-on-one. Even if you think you're quite the expert already, keep exposing yourself to fresh input. Genuine experts are lifelong students. They see learning as an ongoing process that never ends. Never become such a know-it-all that you close your mind to new ideas.

Share your expertise.

Use your talents and skills to provide value to others, even if you aren't that good yet. The feedback you receive will help you grow faster. Once you become halfway decent, you can begin generating income from your work, which sustains you in the long run and prevents you from wasting time with a less suitable job just to pay the bills. As a result you can spend more time doing what you're best at. Your expertise is a gift to be shared for the betterment of all.

Stay frosty.

Prevent yourself from becoming myopic. Step outside your primary field, and expose yourself to totally different fields of knowledge. Many personal growth experts draw heavily upon their prior experiences working in other fields such as sales, real estate, and comedy. Their unique perspective gives them many original insights to share. Many of my best personal growth insights came from working in the software industry, and I often use video game analogies in my writing.

Take action.

Talking about what you love does not equal doing what you love. If you want to write music, then sit down and compose something instead of whining about the RIAA's latest misdeeds. If you want to be a writer, go write an article or short story and publish it online within 24 hours instead of makings lists of stuff to write about. If you want to be a dancer, put on some music, start dancing, and post a video on YouTube. Just shut up and go create something. Then get it into people's hands as soon as it's done. In the words of Curly Howard, "If at first you don't suck seed, keep on suckin' till you do suck seed." If Curly can become a beloved actor, still making people smile 57 years after his death, what excuse do you have?

Keep your eye on creating value.

As you build your skills and soak up new knowledge, think about how you can apply what you know to help people in the real world. If you can't see how you'll eventually apply what you're learning, most likely you're going to forget it anyway. When I took programming classes in college, I studied a lot of computation theory that was largely useless outside academic circles. I learned to create value for others mainly by working on my own programming projects outside of class. I learned more about practical programming by purchasing programming books from the local bookstore as opposed to reading computer science textbooks.

If you're currently attending college, learn to discern which classes are helping you create value... and which are mostly mental masturbation. Of all the material I studied in college, less than 10% of it was of any practical use in terms of enhancing my ability to create value. That isn't to say the other 90% wasn't interesting too, but it really didn't help me much in my future career development, and I actually went to work in a field that aligned perfectly with my degrees. I double-majored in math and computer science and went on to develop computer games for many years. Very little of what I learned in college was of any use to me in the real world.

From Passion to Professional

Doing what you love is a good first step. But it's not the only step if you actually want to make a sustainable living doing what you love.

Lots of people are passionate about music, but how many can compose a song that you and I would care to listen to? And how many of those can create something we'd be willing to pay good money for? This might sound harsh, but the main reason people fail to generate income from their passionate love of music is because they stink as musicians. They aren't very good at all. Some are in major denial about it, so they blame their lack of success on external entities like the music industry. But if they were to devote a decade to seriously developing their skills, they'd have a good chance of generating real income from their work. There's no need to make excuses when you're seriously good at what you do.

Doing what you love is wonderful. Who wants to spend their life doing work they don't enjoy? That would be utterly stupid. There's no need to enslave yourself in cubicle city just because you lack the skill to earn income any other way. Start doing more of what you naturally enjoy. Put in the time to get good at it. Focus on practical learning, not mental masturbation.

You will get there if you stick with it.