‘Everything you can imagine is real.’ ~Pablo Picasso
By Leo Babauta
When I wrote the first words of this blog, more than five years ago, I had no idea those few keystrokes would change my life.
I thought I was doing nothing more than reflecting on the changes that had been happening in my life, sharing a bit about what I learned with a handful of friends. I thought those tinkling of computer keys would fade into the void, as most of my thoughts had before that.
I didn’t imagine that a year later, I would have 26,000 people reading my blog (and eventually a quarter million subscribers), that I’d finally be out of debt, that I’d have my first book publishing contract, that I’d happily hand in my resignation for my day job. All of that was out of the realm of possibility.
That’s the amazing realization here: that we rule out the possibility of great change, because it doesn’t seem realistic. For nearly two decades I focused on going to college, and working at a day job that I sometimes enjoyed but often dreaded, because that’s what we expect should happen. Starting my own business, pursuing my dreams, doing something I loved? Crazy talk.
Crazy talk is what I’m going to give you today, in hopes that perhaps one of you will expand your possibilities. It is possible — I did it, all while working a full-time job, doing free-lance writing on the side, and having a wife and six kids. I did it, even if I never dared to dream it for the first three decades of my life.
I am not someone who likes to give career advice, or teach people to be online entrepreneurs. So I’m not going to do that here. I’ll just tell you this: it’s possible. Yes, it absolutely is possible.
And I’ll share what I’ve learned, in small snippets of goodness, about doing what you love.
- If you don’t think it’s possible, do a small easy test. Don’t think you can start a blog? Sign up for a free WordPress.com or Blogger.com account and do a short post. Don’t tell anyone about it. Just write a post. It costs nothing, risks nothing, takes almost no time. But you will learn you can do that one little thing, and if you pass that test, you now know your theory of impossibility was wrong. You can do this with any skill, btw, not just blogging.
- Expand your tests. If you pass the first test, do another small one. Then another. Keep going and notice your confidence grow. Your skills grow along with the confidence. It’s amazingly simple. Iterate and re-iterate as long as you are having fun.
- If you don’t know what you love, don’t worry. There’s no need to figure that out right away. Try something that someone else is doing, and see if you think it’s fun. The real fun part, btw, comes when you start to get good at it, so perhaps stick with it for awhile and enjoy the learning, then enjoy being good at it. If that first try doesn’t work, try something else. You don’t have to commit to one thing for your entire life. You can do a dozen a year if you want, for a decade. You’ll probably find something by then.
- Find inspiration. Who else is doing what you love doing? Who is excited about it most? Follow them. Learn about them. See what path they took. Watch closely how they execute, what they do right. Learn from the best.
- Reach out to a mentor. Of the people who inspire you the most, try to make contact with a few of them. If they never respond, try a few more. See if you can buy them lunch or coffee. Don’t pitch them on anything. Just ask for their help, and say you’d love for them to mentor you in a way that won’t take up much of their time. Don’t demand a lot of time, but go to them when you’re having trouble making big decisions.
- Choose one passion at random. Some people have many interests and don’t know where to start. Pick one or two randomly if they’re all about equal, and just get started. Don’t let choice paralyze you. Get started, because in the end it won’t matter if you started with the wrong passion — you’ll learn something valuable no matter what. Read more.
- Get good at it. You get good at something with practice. Allow your friends and family to be your first audience, readers, customers. Then take on a few others at a low cost, or increase your audience slowly. But always have an audience or customers if possible — you’ll get good much faster this way, with feedback and accountability. Read about it. Watch videos. Take a class. Join a group of others learning. Find people to partner with. Before long, you’ll be good at it.
- Help others. One of the best ways to get good at something is to help others learn. Making someone’s life better with your new skill is also an amazing way to get satisfaction out of what you do, to love what you do. Help as many people as you can in any way possible — it will pay off.
- Find your voice. Eventually, as you master your skill, you will learn that you are different than the thousands of others doing it. You will find your uniqueness. It’s not necessarily there at first, because you might not have the technical skills to express yourself. But eventually, find that voice. Find the thing that sets you apart, that helps you to stand out from the crowd. Then emphasize that. Read more.
- How can you be valuable? What can you do that is valuable to others? Sometimes it’s doing something that they really need. Sometimes it’s doing it better than others. Sometimes it’s saving people time, or money. Other times it’s just making their lives better, brighter, pleasanter in some way.
- Become an expert. If you get good at something, and help others, and find a voice, and become valuable — you’ll become an expert at what you do. Others will turn to you for advice. Help them. Read more.
- Sell your own stuff. I’ve found that the best way to make a revenue, by far, is by selling your own stuff. I’ve tried ads and affiliate links, and while I have nothing against those things, the thing that works best for me is selling my own stuff. I’ve already proven to my audience that I’m valuable and honest and trustworthy, and so they are much more likely to want something that I’ve created than something I recommend made by others. So create something valuable that will help others, and sell it.
- Don’t be a jerk. Too many people online are so worried about maximizing subscriber numbers or pageviews that they do things that are disrespectful to their readers. Asking me to click “Next Page” five times to read your article? Jerk move. Having a pop-up asking me to subscribe before I’ve even read the article I came to read? Jerk move. Screaming at me to “Like” your page on Facebook, when I could decide that on my own without being asked if the article was really good? Jerk move. Learn to feel what is respectful, and what’s a jerk move.
- Don’t let numbers rule you. Numbers are arbitrary and basically worthless. How many readers do you have? No one really knows, and in the end the number of readers doesn’t matter as much as things like: how much do they care about your articles, how much have you helped them, how much do they trust you, how excited are they? Pageviews don’t matter, neither do Facebook fans or Twitter followers or the number of people on your mailing list. Instead of worrying about numbers, pour yourself into your work, make yourself incredibly valuable, help people as much as possible, love what you do. The numbers will come as a side effect.
- It’s the doing and loving that matters. Many people focus on growing, or hitting goals, or making money, but they forget what matters. What matters most is loving what you do. If you love it, and you’re doing it, you’ve already succeeded. Don’t worry so much about achieving certain levels of success — people push themselves so hard to reach those things that they forget to enjoy what they’re doing, and in the process they lose the reason they’re doing it in the first place.
- Dream bigger. Once you’ve overcome the initial fear and started to become good at something you love, dream bigger. The first stage is small steps, but don’t stop there. You can change lives. You can change the world. Doing so will change you.