This time last year, I was working full-time as a mental health counselor.
On the surface, I had it all; a nice office, great work colleagues, a decent salary. But something deep within my soul just wasn't satisfied.
If I stayed in my role, I knew exactly where I was going to be in ten years. That was frightening to me. I wanted to take charge of my life and let my creativity lead the way; to create my own opportunities and not be bound by the rigid routine that having a job demanded.
I wanted to be free -- not from working in general, but from doing work I wasn't committed to.
Every night, I reflected on what I had accomplished that day and thought to think to myself, "Is this really how I want to live my life?"
It wasn't. So I did what any dream-chasing, twenty-something would do.
Fast forward one year later. Now, I'm a full-time entrepreneur, splitting my time between my blog and running a successful freelance photography business. These are the lessons I've learned about quitting your job, starting a business, and following your heart.
We all have dreams.
Mine was to be a full-time blogger.
When I was working full-time, as much as I wanted to quit my job and just put all my energy into writing posts, I still had to pay the bills.
But I was restless. I knew I needed more time throughout the week to work on my own projects or I'd never realize my dreams. So I moved down to part-time and made a plan to keep myself afloat with my savings if I needed to.
When your passion isn't paying you, find something that does.
Working less hours was the perfect solution. Though I wasn't making much money, I was finally devoting myself to something I was passionate about. I finally felt free.
But freedom comes at a cost, of course.
After a couple of months of blogging, I had to face the unfortunate truth: it wasn't making me any money.
I was at a crossroads. With just a part-time paycheck, I was forced to either go back to working full-time, or find another way to make money while I continued to build my online presence.
That's when I decided to start doing freelance photography.
Now, before I continue, know this: I'm not a "born entrepreneur."
Business didn't come naturally for me; in fact it was intimidating and uncomfortable. The thought of selling something to other people made me cringe. But I had to learn how to make money on my own if I wanted to survive.
For the next few months, I built up a solid photography portfolio by asking people if they wanted their photo taken for free. Almost everyone said yes. Eventually, word spread around, and those free clients turned to paid clients. For the first time in my life, I had a real business.
It turns out, the concept of getting paid is simple: Create something people want, then sell it.
I had been spinning my wheels with my blog because I hadn't yet figured out how to deliver the kind of value people would pay for. But with freelance photography, I could offer something real and immediate to my clients: to look and feel good about themselves.
And thus I learned my first lesson in business: Passion doesn't get you paid, results do.
While I was building my photography business, I was hustling full-time with my blog.
I read articles on content marketing, copywriting, and selling. I reached out to influential bloggers. I watched Youtube interviews of leaders in the industry. I read books. I wrote down all of my ideas, no matter how crazy they sounded.
Most importantly, I wrote -- a lot. I'd wake up at five or six in the morning every day and write until the early afternoon.
Over time, my work began to transform. I was becoming better.
I started getting daily mentions on Twitter. People would email me and express how much my writing inspired them; one of my readers even told me he quit his dead-end job after reading one of my posts!
Things soared to new heights when my very first pitch to The Huffington Post was accepted within forty-eight hours. After writing four articles for them, I became a contributor. This exposure catapulted my writing success, earning me hundreds of subscribers to my blog in just a matter of months.
Having this newfound fan base was my opportunity to create something valuable. I emailed all my subscribers and asked them one question: What's your biggest frustration with pursuing your passion?
As it turned out, many of them were interested in creating their own platform, just like I had with my blog, but they didn't know where to begin. This was my chance to create a valuable product.
So I spent an entire month creating a comprehensive, email-based course on how to build a successful blog, keeping them updated on my progress along the way. During the six-day prelaunch sale, I made just under $500.
Value first, money second.
My email course sold so well because I poured my heart into each lesson I wrote. I knew that it was going to save a huge amount of time and frustration for anyone looking to get started with blogging.
It wasn't until I took the time to listen to what my readers really wanted that I started making money.
This concept isn't exclusive to blogging, but business in general. People see right through you if your aim is to just get paid. But when you're committed to solving their problems -- when you're genuine and passionate about what you do -- you win their business. As Seth Godin says, "Don't find customers for your products; find products for your customers."
Live with purpose.
Right after I quit my job, the uncertainty started to creep in. Could I really make it on my own? Was I being delusional for wanting something more? Did I make a huge mistake?
Of course, this is expected; we're human beings. We fall into comfortable routines in life, and when something disrupts that, we panic.
Ultimately, I knew I made the right choice because I never felt truly connected to my work at my full-time job. Now that I'm making a living with my blog and photography business, I wake up each day with a sense of true purpose.
Quitting my job forced me to venture outside of my comfort zone, where I discovered just how self-sufficient I really am. I learned that I didn't have to settle for a mediocre career; that I could actually support myself doing something I loved.
Realize that you don't have to settle for work that doesn't set your soul on fire; your heart has a way of telling you when you're capable of doing more.
And if your dream is to start a business, focus on creating something valuable. Commit to doing the hard work and give people what they're looking for. When you do those things, you'll find that achieving your dreams isn't so impossible after all.
If you enjoyed this article, check out my guide, Stop Dreaming and Start Doing: How To Actually Do What You Love, for free at peoplepassionate.com
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