11/05/2012 07:56 am ET Updated Jan 05, 2013

Do What You Can and the Passion May Follow

Remember the old saw, so popular among baby boomers, "do what you love and the money will follow"? The idea behind it gave us hope -- hope that work was more than a path to material success, that it was about doing something meaningful. Spiritual, even. Work was good for the soul and more.

That was a long time ago, when boomers could afford to dream and many wound up turning dreams into fortunes. More important than the money, doing what you love became a new form of self-actualization, trumping everything else in life.

Now everything's changed. A new economic reality has set in, and the mantra for our times has become for many: "Do what you can and the passion may follow." I hear my friends talking about the new reality and how it's shaping the advice they give to their children.

They're conflicted; they want their kids to find spiritually satisfying work but they're also concerned about their children finding work at all. I advise them to focus on the "can do" part first, and the "do what you love" part will happen if the work is done with the right attitude. Everyone has the capacity to turn what they "can do" into a labor of love.

And I also recommend that they read a New York Times op-ed piece penned by computer scientist Cal Newport. Newport says, "Passion is not something you follow. It's something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable to the world."

I think Mr. Newport is right; I have learned that within us is the strength and the endurance to reach for the stars with whatever we do so it can make a positive difference in the world. Do this, and the passion will follow.

Although I'm well along my career path now, my trajectory has actually followed what may be the new norm. Forty years ago, I chose teaching as my given profession. While I liked the idea of helping children, as time went on, I actually became passionate about my work as an educator. I'm proud of the kids -- many of them from economically depressed areas -- who I spurred on to high school, and some on to college.

During my teaching career, I learned that there is no passion when we play small and settle for mediocrity with whatever we do. I shot for the stars and transmuted my teaching into a labor of love.

After 17 years in the teaching profession, I felt that I'd mastered the profession, and I developed a yearning for something different, something that was a real stretch for me -- starting a business. I chose real estate, because it was tangible and I like tangible things.

I gambled my small savings on a small real estate deal and succeeded. And then I repeated that strategy until I'd mastered it. Soon, I'd built up a significant portfolio. I would take a worn-out house and revitalize it. Each successful renovation is a two-way street; I nourish the property and the property nourishes me. Isn't that a great definition of work that's good for the soul? It became a labor of love for me.

I don't think I'm unique, but I do suggest the following to anyone wanting to convert their work into a labor of love.

  1. Dare to exaggerate productively. Stretch your imagination beyond what the job offers you. Work creatively and exhaust every possibility that enables you to work efficiently and effectively. Seek excellence with whatever you do.
  2. Make a mountain out of a molehill. Take time to look at the resources you have available and get clear about what you want to achieve. Now turn a molehill of efficient action into a mountain of productive results. To do this, you need a specific image of what you want to accomplish. With this comes a feeling of incredible personal power.
  3. If you want an abundance of money to come to you, learn to love money for what it can do. You will find ways of attracting money when you make it a habit to seek excellence with whatever you do. My acquired passion for seeking excellence and mastery in my real estate business has enabled me to travel extensively and experience life in ways that I couldn't have imagined. I also get great satisfaction donating money to causes that are important to me.

If you open your mind and your heart to the possibility of falling in love with whatever you're doing, and if you aspire to rise above the complexities of your job by seeking excellence with what you do, you will develop a consciousness that embraces and celebrates life. Consequently, you will experience passion and satisfaction unlike anything you've known before.

For more by Rob White, click here.

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