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Do You Have to Choose Your Job over Your Passion?

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Job Over Passion

A coaching client once told me he would make time for his family and his passion after he “made it” in his career. He didn’t believe it was possible, or smart, to do anything other than giving work his total focus. We spent months exploring his perspective on work vs everything else in his life. Along the way, I shared this story with him.

For years I had a secret dream. I wanted to get paid to act. In college, I performed in several productions and post-graduation was a regular on the community theater circuit. Still, no matter how many times I was cast, I always wondered if I was good enough to do it professionally.

In truth, one of the biggest barriers between me and getting paid for my talents on the stage was that I also wanted to be a management consultant. I had a great job with a Big Four consulting firm that took me all over the USA. My hours were long, and the work was thankfully interesting. Auditions were something other people went on, and rehearsals would have to fit around my day job. I had a career for goodness sake.

“It’s up to you to feed your passion. Don’t find the time, make the time.”

The one thing I did to keep my passion burning bright was take acting classes – lots of them. I could squeeze them in early on Saturday mornings or late evenings. It was during one of my classes that a friend told me that there were upcoming auditions for Blue Window by Craig Lucas. It was with a real theatre company that paid real (small) salaries to the actors. I said I’d think about it.

The drive into the city was a tense one; my monologue ran through my head over and over. A voice inside of me said I wasn’t good enough and didn’t belong there. Evidently, that voice was wrong; I got a callback. If you’re not familiar with callbacks, it means I made the first cut and was invited to a second audition. The call back was for the following Tuesday.

Back at the office, my manager called me into her office. Our team was taking a significant risk and proposing a radical new training approach for our client’s sales force. I was leading the charge on a portion of the program, and my manager wanted me to go and represent the team in a critical meeting in Chicago the following week. I’d be offsite in Chicago Monday to Wednesday.

“Not every opportunity is the one that someone wants… even when it looks great from the outside. There are times that the big reward is, well, a punishment.”

The company I worked for was an up or out organization. You either kicked butt and promoted up the ladder, or you were politely counseled out and asked to leave. Expectations were high but so was the challenge and the rewards.

For the first time, my dream came face to face with my job.  

Did I tell my manager I couldn’t go?

Suck it up and get on the plane?

Make up an excuse?

Suddenly get “sick”?

I decided to go with the truth.

I took a deep breath and knocked on her office door. The opportunity to represent our team in Chicago was fantastic and one that I appreciated. However, I got called back for a play. A professional production. No, no one knew about the audition. Yes, if I got cast, I’d make it work with our work.

Then, instead of telling me to call travel and book my tickets, she told me she’d send someone else to Chicago. The audition mattered, and I should go.

Related: The Most Successful Leaders Ask Open-Ended Questions – Do You?

10 things I learned the day I shared my secret passion:

When something matters, speak up.

Working full time doesn’t mean that your side passion has to die.

Even if it’s not clear how from the onset, there’s always a way to make things work.

Not every right opportunity will come at the right time.

Don’t lie to get what you want, ask for it.

Life is made up of choices, not only opportunities.

Be prepared for the answer you don’t want.

Be ready for what you do want.

You don’t have to wait until you retire to do the things that you want to do.

Outcomes aren’t guaranteed, but it’s still worth it to take the chance.

In case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t get cast in that production of Blue Window. I did, however, keep auditioning and performing. My manager gave me other opportunities, and as it turned out, that project was my absolute favorite in my entire career.

In fact, I found a way to use my side passion and bring it into my consulting work. The merging of the two turned out to be my dream job.

Break the Frame Action: 

Where can you take your know-how from your passion project and bring it into your current work? Identify one action, big or small and commit to giving it a go this week.

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