So, you have spent years developing your craft. Your hobby is beginning to look like something you are ready to turn into a profession. Although you know just how hard it is to get into some kind of business for yourself, you are determined to turn the one thing you are most passionate about… into a life of making money from your dream.
Many moons ago, I was in the same exact situation. I learned a "number of skills" in hopes to one day never be employed by anyone… and to instead survive + thrive by doing what I loved.
I have been purposefully avoiding talking in-depth about this topic on my blog/podcast for the longest time.
Today, I want to dive head-first into it.
As I write, I have no idea how deep I will go. But I’m very sure that this is merely going to be an introduction.
To condense years of experience into a single post is tricky if not impossible. I want to make sure I hit important points… and I want to speak on this, as though you yourself are just beginning to consider pursuing your passion. I think the story will seem better that way.
But know that there is just a lot to pursuing a goal that is literally impossible to put into words. To understand, you need to experience.
To begin, I would like to start by talking a bit about the moment many of us tend to seriously consider a life of pursuing what we are passionate about.
I believe that it is when we become aware of our competence. Specifically, just how good we are technical with a skill we developed over time.
Starting around 2006, when I was 20, I began to really obsess over a hobby I started probably about a year earlier. Graphic Design and Photo Manipulation. Photoshop was a tool that too me felt like a sword I could use to conquer the world.
Yeah… that was me at 20.
So anyway, it was around that time period or shortly afterward that I began to share my passion with the rest of the world and not just my close friends. I was really obsessed with graphics and design.
Eventually, folks who couldn’t do what I could I do began asking if I could help design their logos or brochures, or edit their photos, or design their Christmas cards, wedding invitations… etc.
It was kinda fun at first.
I didn’t get paid for most of the work that I did. And sometimes instead of getting a cash payment, I would barter trade. I will do this for you if you did that for me.
It quickly got “boring” because, the amount of time I spent working on someone else’s project for little to no pay… felt like a waste.
So I briefly put on hold my freelance-but-not-so-freelance career.
I used that time to learn about web design and development in general. The internet was still in its infancy and I wanted to learn something that would make me stand out from the crowd at the time.
SIDENOTE: In hindsight, I am so glad that I did decide to venture into the world of web design as early as I did. I would never have imagined how important it would be for me today.
So I learned some fancy technologies and began designing websites for a handful of people and companies.
This is often the way many of us get our start when it comes to pursuing passions based on a skill we developed.
We learn a skill. We show off that skill. Eventually, we get people interested in hiring us to work on their projects.
SIDENOTE: Now, as we continue into this post, I will randomly highlight key lessons or things that are worth noting. I couldn’t properly organize my thoughts on how I wanted to tackle this topic, so as opposed to making it just strickly point-based… I will instead make it based on how I encountered some of these lessons and how I assume most people going down this same path will.
Maybe it’s worth mentioning that at the time I was in college.
Anyway, as I was working on improving my skills and doing little jobs here and there… I became more aware of the fact that not a lot of people had the skill that I had. Not a lot of people at the time, in my area, we're really offering web and graphic design services.
Yet, as far as I could tell, this was something that was exciting for a lot of people (businesses and people who needed these services). And the few people that I was serving, began to talk about me to their friends/network.
Shortly after that… an interesting being emerged from the shadows.
When you begin to get attention as a person with a marketable technical skill, it is only a matter of time before you bump into the “side-hustle partner who is way ahead of you”.
Who is this person?
Well, that’s a bit difficult for me to say. I mean, I can only give you a definition based on my experience with such people. But that’s like someone from the outside looking in… so I don’t know how accurate that would be.
But basically, these are people who saw the “potential” in what I did and already worked out the plan on how I could use it to get rich, famous, or get a chance to realize even larger opportunities later on.
But at the same time, they usually happened to be people that didn’t practice the skill I practiced. They hardly understood the technical aspects of what I did. They had no idea what it took in terms of time and energy (mental + physical) to produce the kind of work I produced.
At the very least they knew that if I was fed some input, I would produce some output… that we could both sell and profit from.
SIDENOTE: This is typical of the digital age we live in. Some people today do not work laboring (physically demanding) jobs. We instead are “knowledge workers”. We use knowledge to create income. Which is very different from, say a traditional factory job that just requires someone to do some manual physical task. An example is factories that assemble things. You don’t really require deep and complicated skills. It is usually something you can be taught over a session… and would be required to master it over time so that you could do it faster and more efficiently.
I will say that getting to meet Idea Guys over the course of my career has been interesting. I credit them to being the first people to open my eyes to possibilities when it came to what I could do with my skill.
I must admit, I wasn’t the type of person who cared too much about the complexities of businesses. I just liked to do what I was passionate about.
But no two Idea Guys are created equal.
While few actually helped me make some sense of financial progress in our brief encounter, there were those that sold me empty promises. Walking away with free labor and/or services.
This is time and energy I can never get back. But such is the life of one that was as naive as me in the position I was in.
There is a lot I’m leaving out about this period of time when I was just beginning to understand the industry that was web design and development. Frankly, it’s just a lot of story.
But over the course of about 2 years, I was doing gigs to try to see if I could properly cement myself as a unregistered freelancer in the web design and development space.
It was extremely tough. Especially because I was balancing college as well. The money wasn’t that attractive. I was a very weak negotiator, salesperson, and marketer.
Seeing as how this was going to be a serious obstacle in my attempts to build a sustainable business from my passion… I had to think of a way of dealing with it.
Believe me, when I say, I hated business at the time. It was super confusing. Googling articles on how to start a business didn’t help much. Many of those examples didn’t apply to me and my geographical location.
It was tough. But after a rollercoaster experience of freelancing on my own… I decided to look for a job. I was nearing the end of college and I wasn’t making consistent and high enough cash to keep freelancing comfortably.
And it was just so obvious to me that the reason wasn’t the industry, but it was me.
I mean, I knew my passion. I knew my skill. But I didn’t know the business side of it. Just because you are skilled/talented at doing something, does not mean that you are prepared for a world of business and making business-related decisions.
I really need to re-emphasize that I had no knowledge or deep interest in the business side of things. I just thought it was merely a medium used to sell skill.
But I was dead wrong.
Having tried to “market” me and my services during my college years, it was absolutely clear that I wasn’t interested in running a business.
And since my time in college was about to end, I needed to figure out how I was going to survive this world on my own.
So I looked for a job.
And I barely got one around 2010.
I was lucky.
Which kinda makes me laugh to this day because I actually thought I had put in so much work as a freelancer/side-hustler… I thought I would bring something important to the table when I got hired… but instead, that very fact that I didn’t think like a business person… worked against me.
SIDENOTE: Not many of us realize that even in employment or seeking a job, you very much have to sell yourself as though you were your own business. How you sell yourself, how you market yourself… you can’t ignore these things if you want to get ahead in life no matter the path you go down.
But I’m very glad that I got hired. Because from day 1… I knew exactly what I wanted from that hire.
I had a primary and a secondary one.
My primary goal was to learn and understand how a business worked. And I needed to understand that, from the inside. There would be no better alternative to this.
My secondary goal was to make money. I needed to set myself up for success… and I was going to need capital. Lots of it.
Being employed meant that most of my time would be used to serve someone else as opposed to me serving my own needs. So as opposed to balancing both my freelance side and job… I decided it would be a much better option to go extremely and I mean extremely hard on the job.
Climb up the career ladder and make a ton of cash so that when I’m ready to walk away, whether that will be 5 or more years from that moment… then I would be good enough to survive at least 6 months to a year on my own.
That was my thinking back then.
I had figured it out.
Or so I thought.
I was naive.
Years had passed.
I had no idea, just how much control of my time I would be giving up. Nor did I realize just how much control of the way I earned money I DID NOT HAVE based on the time I put in.
But to be honest, that is the corporate world.
You don’t have creative control or the power to tell how a business that hired you… how to do things.
Especially if it’s just so that you can have a fantastic experience while you are employed there.
Businesses have goals. They have objectives. If you, from the inside, can provide something that can help the business meet those goals and objectives faster or more efficiently… you might have a chance of being heard.
But I wouldn’t count on it if you work in a place with like 6 levels of line managers.
The thing is, it took a while to get that. And to understand that it can cause huge problems for you if you attempt to alter the balance of things of a business you do not own in any way… even if it’s from that small position you hold.
It’s never about you. It’s about the business and the team.
Anyway, I was starting to realize that my initial plan of quickly getting to the secondary goal was not going to happen. In fact, I saw my growth curve slowly begin to flatten.
It is at this point that we often have career-based decisions to make.
a) Ask for a raise/promotion b) Polish your resume/CV and try to look for larger opportunities c) Wait
I chose c).
I was still very much determined to prepare myself for a life in business on my own.
I began to double down on learning different aspects of running a business. From marketing to sales, to customer support, to finance, to administration, to product creation…
At the same time, I decided to see if I could restart my side-hustle. Do quick gigs to make money on the side. Initially, I said I would not… but I found myself starting to get desperate.
I really needed to be running my own self-sustaining business… that was based on what I was passionate about… as early into my adult years as possible.
I managed to pull off a few gigs every now and then… but most of my waking moments belonged to my job.
Burnout became a huge problem for me.
I constantly thought about how I wasn’t moving as fast as I thought I would.
It began to depress me.
And I felt alone.
Not too long after that, I began to visibly show signs of a man slowly decaying. Even considering quitting.
It was already 2013 and going onto 2014…
Why was the hustle so difficult? Was this mission that I was on succeed-able?
I had some serious self-doubt.
But not for long.
Eventually, I bounced back. Because there was something very important I discovered.
Talk about a breath of fresh air.
I didn’t know just how badly I needed to connect with someone that was trying to build the kind of life I was trying to build. From my industry.
They had gone through almost most of the things I went through. Just a different place and time period. But we were definitely related as far as hustle was concerned.
Right before I stumbled upon this content, as I said, I was beginning to have self-doubt. I was really questioning whether I had really created a plan that would work. Whether my approach was a smart one.
One of the reasons I had previously gotten depressed was because of a nagging thought that I was terrified about being true.
The thought was this: That there are simply some people who are born to win and that the rest are born to lead mediocre lives or lose. And that you cannot rise from a state that is low… to get something that is very high above. That you were simply not meant to go beyond the level given to you already by society.
I was depressed at the thought that all those years spent… and all the years I would continue to spend… would eventually amount to nothing beyond a very slight improvement… in the life I already had.
This felt so true to me because evidence of it was everywhere. Only a handful of people got to attain life-altering success. Many, are still working in employment positions at ages 60 and above. And many still… have given up entirely.
I had thought about this for such along. It poisoned my mind and spirit for a really long time.
And I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it.
Mostly because I didn’t know anyone who was trying to pursue what I was trying to pursue. I knew deep down that if I talked to a person who hadn’t attained what I wanted to attain… or who themselves had settled for a life that they found okay to work till 80… or who themselves gave up entirely in pursuing or bothering about life… they would just reinforce to me the life they already knew.
But that was only until…
I discovered those podcasts, blog posts… essentially other people who were in my current situation, or further ahead. Fellow pursuers who had learned to overcome the different obstacles that caused me sleepless nights.
The depression cleared from my body like when a 3-day hiker cleanses his body in a clean hot spring.
One thing I liked about these people… was that they said I was doing the right thing. They pointed out some of the things I was doing incorrectly. But my general direction was proper.
They reminded me just why it often takes a long time to get to where you need to go. And they reminded me that the most important thing to focus on was to…
I was reminded by them that the only moment in time we can truly control, is the present. We can’t change the past, but we can begin to re-write our legacy. We cannot predict our future, but we can make very specific contributions to it that will influence how things play out.
I was reminded that whether you succeed or fail, the outcome will greatly be influenced by whether you chose to make progress or not. Because when you don’t work on anything, you cannot expect to get out anything.
Success can be a distraction. Many of us want it, but we don’t realize that it is not an event. It is an outcome. It is a result of something that was done.
Usually, the result of progress is made over time. Today you could be successful. Tomorrow you could be successful. It will depend on how much progress you have racked up towards that thing you are trying to succeed in.
Anyway. Eventually, I realized that to become more efficient at making progress towards my goals… I needed to regain 100% of my time.
As I continued to study business (now from also reading books on building businesses. Coz that’s what fellow pursuers encouraged me to do), I thought about getting back onto the street and starting from absolute scratch. Without hardly any money saved.
Yes. Leaving my job.
I was convinced that if others were able to figure it out… I would as well.
It had been nearly 5 years since I first got into the corporate world and got exposed to the business. I had learned a ton of useful things. Things that I knew would help me. I was confident that I would be able to get into the world of VAT and Withholding Tax and survive it as a business owner.
But deciding to start from scratch, is not easy. It can be a really really really long time before you find financial stability.
Time passes, I get back to my hometown. And I make the case to my parents, other close relatives, and my closest friends that I believe I can start a business.
Talk about “out of the blue”.
They were initially surprised but eventually gave me their blessing.
I’m sure I know what they were thinking, “Wait. Is he serious? Him? Of all people?”
Over the course of my journey, turns out that I had been slowly developing my inner introverted side. Which is something a few of my close people didn’t expect to have happened. But I spent a lot of time alone. Working, learning, thinking, hustling, planning, worrying, drinking…
I got used to it.
So I didn’t share much with anyone about anything.
In fact, I have said more in this blog post than I shared with any other living soul.
Plus… I believe it was a way to prepare myself for the fact that I would have to be my own supporter for a really long time. That I was not going to get as much help as I could get initially.
In the eyes of most… I know I looked like a casualty in life.
Regardless, I took things 1 day at a time. I could only control what I did in a day anyway.
Slowly and painfully over time, I accomplished some significant milestones. Made a few painful sacrifices but ultimately my belief in what I was doing… helped open doors to bigger + better opportunities.
Years have gone by and I have managed to accomplish a good number of my goals. I co-own a business that is all about my core design + development skills (with extra skill sets added over the years). I have tackled large projects that have been exciting and that helped the business grow a reputation. An awesome array of clients and I am hopeful that there is more exciting things to come.
If there is one thing I know when I look at the journey so far…
We often pursue things we think we can succeed at. Rarely do we immediately think about pursuing things we are willing to take a beating for. To pursue a goal is to subject oneself to a lifetime of body blows and celebrations. The rewards may be pretty awesome at times but the body blows can be really painful. If not fatal to the pursuit.
If you are willing to persist and persevere, I have no doubt in my mind that you will realize as I realized that you were meant for that pursuit. You just need to always make sure that you are not just surviving body blows… but that you are also making steady progress.
It is really about being able to appreciate the co-existence of pain and pleasure in that which you pursue.
The only thing that makes it different from anything else is that you CHOOSE your pursuit. You don’t just follow others in theirs. All pursuits have problems. All pursuits have nice things. The question is, which pursuits are worth the sacrifices you will inevitably have to make?
The last thing that I want to share with you that I have realized has been a crucial part of my learning and development is that…
Just because you didn’t get much help going into your pursuit, doesn’t mean you have to leave the room how you found it.
I strongly believe in creating a productive environment/society of forward-thinking pursuers.
The best kinds of gifts you can share with other pursuers are knowledge and support. And ensure that you mentor them to pass that down to those that will follow them.
I would be in a totally different place right now if that structure existed when I was just getting started.
So moving forward, I believe there is something I can do to help those that follow… get the support they need in their pursuits.
It is not easy.
It is very painful at times.
But those of us who have seen some of the worst moments of it, know that it is survivable.
Telling a pursuer just that alone is more helpful than you can imagine.
Many begin their journeys not believing in themselves. But I’m sure that you will agree if I say that the world can be a richer more exciting place if more people pursue their passions.
CLOSING SIDENOTE: In case you know me and are wondering why I made this post about passion for design + development and not game development… Well, that is a tale that needs its own timeline of events. What about music and Throne Tower Entertainment? Man… I have lived a life I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. That tale is probably going to be one of the highlights of my entire life.
Have an awesome New Year.
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