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Success, Passion, & the Key to Doing What You Love

Growing up an only child, I find that I spend the majority of my life in “listening mode” as a natural observer to life. It’s not that I lack participatory desire, it’s just that it’s sometimes easier to watch life and situations unfold as if it were a movie, learn your lessons from those around you, and act accordingly in your own life — almost like a Chess game, if you will (although, I’m terrible at Chess, I’m not going to lie here). As a result, it’s no secret that I usually fit into the therapist role in most of my interpersonal relationships, mostly because I’m a good listener and I have a great memory.

But life is meaningless if we don’t share what we learn, so when I start to see common patterns among those around me, I usually find it’s time to write about it so that others may find some relief in their silent struggles. This is an attempt at that, perhaps my first publicly in a blog, as I also like fixing things. I guess we’ll call that the Entrepreneur in me.

Over the past month, I’ve noticed a lot of my friends struggling with purpose, with finding a way to make money doing what they love, and ultimately about achieving “success”. I haven’t quite pinpointed if the source of the issue is the age bracket, given that the mid-to-late-20s is a time of “trying to figure it out” (it being adulthood), feeling like you are “not measuring up” with the expectations you set for your life when you were but a tween, or if it’s merely a broader concern that plagues most adults at some point in their life.

Either way, I’ve had a lot (and I mean a LOT) of friends come to me lately about this. They’re stuck in their careers, they don’t know the next step forward, they don’t know what they want, they don’t know how to make their passion a success, they don’t know how to evolve their businesses, they don’t know how to get that job, they don’t know how to break into the industry, etc. etc. They just don’t know how to get to where they want to go. I get it. Life is tough. We’re all afraid of making the wrong choice.

So how do you figure it out?

I certainly don’t know the answer, but given the things I do know about life, I can point to a few things that you can do at this very moment to help you find your passion, define and achieve success, as well as do what you love all at the same time.

  1. Define Success
  2. “I think the first half of my 20s I felt I had to achieve, achieve, achieve. A lot of men do this. I’m looking around now and I’m like, Where am I running?” – Justin Timberlake

    Have you ever gone on a road trip? If you don’t have a destination in mind, it’s really fun for the first few hours. Until you start to realize that sometimes not knowing the destination isn’t really that fun. In order for you to achieve success, you have to know what success is to you. Is success earning $1M a year? Is it a new car? Is it a vacation? Is it a marriage? Is it kids? Is it inner peace? Is it living in your favorite city? Only you know those answers. Figure out what it is, and then you can begin starting to achieve it.

  3. Don’t take no for an answer
  4. I was lucky to grow up in an entrepreneurial family with two very strong individuals as parents. Neither one ever took no for an answer. Life was never about the negative — it was never about not being able to achieve something; instead, it was about finding the solution. Have a problem? There are probably 18 million solutions that will solve your problem. You just have to find the one that works for you, that fits within your variables (budget, time, energy, location, etc.). Too often people rely on other people for those solutions (which IS a solution, but not always the right one). Don’t. Really try to think outside the box on how you can achieve your goals.

  5. Reverse engineer your problems
  6. “There’s no such thing as overnight success. That’s my concern with a show like American Idol. It encourages the false belief that there’s a kind of magic, that you can be ‘discovered.’ That may be the way television works, but it’s not the way the world works. Rising to the top of any field requires an enormous amount of dedication, focus, drive, talent, and 99 factors that they don’t show on television. It’s not simply about being picked. Which, by the way, is why very few of the anointed winners on American Idol have gone on to true success. Most have flamed out and gone away. That should tell us something.” – Malcolm Gladwell

    Life is much simpler than we make it out to be. Look at your end result and reverse engineer from there how you need to get there. Knowledge is almost always the key to this.

    As an example from my own life, I always knew that I wanted to be in the music business in high school. Despite being a talented athlete and getting a multitude of full ride scholarships to play both volleyball and softball, I wasn’t going to do anything other than actively work towards getting into the musicbiz. I spent a LOT of time researching the best schools in the country for music and ultimately opted for Middle Tennessee State, one of the top 3 schools in the country for Music Business, knowing that it was close to Nashville and I’d have some of the best professors possible. During my last year of college, I knew that I needed to continue to experience the industry with people at the top of their game, so I got an internship at one of the biggest artist management firms in Nashville. I dedicated myself to being the best Intern possible, which turned my measly internship into a paid position. I knew that to get where I wanted, which was to be an artist manager, that I had to work with the best people possible and learn from them. In order to do that, I needed a degree, I needed proximity, I needed connections, and I needed an opportunity. Once I learned the ropes, I could re-assess what I learned, and I could put a new plan of action together.

    While my goals and definition of success change on a daily basis, I am consistent in setting new goals for myself and ultimately reverse engineering what will be the best and fastest way to get to those new goals that work within the variables that I have. For example, I could have gone to Berkelee in Boston, but I didn’t want to play an instrument for school (a requirement). I could have gone to NYU, but I didn’t want to live in NYC because it was way too much for this small town farm girl. I could have taken a full ride and gotten a degree for nothing, but I would have done absolutely nothing for my career. MTSU, while still a venture out of my comfort zone because of its size and distance from home, was perfect for my goals. I still got a top notch education that worked within what I was willing and/or not willing to sacrifice.

    Now let’s say I didn’t get the internship at Vector, what then? Find another company. Find a record label. Find a publishing company. Not every solution is going to meet all of your answers, but as long as it fulfills a small part of getting to you the next step, it’s a solution. Keep finding solutions to your problem until you find the one that works. If you consistently look for ways to make yourself better at whatever your passion is, there is no other outcome other than to be successful. It may happen right away, and it may not.

  7. Don’t have expectations
  8. “There’s an idea I came across a few years ago that I love: My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance and in inverse proportion to my expectations. That’s the key for me. If I can accept the truth of ‘This is what I’m facing — not what can I expect but what I am experiencing now’ — then I have all this freedom to do other things.” – Michael J. Fox

    Which leads me to expectations. Expectations and goals are not the same thing. A goal is a marker, something you can measure as a success or a failure. An expectation is “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.” It is not quantifiable, and it often leads you astray in many ways. I may have had the goal of being the best artist manager in the world, but that didn’t mean that I had the expectation of how I would get there, where it would be, or what that would be like when I got there. It’s a good thing, too, because if I had stuck with my expectation, I certainly wouldn’t be living in Los Angeles, and I certainly wouldn’t have my own company. Minimize your expectations, maximize your goals. Rinse, wash, repeat.

  9. Don’t be tied to an outcome
  10. “A lot of young actors have the idea that, “I’ve got to do this right. There’s a right way to do this.” But there’s no right or wrong. There’s only good and bad. And “bad” usually happens when you’re trying too hard to do it right. There’s a very broad spectrum of things that can inhibit you. The most important thing for actors – and not just actors, but everybody – is to feel loose enough to create what you want to create, and be free to try anything. To have choices.” – Robert DeNiro

    I had this amazing Copyright Law professor at MTSU. She was a woman, which was rare at the time, so I often stopped by her office hours to pick her brain about the business. I asked her once what the best career advice she could give someone was, and this was it in a nutshell. Her plan for her life had always been to work as a lawyer in a corporate banking / investment structure. Because she was open to the opportunities that presented themselves with some of her investment clients, she ended up being a manager for a huge act and breaking it huge in the music business. Turns out, that really made her happy. And so did teaching at college. Be open and malleable to opportunities and know that it’s okay for you to change your mind on what you want. We live longer these days, and you don’t have to be tied to a single career for 50 of your 70 years. Take chances.

  11. Work your a$$ off
  12. “I think people sometimes don’t pay enough attention to what they do. I’ve done well, but the reason is pretty simple: I’ve worked my ass off. The toughest thing a performer can do is make it look as if it comes easy.” – Justin Timberlake

    Anyone who is successful is a testament to the fact that in order to get where you want in life, you will have to work your a$$ off. It will most certainly not come easy, and there will be times when you feel like bludgeoning your forehead into a cement wall outside while you silently wonder why you wanted this in the first place. But nothing replaces passion, and if you love something, you do it even if it breaks your heart sometimes.

    Every time I set a new goal, I work my butt off. When I went to college, I graduated in 3 years. My last year? I worked full time at Vector, commuting an hour to Nashville and back every day, taking classes at night, and working on my undergraduate thesis in my “spare time”. When I moved to Los Angeles, I can’t tell you how many times I spent 70+ hours a week working for someone else, not just to be a good worker, but to learn everything I could as fast as possible. Even now, as an entrepreneur, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten up at 5am and worked until 11pm. Luckily for everyone, my new goal is to not work as hard, but you have to put work in to get where you want in life. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

  13. Re-define success
  14. “Why am I doing the work I’m doing? Why am I friends with this person? Am I living the best life I possibly can? Questions are often looked upon as questions of doubt but I don’t see it that way at all. I question things to stay present, to make sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.” – Joseph Gordon-Levitt

    Don’t feel like you have to stick to a definition of success that your friends have, or that you defined for yourself a long time ago. If I was still living towards my definition of success from my 18-year-old self, I’d be depressed. Make it a point to re-evaluate your definition of success every time you achieve a goal or every year or two. You’d be surprised by how much it changes the more you experience.

    Success to me at 18 was getting a good job so I could one day be a baller in the entertainment industry, mostly so that I could be friends with celebrities and go to cool parties and be popular (isn’t that what everyone thinks about the entertainment industry when you’re a kid?). And then I realized that most of the people I wanted to befriend weren’t that cool, that parties are way overrated, that being popular isn’t popular, and that you can never be a baller working for someone else; so I started my own company. Now I realize that success is not being caught up in the rat race, but doing what you love, fulfilling your passion, and getting paid to do it with the least amount of stress possible.

  15. Live a full life
  16. “This is the key to life: the ability to reflect, the ability to know yourself, the ability to pause for a second before reacting automatically. If you can truly know yourself, you will begin the journey of transformation.” – Deepak Chopra

    Probably the one thing that I have learned over the past five years is that success means nothing without having a life you’re in love with. And the only way you can love your life is to truly know who you are, what you want, what makes you happy, and that you’re actively pursuing those endeavors. You have to be fulfilled and balanced in your mind, body, and spirit, to really be able to enjoy life. If you’re working too hard, your health and your relationships suffer. If you party too hard, your work, health, and relationships suffer. A balance between all things is the most ideal way to live a full life — because isn’t success meaningless if you have no one to share it with, or if you’re not healthy enough to enjoy it?

  17. Stop being afraid of making mistakes
  18. “When I was younger I’d berate myself: You’re fat, you’re not a good dancer, you’ll never have a boyfriend. I don’t sweat that kind of stuff anymore. Now every day is a miracle. I’ve also learned that if something is painful or upsetting, you shouldn’t hide from it. You should make it part of your life instead.” – Valerie Harper

    Everyone is in a hurry. No one wants to make mistakes. But at the end of the day, I think the mistakes are possibly some of the best things I’ve done in my life — not because I did them, but because they happened and I learned from them. I’m a better person because of all of the things I’ve done wrong. I’m proud to make mistakes, and I’m the first one to tell you when I’ve made one. How can we learn and get better if we don’t actively try to get better? No one’s perfect, and no one should want to be. So why does it matter if the job or the guy or the city or the lifestyle isn’t the right one? You can always change your path.

    Always.

    So, in conclusion — life is what you make it. So go make your life, not a living. If you do, you’ll never have to worry about how to make your passion into a success because you’ll already have everything you need. That is truly the key to doing what you love, in my opinion.

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Tori Kyes is a Los Angeles-based writer/producer and entrepreneur. She specializes in social media, technology, and entertainment. She's also an advocate for social change, a marathon runner, Ph. D student (Media Psychology), gratitude giver, and lover of life.

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