writers desk in 1979

First, figure out what you love to do. Then figure out how to make money doing it.

writers desk in 1979
My desk at home in 1979, including my full writer’s kit – paper, pen, manual typewriter, ashtray, coffee mug, and a small bottle of Bell's Whisky.

I pretty much stumbled into my first job as a copywriter. Up until a few days before I sat down to write my first ad, I didn’t even know that copywriters existed.

I was working as a management trainee at an ad agency in London. That meant I was being shuffled from department to department, so I could get a rounded education in the agency business. I was 22 years old.

After a stint in the media and production departments, I was passed on to the creative department. The creative director sat me down and asked me whether I was a designer or a writer. I told him I was a writer. Sure, I had done a stint at art college, but at heart I had always liked writing best.

Since the day I wrote that first ad – for a forklift truck company – I have been writing for a living. (They stopped shuffling me around, and left me in the creative department.)

I had always loved writing, and at the age of 22 I had found a way to make money doing what I loved. Lucky me.

Today, over 30 years later, I coach a lot of freelancers who seem to be trying to do this the other way around. When I ask them why they want to be a copywriter, designer, programmer or freelancer in some other way, they usually tell me they have heard it’s a good way to make money.

I think that approach makes things a lot harder for them.

I have succeeded as a copywriter and then a web writer simply because I love to write, and I’m fascinated by business.

Back in my early twenties I would work all day, and then spend many of my evenings and weekends writing ads simply as practice. I didn’t have to. I did that because I loved what I was doing. And I became better and better at writing as a result of all those extra hours.

Freelancers receive all kinds of good advice about how to make a decent living. Goal setting. Finding a niche. Marketing. Commitment. Mental toughness. Organization.

This is all good stuff.

But it won’t help you much if you don’t love what you’re doing.

And if you do love what you are doing, all those other elements will fall into place more easily.

So before you leap into your next venture, ask yourself the question, “Do I love doing this?”

If you don’t, pause for a moment and ask yourself this question:

“If I had followed the path of what I loved to do back when I was 22, what would I be doing now?”

Whatever the answer, perhaps you could start doing that now.

When you love what you do for a living, everything changes.

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4 thoughts on “First, figure out what you love to do. Then figure out how to make money doing it.

  1. Love the article and you are absolutely right about doing what you love. The money will follow. It’s just sometimes the money sidetracks to another route on the way to you. LOL!

    I noted with amusement the Bell’s whiskey on your desk and had a funny thought about one story I wrote last week that went straight through to publication without a rewrite. I had had two glasses of wine and dinner in the process of writing it. Hmmmm….. could it be that I need wine and some food to write my stories better?

    Oh dear! I guess I better go buy a bathroom scale now. I am anticipating changing clothes size quite soon at this rate. I am kidding, of course. But it does worry me about that story…….

    Happy Father’s Day by the way…

    Jennifer H.

  2. Great story Nick, and I completely agree with you. I think there are two reasons more don’t follow your suggested route:

    1) They are taught to do the opposite. Even in copywriting, one of the top dogs emphasizes (by far) making a career decision based on market need, not passion.

    2) Most don’t believe they can make a good living doing what they are passionate about.

    I think true success is generated at the intersection of what we are passionate about, what the market will pay for and what we can become highly skilled in. Alan Weiss, PhD, who makes over two million dollars a year working from home (without any employees!) advocates these three points for a successful career. And I think, it makes sense, the more we love something, the more likely we will hang in there and develop the expertise.

    P.S. Your course on developing a hobby into a profit making website would be a good place for people to start experimenting. You didn’t ask me to mention this, but I thought it was appropriate, given the subject matter.

  3. A little math, daydreaming and homing in to figure where I was at 22. I left home early, at 15. I remembered the Youth Center job at 15 and single-handedly putting together that Youth Newspaper * The Morning Song (I suggested Morning Star, however). Then a year or two later — no job skills — applied and was hired by the big MacMillan Publisher as a proofreader. I had the ‘eye’. And fast forward to 22 years old — by then I was involved in health and meditation and a non-profit organization doing the same. However, I remember how much I wanted real training to write and be a journalistic who spoke the truth. Since that time I’ve experienced similar epiphany feelings for mathematics and health. But always coming back to writing. Visit my blog http://www.katherinekay.com today — Be Healthy Online — for Internet Entrepreneurs. We online professionals face our own unique health challenges, and must be proactive in health .

  4. This thought really got my attention, Nick – “If you don’t, pause for a moment and ask yourself this question:

    “If I had followed the path of what I loved to do back when I was 22, what would I be doing now?”

    Whatever the answer, perhaps you could start doing that now.

    When you love what you do for a living, everything changes.”

    Reminds me of Scott Peck’s classic words in The Road Less Traveled – “Two roads diverged in the woods. I took the one less traveled by. And it has made all the difference.”

    Thanks for reminding me that there’s passion and love-for-the-craft of writing at the core of earning a living from it.

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