We’re trained from a young age to think of occupations in monolithic industry categories. We are decidedly not told we can make a career by pursuing our interests. It’s a failure of imagination, and it gets to the root of a problem: When it comes to finding careers, we look to an outside list of occupations and force-fit ourselves into one of them instead of starting from what interests us.
But what if, instead of being given an output, you explore the world of options based on your input? Consider Christen Carter, owner of the Busy Beaver Button Company, a company that you guessed it, sells buttons. Her journey to becoming a button entrepreneur didn’t start with a premeditated plan to start a business. It didn’t even start with an assumption that making buttons would lead anywhere. She was introduced to the trade in college, thought it was a fun creative outlet and started manufacturing buttons in her dorm. What started as a side interest has since budded into an enterprise generating over $1 million a year in annual revenue and satisfying a market demand for collateral and self-expression. It didn’t happen overnight, but it snowballed from the simple daily decision to do something she enjoyed.
Carter is a case study in paying the bills by doing what excites you. Thanks to ever-expanding ways to reach consumer – Etsy, Quirky, and Kickstarter among them – she is part of a growing movement of people turning the seeds of an interest into a full-time livelihood, allowing stability and interests to converge into a meaningful career.
Here’s how to do it:
Reflect on what matters to you
The first barrier to pursuing an interest – especially one outside our mountain of daily responsibilities – is recognizing that it’s worth our time. We get trapped in the flurry of to-dos and even when we have a free moment, a Netflix binge tempts us more than working on self-improvement. But disconnecting from routine is crucial in assessing whether you’re really satisfied or ignoring your needs. Take a walk or weekend away and ask yourself some tough questions. Are you burying what you want to do under what you “should” do? If you were unshackled from the choices you’ve made, what would you do with your time? Your answer might be “working with animals,” or it might in fact be “watching bad reality TV until my eyesight worsens.” But even pastimes that seem trivial can develop into something more, from writing TV reviews to producing oddball shows that are financed by family and picked up by networks.
Take small steps
Even after you’ve vowed to allot time to an interest, maintaining momentum can be a challenge – particularly when you’re first starting out and the end goal feels light years away. When momentum lags, remember that accomplishments are the aggregate of small steps. Start by doing one small thing a day in the vein of your interest. It could be following someone on Twitter who does what you love, writing a blog, making a craft or just watching a YouTube tutorial. This will allow you to slowly incorporate more of what compels you into your daily life – and with the cumulative power of tiny actions, you’ll soon find you’ve made progress.
Related: Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee on Success, Creativity and Following Your Passion
Tell people what you’re doing
When someone is watching us, we hold ourselves to a higher standard. Stay on track by cultivating a community of supporters to keep you accountable. Join an online group of people with like-minded interests, attend Meetups, go to conferences or just announce to Facebook you’re starting a new pursuit. Not only will it keep you beholden to your goals, but it can also lead to jobs, collaboration and opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise known about.
A career is a container, nothing more. The traditional model forces you to commit to a career in high school or college and then reverse-engineer yourself into it. The interest-based approach suggested here is the opposite. It’s expansive. Instead of leaving with a narrowed-down version of what you could be, this approach broadens the scope of what’s possible for you.
So, what’s possible for you?