A few years ago, Jeff Katzenberg, the über-Hollywood mogul, sat onstage with me at a Milken conference and said that the worst career advice anyone can give is this: Follow your passion.

I couldn't agree with him more, and I wrote about it here. The problem with this advice is that it's so generic and so untrue that I feel sorry for people who heed it. There are plenty of people who are extremely successful doing things they're not exactly passionate about. They just happen to be very good at what they do. There are also people who are undyingly passionate about something, but they'll never make a career of it. They'll remain poor, but at least they love what they do and are OK with that.

I have made the mistake of telling people to "follow what they love and then the money will follow" because, frankly, I didn't know any better. It seemed to be what had worked for me, until I dug deeper and realized that I had done something others hadn't early on in my career.

I found:

a) Something I liked to do (writing)
b) Something that people were willing to pay me for (writing)
c) Something that I was good at (writing)

The intersection of those three things allowed me to thrive in my journalist career.

Plenty of us aren't so lucky. Some may have mastered (b) and (c) but not (a) and find that after a while, all they're doing is working for a paycheck. Others may have conquered (a) and (c) and realize that they can't make any decent money. And others do (a) and (b) but, unfortunately, realize after a few years they just don't have that talent.

 inline image

So how do you do something that hits all three points? Career experts like to turn to the Venn diagram method and ask you to draw three big circles on a piece of paper. In each circle, write a list that corresponds to a, b, and c. What are the things you like to do? What are you good at? What can you do that the market will pay for? The idea is that at the end of this exercise, where the three circles overlap is exactly what you should be doing.

I'm a fan of this method. I'm a fan of lists in general, because they help organize your thoughts. But there's one thing you must do. You have to be completely honest with yourself. You have to write these lists down with the freedom of knowing that nobody, nobody, will be reading it. You can burn this list afterward. You can shred it. You can do whatever to make you feel safe. But I promise you that if you write this list down thinking your parents, spouse, children will see this and laugh, then you'll have done yourself an immense disservice.

So if you're one of those people still struggling to figure out what to do, please try the above method and tell me about it by clicking onto my website, www.betty-liu.com, and contacting me. I'm curious to hear from you.