Back in the day, when I first got into motivational stuff, somebody (I think it was Tony Robbins) said something that really stuck with me--that the recipe for success looks something like this:

  1. Discover what you love to do.
  2. Figure out how to get paid to do it.
  3. Do a lot of it.

Now, if your passion is starting new businesses, that recipe works every time. However, if your passion is something else, it may not be the best way to get what you want. That's especially true if your passion is something that nobody is going to pay you to do.

For example, suppose your true passion is writing poetry. Nobody has made a living (much less become wealthy) writing poetry, not since the 19th century anyway.

Now, Tony Robbins might tell you that if poetry is your passion, you should take the leap of faith, quit your job, and write poems, and eventually you'll make plenty of money. But just between you and me, that's not a realistic plan.

I suppose there's an infinitesimal chance that, say, Beyonce will read one of your poems and turn it into a mega-hit and you'll get huge royalty checks. But frankly, you're far more likely to win the lottery.

And sure, there are money-making jobs--like writing sales messages--where you can be well paid for consistently finding the bon mot.  But writing marketing blurbs ain't writin' poetry. 

So, if writing poetry truly is your thing, and you're not independently wealthy, you're going to need a day job. Indeed, you should probably look for a day job that doesn't involve writing, because writing junk can leech the creativity that would otherwise drive you to write poetry.

If your passion has nothing to do with starting your own business and, in fact, is unrelated to the business world, your true success recipe looks more like this:

  1. Discover what you love to do.
  2. Get a day job that's tolerable and pays reasonably well.
  3. Spend as little time at work as possible.
  4. Spend as much time as possible doing what you love.

This strategy is unlikely to make you rich (although it might, you never know) but it will probably make you happy.

The challenge of the "day job" recipe lies in steps 3 and 4, because most companies (even "gig economy" firms) expect you to be 100% committed to your job. Fortunately, if you're clever, you can turn your lack of deep commitment to your day job into a competitive advantage. Here's how it's done:

  1. Publicly pretend that your job is your passion. Practice (in front of the mirror) saying stuff like "marketing software has always been my dream" without cracking up or rolling your eyes. I'm only half-kidding here. The ability to pretend passion for your job is similar to the ability to laugh at your boss's jokes even if they're not funny. It's not difficult. 
  2. Squirrel your true passion away where your boss and coworkers can't easily find it. Don't talk about it at work. Only use social media for job-related activities. Avoid posting anything publicly on the web that's not work related, including family stuff. If your true passion requires an online presence, use a pseudonym.
  3. Convince your boss you'll be more productive working mostly (or entirely) from home. This should be easy if your company has implemented an open plan office, which are like flushing productivity down the toilet. Securing the right to work from home reduces or eliminates time-consuming distractions like office politics, allows you to multitask during meetings (love that mute button!) and the time spent commuting.
  4. Be the person who's relaxed and centered during "fire alarms." Because you're disconnected emotionally from all the workplace drama, when everything at work goes all cattywompus, you're more valuable than the employees who are more emotionally mired. You'll get stuff done when everyone else is running around like headless chickens or staring at their screens in full burn-out.

Does this strategy work?

You betcha. For example, let me tell you about my friend "Jeremy", who is one of the most successful guys I know, according to the way that I measure success, which is in terms of happiness and connection, rather than pictures of dead presidents.

When I first met Jeremy he was attending law school, working part time, and training to compete in national martial arts tournaments.

After graduating with honors and passing the bar, he was offered a job in a prestigious law firm, on the partner track. Within a week after accepting the job--a dream job for most lawyers--he was offered a position as a government lawyer, at a smaller salary and, of course, no chance at becoming a partner and making the big money.

At that time in his life, Jeremy's passion was martial arts and so he made the courageous decision to scrap the "dream job" because the government job was 9-to-5, thereby giving him time to continue training.

One could argue that Jeremy would have been even better off if he'd quit law school and opened his own martial art studio, franchised it out, and then become a motivational speaker on "Business Kung-Fu." 

That scenario misses the point, though. None of those activities are the same thing as training to become a world-class martial artist. They're distractions and, worse, likely to be seductive distractions because they're so close to what he really loved.

By accepting a day job, Jeremy avoided both the Scylla of the high-maintenance partner track and the Charybdis of a job that counterfeited his true passion.

Today, Jeremy's passion is his family and because he had the courage to go for the day job, he can actually spend time with them. What a concept!

This is not to say that he's not successful as a lawyer. In fact, Jeremy has argued cases before the state supreme court (that's a big deal, trust me). Jeremy doesn't train as much as he used to, but that's cool because he's all about the family now.

At the risk of repeating myself, if your passion is starting your own business, more power to you. And if there's a way to get paid a lot of money to do what you love, congratulations! Go ye forth and rake it in.

But if your passion is something that either can't be commercialized or would be something else if it were, a day job is your true path to success.