Lots of people dream of making a living by doing what they love... but for the vast majority, that dream stays a dream. Huge goals often seem too hard, or too scary, or too farfetched, because the distance between here and there looks impossibly wide.

But it is possible.

Here's another in my series on incredibly successful people who have accomplished something we all strive for: doing what we love. (There's a list of previous installments at the end.)

This time I talked to Julia Landauer, NASCAR K & N Pro Series driver, speaker, Stanford grad, and Survivor: Caramoan contestant. She's smart, talented, unafraid of challenging herself... and as you'll see, the queen of multitasking. 

Every passion is based on a compelling "why?" So why racing?

When I was about ten years old my parents wanted to find an activity me and my siblings could do together. They settled on go-karts, not just because were we able to work together on a project as a family but it was a sport where their daughters could compete head to head with boys.

It's only now that I realize how progressive they were. (My parents like racing but they're not racers.) They wanted to toughen us up, get us comfortable with interacting and competing with men...and in an incredibly intense and difficult environment.

We got started and I just fell in love with it. I was hooked. By the time I was 12 years old I said, "This is what I want to do every weekend of my life."

It probably helps that you were really good at it.

Definitely. I won a track championship, I won on the national level... and then I saw that the Skip Barber Racing School had let a 12 year-old race, so I got into Skip Barber when I was thirteen, ran my first full season when I was fourteen, and became their first female champion.

Then when I was sixteen I switched to oval racing.

Why go to ovals when you had spent years developing road course skills?

That's a good question because before that I hadn't really watched NASCAR. I hadn't even seen an oval race. The first time I saw one was when I raced one. 

I knew I could gain a certain level of car control from driving oval races that would help me on road courses, but more than that, without super deep pockets I knew that if I was going to attract sponsorships NASCAR was more likely to be a market I could enter.

In terms of technically driving a car I like road courses a little better, but in terms of racing, to be side-by-side it's so difficult and entertaining. I feel privileged to get to do it, and to do it well.

So let's skip ahead; after a few years you moved up into the Late Model cars.

Before that I drove in Formula BMW, in Ford Focus Midget... I worked with Bob East, a great coach and mentor, I did Lynn St. James' driver development program... looking back all those relationships were really important. I learned a lot and they got to see my work ethic, my skill, my desire to succeed... that helped a lot.

That's how I met Bill McAnally and got to drive a car in his Late Model program.

Looking back I might have moved up a little too early. I probably could have done more midget racing to refine my skills more.

The biggest issue I had was with passing. On ovals you can't dive bomb; you have to set people up more slowly. It took some time to get that rhythm down, learn more about the cars, learn how to set up passes, learn how to conserve tires... after all, before that I had only run seven races on an oval.

Then you went to Stanford.

I started college and was raced during the summers, sometimes during school, I ran some isolated races... but it was hard. 

2015 was my first full season after college and that was a game changer because I won four out of eight races and won a championship.I  did well in college and in racing, but doing both meant my education suffered a little and so did racing. Graduating and then succeeding was not just great for my confidence, it showed people that I was worth supporting. 

Tell me about Survivor. You're going to school and racing... so why Survivor?

At the time they were doing interesting things with the show. The women who do it seemed pretty badass. I thought, "It's a cool adventure, it might help with branding, I'll probably learn a lot... so let's do it."

I applied and made it through the interview rounds. I think they liked having a Stanford student and race car driver on the show. I liked being on primetime TV, doing something physically and mentally challenging. I liked that because that's who I am.

It was really hard. And for me it was a good lesson in terms of what media is worthwhile, and the level of control -- or lack thereof -- in how you are portrayed. And I learned so much about how to be attractive to a wider audience and still be yourself. I'm glad I learned that early on in life.

Once the show aired that can't have been easy. Survivor fans are fairly opinionated and love to engage on social media.

It was awful. I didn't do anything brash. I didn't do anything particularly obnoxious. But there was this huge dialogue on Twitter about how "vanilla" and boring I was. One of the other contestants even said something like, "Calling me vanilla was a disservice to the word vanilla."

That was really tough to work through.Still: I was twenty, the youngest on the show that season, and it was a good introduction to what a public lifestyle can be.

They always say don't read the comments... but as soon as it's published you have to look.

When we announced I was racing for Bill there was a lot of support. The majority of the feedback was awesome. But there was still the "girl racer" stuff, "another back marker coming in to the series" stuff... being on that show helped me tune out what isn't valuable. I learned how incredibly important it is to have your core group of family and friends who are there when you need to vent, and can help keep you grounded and feeling supported.

That raises an interesting issue. Because sponsorship is so important, branding is critical in your sport.

Since we're all a work in progress, branding is a work in progress, but ultimately it's just a reflection of who you are.

Your brand evolves with you. What I've really tried to convey through action, words, and associations I make with partnership and media outlets is always striving to work incredibly hard and to be as successful as I can while still benefiting the the people around me and my community.

Dedication, determination a desire to get better, a can-do attitude, a willingness to ask for help... that is how I raised, that's what I believe in. That's me. 

Women in male dominated sports generally go one of two ways: they talk about the experience and become advocates, or they don't want to talk about it at all and only want to be seen as, say, a driver and not a female driver.

I talk about it.

Many fields are male dominated or predominately male, especially at certain levels. But lots of people deal with obstacles. My hope is that by addressing these issues it normalizes the differences. When you talk about what you may be going through, that lowers the contrast.

At the end of the day I want to be recognized as an incredible racer. Not just a female racer, a racer period.

But I still talk about it, because it does help other people. I went to a girl's science summer camp and talked about my experiences in racing and the girls liked hearing that it is hard. They liked knowing that feeling different or even feeling like an outcast isn't weird. They liked know that they can push through and it will be okay.

Acknowledging the differences is great.

Are there any advantages to being a female driver?

Of course. My sport is made up of predominately white males. They don't have that differentiating favor I have. And they have other things they have to deal with.

But there are advantages. I'm somewhat novel. For some, that's exciting. That gains me some exposure I may not have received, and I'm totally aware of that. But it's still really hard for everyone. Ultimately sponsors don't care if you're a man or woman; they care about whether you provide value to them.

Everyone faces different obstacles. Mine are different from someone else's; that's the only difference.

Drivers are involved once a sponsor is on board, but do you you play a role in finding and developing sponsorships?

I've been actively engaged in the business side of racing since when I started college.

Some of that was just learning the basics: What does a business plan look like, how do we get in the door, how do you have a meaningful conversation... but then it's how do you identify how you can provide value, how you can solve some of their problems, and how can you be a solution in other avenues other than just exposure. 

I do a lot of cold calling. I work hard to build connections that may pay off some day. I try to find ways to help people, to identify unique channels where I can provide exposure and other benefits... I'm constantly trying things.

Cold calling means hearing the word "no" a lot. I would struggle with that.

I understand that few people will even take the call, and that many of those people are going to say no. 

But I'm naturally optimistic because I genuinely believe I have what it takes to really provide value. I've proven it.

In the end I'm like every other entrepreneur. I believe in my "product. I believe in myself. The people who succeed are the people who believe in themselves.

Plus, you have to be a little crazy.

Every time you race you're not only trying to win. In a sense you're "auditioning" for other teams, potential new sponsors... so how do you balance out the desire to win with everything else that's on the line, like maintaining at least decent professional relationships with other drivers? 

In racing, starting at an early age, you're constantly reminded that you're in the public eye and that you don't just represent yourself, you represent your team, your sponsors... and I've always been extremely cognizant of what teams look for beyond skills in a car.

As for if I wreck someone: if I know I'm at fault, I apologize. If I think it's a racing incident then I might not, but I tend to err on the side of taking responsibility because we race against the same people every race.

As for how that's received, it varies. If I say I'm sorry, some people are fine with it. With other people you can tell they're angry and not expressing it...

All I can control is what I do on the track and off, and take responsibility for what I do.

A few quick ones: proudest on-track moment, proudest off-track moment, and most embarrassing on-track moment.

Winning the NASCAR championship at Motor Mile to really establish myself as a NASCAR champion was pretty cool.

Off track, graduating from Stanford. The help my education has given me in developing my career has been extremely beneficial.

Most embarrassing racing moment... I was 15 year-old, driving in Formula BMW. It was the first (and last) time I raced from a standing start. This was the first race of the season, the green flag drops and my foot slipped in between the pedals and I stalled the car and everyone else took off and I was left sitting there. By the time I got going I was three turns behind.

It was awful.

You can't win every race... so beyond that, how do you define success?

On a daily basis, I need want to feel guilty about how I spent the day. I always want to be proud of having given it my all.

In terms of racing we always want to win, but if we have limitations as a team, and we overcome some of those limitations and improve and keep getting better and keep constantly learning, that's a big measure of success.

I try to have a very forward thinking, forward motion mindset. I don't dwell on a weakness or problem; I think about how I can fix it. I push myself very hard, whether with physical training, or business outreach, or anything else, and I can feel when I am putting everything into it or whether I'm being a little lazy. I'm a big believer that luck happens when preparation meets opportunity, so I always try to be as prepared as possible, and if I am, that's success. 

Ultimately if I'm getting closer to a goal, I'm succeeding -- especially if I'm giving it everything I can.

More in this series:

Published on: Jul 29, 2016