Success Starts with Passion: How to Build an Audience Doing What You Love

Note: This is Part 1 in a series on how to build a popular blog. In this post, I’ll share the first secret to successful blogging and a few lessons I’ve learned.

There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

—Nelson Mandela

My writing journey began as a search for accolades and awards, recognition and fame. Instead, I found frustration and disillusionment, not realizing this search was actually keeping me from the very thing I sought.

Rocky Balboa Statue
Photo Credit: LeoLondon via Compfight cc

For years, I seethed with envy, watching other bloggers succeed while I stood still. As jealousy turned to resentment, I began to see the world through murky-colored glasses, finding fault with everything these people did.

And for awhile, this feeling consumed me. However, eventually I had to come to grips with reality: being jaded was doing me absolutely no good.

  • I didn’t become a better writer.
  • I didn’t become famous.
  • I didn’t get a book published.

After years of feeling this way, I decided to make a change: Instead of letting external factors dictate my success, I would focus on what I could control: my attitude.

Tip #1: Focus on passion, not results.

What this changed (eventually)

At first, nothing changed. I was doing my work, the same as I ever was. But internally, I was changing. Instead of a pay check or pat on the back, passion was now my most important metric.

If I showed up to write — for love, not accolades — then I had done my job. At least for that day, I’d succeeded. And tomorrow was another day.

This released me up from the pressure to perform, gave me greater artistic freedom, and made the work a lot more fun.

If nobody but me showed up to read my words, I would still write.

If I never won an award or got published, I would still write. 

If I never earned a dime, I would still write.

Tip #2: Do your best work when nobody’s watching.

Isn’t it ironic?

Wait a second. I thought this was going to be a series on building a popular blog? Well, it is.

But there’s a paradox in the pursuit of fame: those who try the hardest to earn others’ attention rarely get it. Conversely, those who scorn the limelight are often the ones dodging the paparazzi.

Of course, this isn’t always the case. But with writing and other artistic crafts, I’ve found it to be undeniably accurate. Something interesting happens when you make passion your chief pursuit: People start to notice.

The world is desperate for, even envious of, people living purposeful lives that are free from fear. We are all inspired by those brave enough to shirk the trappings of fame and do work that matters.

What happens every time you see a film or read a book about some hero who risks it all to complete a quest that matters? You’re inspired. Captivated, even.

When I began to write for passion, at first nobody seemed to care. But I kept at it, kept doing the best work I could no matter how many (or how few) paid attention. And slowly over time, people took notice.

Why? Because there is something attractive about passion.

Tip #3: The less you care about your audience’s affections, the more your audience will be affected by your work. [Tweet]

Don’t do it for the money

I’ve talked to dozens of successful artists, authors, and entrepreneurs about why they do what they do. And they’ve all told me essentially the same thing: It’s not about the money.

Billionaire Donald Trump once said:

Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game.

If you’re setting out to master a craft, to play your own game, maybe you hope to some day become famous or rich. But if you were to dig a little deeper, you might find that such a goal isn’t what you’re really in search of.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with money or the acquisition of it. Nor is there anything immoral about wanting a large audience or a best-selling book. It’s just that those things aren’t enough to fulfill you.

Because what happens on the days when nobody shows up to read your words, watch your work, or experience your art? Do you still do your job? Not if it’s about the rewards.

Creativity is a process, not a product

Our work is more than what we do or make. It’s the entirety of effort that goes into each step of the process. In a sense, it’s what we don’t see.

So when you’re sweating and bleeding and loving every minute of it, remember: this is the reward.

What, do you do, then, when you create something you’re proud of and people don’t appreciate it? Do you quit? Give up because your work isn’t “relevant”?

Or do you push forward, remembering that history’s greatest artists were often misunderstood by contemporaries?

The most memorable creations are rarely comprehended by the masses — at first. This is what makes good art. It exceeds our expectations and sometimes offends our sensibilities.

Take heart, though. Some day, someone will get it. And they will be transformed. Until then, you must learn to love the work.

Tip #4: Respect the process, and results will come.

Isn’t it ironic?

You know, the Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: “Did he have passion?”

—Dean Kansky, Serendipity

When we set sail in search of our life’s work, this is what we must seek: passion. Not fame or rewards or riches, but a willingness to quietly do our work, trusting the sowing-and-reaping nature of life. Remembering that good things come in time if we do our jobs well.

So where does that leave us? Where, practically, can you go from here? Strive to do your work with gratitude and generosity. Because this part is not you paying your dues or delaying gratification until payday. This is the best it gets.

The grind is the reward. [Tweet]

And if you aren’t okay with that, then quit now. Because it’s only once you’ve mastered this mindset that you’ll have any shot at making it, at getting rich and famous.

What this meant for me was admitting that writing was my passion, something I couldn’t not do. And truth be told, when I was doing it for the wrong reasons, I knew it. Constantly anxious and uneasy, I wrote with apprehension. It felt unnatural.

Only when I surrendered to the work, did I find peace — and my audience. Maybe as you chase your passion, you’ll make a similar discovery.

Next steps

Now, wouldn’t it be frustrating if I left you lingering there? But I won’t do that. If you’re ready to take the next step, here’s what I recommend you do:

  1. Change your mind. Make a decision to consciously reject negative and envious thoughts, admitting these thoughts do nothing to move you closer to your goals. Dedicate yourself to passion, not the rewards.
  2. Commit to a practice schedule. Just for a week, set aside at least 30 minutes per day to work on your craft. You may share your work, but stay diligent to the discipline of writing for passion.
  3. Create something people disagree with. No, don’t be contentious for the sake of being contentious. But write with conviction, in such a way that can’t help but offend at least a few. This is an exercise in disabusing ourselves of constantly chasing others’ approval. Pick a fight. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. Just take note of the thrill you feel when letting go of that “what will people think?” worry.

After you’ve done those three things, take a breath and thank God for the opportunity to do something you love. And tomorrow, get up and do it all over again.

Note: This was the first post in a three-part series on how to build a popular blog. Next, I’ll share the next part, which is about how to get people to pay attention to you and listen to your message. If you don’t want to miss a thing, make sure you’re signed up for email updates.

What would truly chasing your passion look like for you? Share in the comments (include links to anything you write that’s inspired by this post).