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).

214 thoughts on “Success Starts with Passion: How to Build an Audience Doing What You Love

  1. AWESOMELY vulnerable of you! It’s funny how we can start out with such an earnest message and then, before you know it, you are looking at the admin level of our blogs to see how many hits each particular article got. Been tripped up by this ugly beast, and narrowly escaped! This was a great reminder to remember why we write and a little bit of humility for the soul — always freeing 🙂 thanks!!

  2. Great thought here, Jeff. I have a ‘ build it and they will come’ mentality now. Thanks to you. So I’m off. I’ll let you know how it goes. It’s going slow as I figure out what I’m going to do. But at least the pot is simmering. Thanks!

  3. Thanks Jeff – I really took notice of the advice create something people disagree with. In one of my blogs I wrote a post and received some negative feedback. It was enough to make me want to stop blogging for a while. After I’d reflected I realised that people are entitled to their opinion. So I guess it’s okay to rock the boat sometimes.

  4. Numbers never change how we feel about writing does it Jeff. We do it because it’s who we are.

  5. Great post Jeff, written with clarity and the passion you preach in the article. Sometimes I feel myself chasing recognition, and your post is a great reminder to write for the right reasons.

  6. Pursuing my passion seems conflicting because I am equally passionate about writing and math. I turned 40 last year and I have finally decided to chase both passions. I began a blog in February: and I will go back to college in the fall to begin work on a masters in mathematics. Your blog is very inspiring! Thanks for all you do.

  7. I really love this article. A great help to start building something insanely great by following what you are passionate about.

  8. Powerful Quotes blended with a more powerful message Jeff. Hope it rings a bell in the minds of many, well at least it did for me 🙂 Thanks for sharing, have a wonderful day ahead.

  9. Ever since I first heard, “What is it that you can not do?” I realized that is the best way to really validate your passion. Do it for love, for self fulfillment, for the joy of being able to do it and for personal growth and in the end, it will reach the people it is meant to reach. I loved this post when I first read it and it continues to resonate with me.

  10. focus on passion is was exactly what i needed right now. Being a new blogger and struggling to come up with ideas, my passions have been pushed aside. my blog ( is my outlet. i love to write. words are my passion and i can see that now 🙂

  11. Good article..thanks … in chennai,real estate in chennai

  12. Jeff,
    It’s kind of creepy but kind of cool that you were eavesdropping on my conversation about passion yesterday. Wait a minute. You wrote this weeks ago. Time travel is real!

  13. Thank you for writing this. I have been trying to figure out how I can write, but when I sat down it felt forced because I worried if I was either right or wrong. However, I am now ready to write again, whether I am correct or not.
    I asked myself, “What is it that I cannot not do?” The answer is think and study economics, and while I am still learning I am not afraid to write my opinion.
    Every discouraged writer should read this.

  14. writing a novel in brevity would be my passion, writing an epistolary novel with a twist of mystery would be great.. right now I’d be happy with a short story!

  15. Chasing my passion would look like “messy”: covered with acrylic paints, colored markers, inks on my hands, in my fingernails, on my apron, oozing into my flip-flops, and perhaps on my face after stopping to ponder. I would no longer get manicures or pedicures since the remnants above would be adequate coverage. I would be surrounded by small and medium-sized canvases of my emotions and experiences, my journals filled with images taken from my mind, self-made cards for my friends created to cajole, console, and connect with them. There would be no walls or ceilings. Everything would have just a bit of gold in order to share a sparkle.

  16. I so agree with this excellent article. Write for yourself first and if the world takes a peek then that’s the bonus.

  17. Your attitude can make or break you! People can feel the love even through words. If you really are passionate about what you do keep doing it. Eventually the right people will take notice. Great article

  18. Goinsy at his best! It’s like the Ali quote ‘Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them-a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” Trust the process is my weekly lesson!

  19. Though I am not a writer, I am a creator of natural goods, and I love your last point about doing something disagreeable, just as an exercise to get out of the people pleaser mode. I get stuck here sometimes and find that my path to follow my passion is often detoured by what I think will achieve greater acceptance, rather than doing what I know and love for the reasons I started out. Thanks for the timely redirect!

  20. Great post. Needed to hear it today – I’ve been doing the work, but I’ve also been letting myself be too concerned about what appealing to the masses instead of writing in a way that maintains my passion. Thank you!

  21. Thank you for this article. I love hearing the passion in your voice. Your message comes across not just in words, but the tone you have set. I’m currently taking writing classes, and the one thing we have been taught over and over again is that we must have passion. Don’t write for fame, forget the money. Isn’t the saying “Follow your passion, the money will follow?” And even if money doesn’t stream in, at least we are happy and content in our pursuits.

  22. This is awesome! And I love the way you write-it reminds me a lot of the style in which I would want to write… Informative, but also sharing your own experience. Very awesome!

  23. I’d love to change
    the spell icons, if anyone is willing to contribute art for credit then I
    will change it asap. I don’t think I can get sued given that it’s for
    non-commercial purposes but I’m not a lawyer.

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  24. Jeff, your words are so true and inspiring. I’ve finally learned to speak my mind and not to worry about what other people think. We all need to believe in ourselves more. And, as you say, passion is a reward in itself. Thank you for this.

  25. It’s funny. I don’t even remember what series of searches led me to your site. Clearly it was serendipity. You see, I left my very good corporate job three months ago to start my own business. The problem was, once I started building it, I couldn’t find the passion. I have now spent the last three months trying desperately to find my passion. I say “desperate” because of the added urgency to make money. I am fortunate to have a financial cushion, but for some reason, my mind insists that it isn’t there. As I tried one business concept after another, a nagging idea would pop up periodically, “Just start a blog and write about whatever YOU want to write about. Go ahead and make yourself laugh and find a respite from this crazy world.” Understanding that this idea goes against the grain of all the “business” advice out there, I would smack this thought back down whack-a-mole style. Just yesterday I finally reached the point of utter exhaustion. I realized that writing for me was the ONLY thing I could do right now. And then I found this blog post. Thank you!

    1. I could have written this! Well, not as well because I’m not a native English speaker, but I’m in exactly the same position. The quitting of my job 3 months ago, the wanting to start my own business, the search for my passion, the worrying about money. Good to know there are more people out there like me… Thank you Lisa!

      1. Gaby, I saw your message as I sat down this morning to write a blog post. I have a daily fight with my internal “Does this matter?” demon. Your message helped me answer with a resounding “Yes!” this morning. So thank you! I find that just when I think I can’t take one more step, but I do anyway, something pops up to carry me forward. The key is taking the step whether you want to or not (and in the last three months I have had more “not” than “want to” days). I would love to hear how your journey continues. Keep us posted!

          1. You can find it at It is very bare bones. I have just the one blog post and the My Story page which I added today. I am writing one new page or post each day. Please ignore any rough formatting as I am cleaning that up daily as well. Thank you so much for asking!

            1. You’ve taken the first steps, yay! Well done!! It looks great. I’ll be sure to follow your procedings. I’ve written 17 posts by now, but it’s not presentable yet 😉 I’ll let you know when it is… Good luck to you!

  26. I worry about what people would think of some of my art. I have to work on not fearing possibility of few people feeling offended by my work.

  27. Hey Jeff!

    Thank you for this. Just found you recently searching tha googles. On top of being a simple and helpful tool, I feel an extra hoorah since we’re both from Nashville.

    I’m coming off a “burn out” session that’s lasted a few months so far. Newly married (and the wifey being the bread winner), I’ve struggled HARD with a failed startup and wondering why in the heck I write. My first book was published this year (WOOHOO) but now that getting published is off the bucket list, I find myself with this insatiable desire to keep writing. Mix that with the depressing paradigm above, and you’ve got a formula for lots of anxiety and discontent.

    However, the last few months I have been working on creating a new “business” that is a resource for the entire literature community. It is an incredible service and I hope it goes well, but I’m still very anxious about it. Your article has been extremely helpful to simply devote to the passion that can’t be fed and HAVE FUN DOING IT!

  28. Jeff
    As a newbie to blogging I found your writing incisive, entertaining and informative. I too am on my journey and looking at the big blogs and trying to find the conviction to one day compete.
    I say to all of us believe in yourself and your talent and you will conquer.
    Looking forward to reading future articles.

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  30. My passion has always been following the footsteps of Erma Bombeck, Dave Barry and Mike Royko. For my “Oprah Book list” I want my memoir to be in the style of Mitch Albom.

  31. What amuses me is that how polished your blog posts are! Every element, incl. the text, is here to serve a specific purpose. Hopefully, one day I’ll master that too. Writing about what I love but in such way that could actually result in acquiring and retaining new fans. Sometimes passion, etc. is not enough, but a clever marketing strategy and understanding on how to apply it to your own case are everything. I’ve just read 5 of your blog posts… So, your strategy is obviously working!

  32. I write in a manner that my mother finds contentious, but I feel is honest towards my generation and anyone else who needs that slap in the face to get going (myself absolutely included). This post has truly inspired me to continue on that path, and–only because these damned posts constantly enable me to–I would love to share some of those “contentious” thoughts:

  33. Chasing my passion is, for me, also a sense of unburdening myself. I happened by, or really, had the odd moments of clarity on certain topics, while being fortunate enough to have come by some big ones completely without any preconceptions or education on the matters. And in so doing, have what I believe are a few very significant contributions to offer, which I’ve got sorted into three books. The content is in me, or jotted in my own form of shorthand, because I was putting together notions and collecting supporting material at a really exhausting rate for a few months. I wish I’d slowed down and taken the time to write all of those out coherently, because guess what I have waiting for me in 300–odd files, ranging from a sentence fragment or URL to a somewhat developed argument? Yep, the grind indeed. But I’m passionate about all of these topics, and care to take the time and do my best writing this time through. I guess I’m fortunate in that I actively resisted the possibility of being educated, which would have been severely injurious to me, because I can in all good conscience abandon any effort to write in an academically somber or pedantic manner, and just have conversations with my potential readers. Footnotes will not abound. (I always hated reading books with loads of footnotes, it was like trying to follow a fractured narrative.)

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