“How did you know what you wanted to do with your life?”
My friend asked me this the other day. The question literally stopped me in my tracks. She was struggling to discover what her passion and her purpose was. Except I had never thought about it before. I am not even entirely sure I discovered my passion and my purpose; I think my passion and my purpose discovered me. I knew that I wanted to start performing stand-up the second I was old enough to get into the comedy clubs in the late ‘80s.
The first time I walked on stage, I was terrified. It was the kind of terror that starts in your mind and then manifests all the way through your body until every fiber in your being begs for some relief. The pounding heart, the sweaty palms, the dry mouth—I was scared. But I couldn’t stop myself. I was destined to walk on that stage… and then fail.
I was slotted three minutes on stage, and after 15 seconds of standing in front of the drunk and bored crowd, I was silently begging for the light in the back of the room to signal that my time was up.
But then I got my first genuine laugh, and I felt this sense of euphoria overcome me. That was it. I was hooked. Little did I know how hard those laughs would be to come by in the coming years. They would become the equivalent of a Loch Ness monster sighting—they didn’t happen very often and no one could be certain that what they saw was really real. But at that moment in time, I didn’t care. For the first time, I made someone laugh on a real comedy club stage.
There it was—my passion, and ultimately my purpose. For the next two years of my life, I went and performed a set four times a week at the Backdoor Comedy Club in Dallas, Texas. The Backdoor was started by two fellow comedians, Jan Norton and Linda Stogner, who created the club to give both working comics and beginners the opportunity for stage time. It was a wonderful oasis. For two years, I went up night after night trying to perfect my craft, and I did it for free.
Your passion, your purpose, is something you love so much that you would do it for free.
Your passion, your purpose, is something you love so much that you would do it for free. Legendary investor Warren Buffett says you should do something that makes you want to tap dance to work every day. He did, and he became one of the richest men in the world. Now his tap shoes are the finest that money can buy.
As I enter my 26th year in comedy, I have come to realize something that I understood inherently at a very young age, without actually knowing I knew it: If you pursue what you love to do for free, eventually the money will follow. Become so good at your hobby that people will pay to watch you do it, pay to read your work, pay to eat the things you cook. Every artist, chef and athlete was a hobbyist they became a professional.
But it is fundamentally necessary to take the first step. The first step is us signaling to the universe our intentions. No one is good at something the first time they do it. No one hits a home run the first time at bat or performs at Carnegie Hall the first time they sing. Every successful person has spent countless hours doing for free what they are now being paid to do. Every job has an internship—they simply come in different packages. Mine was in a smoky comedy club.
So I asked my friend, “What is it that you love to do so much you would do it for free every day?”
Related: 3 Ways to Discover Your True Passion
“I love yoga,” she replied. “And if I could make a living teaching it, I would be totally content—much more content than I am working in an office. But there are so many yoga instructors out there already, it’s probably impossible to make a living doing it.”
I suggested that she start an Instagram account and post yoga poses and the history behind them. Reluctantly, and with a lot of prodding from me, she started to document her passion. Slowly, she saw an uptick in the number of followers she had. People loved her story and they loved her honesty—she had created a following, and it was cheering on her success. And people began to take notice of her around the world.
She took that first step—she began the journey. And that is the only requirement.
A magazine article here, a shout out there, and soon she was being asked to travel across the globe to teach yoga. She couldn’t have planned how it would all unfold, but she took that first step—she began the journey. And that is the only requirement.
It is up to us to get the engines of possibility roaring. It starts with asking one important question: What do I love to do that I would do it for free every day?
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.