As each generation ages, its members offer words of wisdom to the “whippersnappers” just entering the working world. Although the wording may vary, Millennials have heard the same message more times than they can count: “Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Discovering my passion fueled the creation of my business. On a visit with my parents back in 2000, I read an article in the local newspaper about a man who had built an entire side business from selling just a few domain names. That chance reading completely changed my life. I spent every waking moment perusing expired domain names, and my passion for the industry grew by the minute. Fast-forward a couple of years, and I had a quarter-million domains under the Uniregistry banner — a business built entirely around that passion.
Unfortunately, many Millennials feel they don’t have that luxury. Student loan debt stands at $1.3 trillion, and the burden of it is stifling young people’s dreams of entrepreneurship. According to The New York Times, only a quarter of 20- to 34-year-olds started companies in 2014, down from 35 percent in 1996. Millennials, it seems, are in danger of becoming a “lost generation of entrepreneurs.”
Coping with student loan debt isn’t easy. The impulse to take a job that allows them to pay down that debt as quickly as possible is understandable, and I don’t fault people who choose that route. But I do caution against it.
In addition to paying off their costly degrees, Millennials also value work-life balance. But here’s the secret: Work-life balance resolves itself when doing something you love. There’s no need crave freedom from work when work is what makes a person feel alive.
That’s why I challenge Millennials to look beyond salary and ask themselves instead how they’re going to make the first dollar that actually matters. What I mean by that is this: How are they going to earn money in a way that allows them to truly enjoy their work?
Explore the intersection of love and scalability.
The most important dollar I ever made — the one that made me shout for joy and feel truly rich — was the one that let me work for myself. That money freed me to start Uniregistry, my domain registration business, which I ran out of a spare bedroom in my house.
That was true wealth for me. All the money that came after that has been nice, but it’s been anticlimactic in contrast to the first dollar I made doing something I was passionate about.
Running a startup isn’t an option for everyone. But no one needs to resign themselves to a passionless career just because they can’t start their own business. Once the drive to find passionate work is in place, there are a number of steps that can help make that a reality:
1. Identify the Spark
I built my company after realizing how antiquated and bloated most domain name registrars are — a pain point I encountered regularly. The secret to entrepreneurial success is identifying a need that intersects with an individual’s interests. Ideally, this should be a scalable product or service that can be automated — something people will buy on an ongoing basis. Each of us has a gift — something we do a little differently from the next person. When someone finds a niche he loves, he’ll know because the universe will tell him that this is how he’s meant to spend his time.
2. Carve Out a Space
The next step is approaching company leadership and asking them to create that dream job within the organization. It’s important to outline the role and how it would benefit the business. Many bosses are surprisingly open to such suggestions, especially if they want to retain valuable employees long-term. I’ve had employees at my own company ask about making a change or creating a position that matched their passion, and I’ve always been receptive to it.
3. Reconsider Reluctance
If current leaders aren’t amenable to creating a new position, it’s time to look at why starting a business was off the table. Even if it’s not immediately feasible, it’s a good idea to strategize how to get there in five to ten years — to make a plan and start chipping away at it day after day. All that effort is working toward the dollar that opens the door to truly fulfilling work.
Starting and building Uniregistry took time and effort. But nearly everything I’ve achieved since that first dollar has been somewhat anticlimactic for me. I only really notice that I have money or the significance of having money when I spend it to buy something. Then, I remember how impossible it would have been to buy that thing before the domain business.
4. Hold Tight to Passion Fuel
Any business idea must be lived and breathed for the foreseeable future. It shouldn’t feel like a chore — on the contrary, it should be easy to disappear into the creation of this product.
Because I was invested in the outcome of the domain space as both a user and an entrepreneur, I loved every aspect of launching and growing the business. Even when I struggled with my outdated competitors, my passion for the product kept me going.
Every success story starts with a repeatable spark — a small internal combustion engine of growth. Once people find the sweet spot of a scalable product in a niche they love, the first dollar that matters will land in their laps in no time.
We must all focus on finding that unique spark, that idea or business plan that gets our mornings going and motivates us to push through any obstacles along the way. When that level of conviction arises and progress toward goals becomes realized, all it takes is to walk the path ahead.