Skydiving is an interesting sport. Most people observe it from the outside and think: “That’s crazy! Why would you jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” Those who can get past the “craziness” assume it’s all about adrenaline. It’s not, or at least it’s not for long. Sure, that initial rush of a new sensation is what draws many to their first jump, but those sold on “the best feeling in the world” soon adapt to it as they would any other sensation. Adrenaline fades, interest wanes, people move on.
I skydive for the challenge, and for the singular focus it brings. “Big-way” skydiving, my chosen discipline, involves multiple people coming together to form predetermined shapes. There’s little room for error, and with 20, 40, or even 60 other skydivers counting on me to do my job, the focus required means there’s no room for the anxieties of my daily life to creep into my thoughts.
Skydiving, however, is not without its faults, one of the biggest being the cost. I’ll never regret spending the money on those experiences, but when the calculations reveal a down payment on a house I could have made, or a new car I could have purchased, well, it stings just a little… So when the opportunity to work in the sport presented itself, I jumped on the chance, no pun intended. Hired as a tandem cameraman, I was tasked with capturing the emotions of a first jump on video. I commissioned a custom camera suit, crafted a Cookie Monster helmet to make my customers (and myself) smile, and even bought a trailer so I could stay at the dropzone. It was time to get to work!
Ultimately, it didn’t end well, and I followed an all too common story arc: I found something I loved, I tried to monetize it, and the experience soon turned bitter. I could write entire pages about the unfair and often unsafe working conditions or the toxic environment, but it would serve no purpose. My employers weren’t without their faults, but they were also trying to turn a profit in a challenging industry that’s at the mercy of weather, regulations, and arbitrary customer reviews. My bitterness nearly led me to quit the sport I love, and I never even made enough money to recoup my initial costs. It was a tough lesson to learn.
This is a cautionary tale, but by no means a dire warning. In fact, I’d say the ultimate takeaways are the valuable lessons I learned thanks to the experience. Monetizing your passion, be it for work or as a business venture, comes with both risk and the potential for great reward. If you want to monetize your passion, go for it! But before doing so, here are a few steps worth taking:
Understand your motivation.
Ask yourself: “Why am I doing this?” Are you monetizing your passion out of necessity? Have you considered what other work may allow you to earn a living wage while pursuing your passion? Can you imagine yourself doing anything else for work? These are tough questions to answer, and they’ll take time to work through.
I saw an opportunity to get paid for something I love, but failed to look beyond the financial incentives. My job was an opportunity to make people smile and be part of an experience they’ll never forget. It was an opportunity to learn from some of the best in the sport and develop my skills. These things did happen eventually, but had they been motivating factors from the start my experience may have ended differently, or may have begun under different circumstances.
Consider what you want to achieve, and work towards it. Do you want to be the best at your given passion? Do you want to make a lot of money doing it? Do you want to share your passion with others? Do you want the world to see your talent? These are all different goals that require different approaches.
I hadn’t given my career move much thought beyond getting paid to do something I love, and without goals it became easy to lose focus and drift. Days became monotonous, and while I still loved skydiving certain aspects of the job chipped away at my enthusiasm. Soon even my initial motivation couldn’t justify the realities of the job, and without something to work towards, I stopped working altogether.
Monetizing your passion often means making sacrifices or compromising, but which sacrifices you’re willing to make and to what degree you’re willing to compromise should be set before embarking on the endeavour. These boundaries are yours to set, but it doesn’t hurt to have friends or co-workers check in and keep you accountable.
I got paid to skydive, but performing that duty meant being at the beck and call of my employer at the expense of jumping for fun with my friends. I made the mistake of setting no boundaries between skydiving for work and skydiving for fun, and the demanding schedule set before me meant it was all work and no play. It was a mistake that could have been avoided by setting boundaries from the start, say, taking one day a week to jump with my friends for fun.
Talk to your peers.
Experience is a valuable asset, but it’s only natural that yours will be lacking when starting out. Reach out to those who have already walked the road before you, discuss your motivation, goals, boundaries, and ask about theirs. They may have valuable insights to offer that would have never crossed your mind.
I was blinded by my excitement, and while some did try to warn me of the pitfalls of the road ahead, I was not as receptive as I should have been. My experience was hard earned, but it didn’t need to be that way.
It may at times sound like doom and gloom, but here’s the twist: Given the opportunity, I would do it all over again. In a heartbeat. No, my venture didn’t work out the way I had hoped, and the outcome is an all-too-common scenario, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only possible scenario. Having learned from my mistakes I’m better armed should I attempt the endeavour a second time. Take the time to understand your motivation. Set goals. Set boundaries. Finally, discuss your plans with your peers, and be receptive to their input. Monetizing your passion is a tightrope walk, to be sure, but the tremendous risk involved is proportionate to the reward.