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How the passion economy became the next evolution of work

A successful passion-economy business.

If 2023's ongoing layoffs have you reconsidering your employment options, there's good news. Despite the short-term risk involved in creating a website and starting a business, economics journalist Adam Davidson still thinks it’s a good way to secure your future.

In his 2020 book The Passion Economy: The New Rules for Thriving in the Twenty-First Century, Davidson asserts that modern success depends on figuring out a business idea that aligns one’s unique skills, values and interests with consumer demands. While the world changed drastically since his book first went to print, he says the passion economy still offers as many business opportunities as ever. We caught up with him to learn more about his theory and his tips for succeeding in the passion economy.

Wix: What is the passion economy?

Adam Davidson: Since the book came out, I’ve learned that it’s a phrase people take in different ways. For me, it really comes down to a business, product or service in which the person doing the work and the person paying for the work have a shared passion.

You can have a passionate life doing stuff you love and not have much economy. You can have an economy-driven life making a lot of money and not have a lot of passion. As far as I’m concerned, both are perfectly valid choices. But you can actually have both: You can manifest your passion in a way that allows you to make a good living.

Use this guide to learn how to come up with a business idea.

Can everybody make a good living with a passion-economy career?

It is a privilege to have a passion-economy life, but it’s a privilege that far more people in the US can access. You don’t have to be rich, you don’t have to have an unbelievable education and you don’t have to be well-connected. You do have to have some ability to tolerate risk, because choosing a passion-economy life often means taking on more short-term risk.

In my view, it’s less risky in the long term because the riskiest thing in the world right now is to mimic a 20th-century career and tie your fate to large corporations and hope they keep you employed—but the short-term risk is higher when you enter the passion economy.

It’s finding the value. It’s seeing the price, business model and relationship between you and the people who pay you as part of the creative process. Figuring all that out takes longer, and it’s definitely a much bigger pain. To make it work now, you have to think about a lot more things.

Feeling limited? Check out this list of the best businesses to start with little money.

Adam Davidson and his book, The Passion Economy: The New Rules for Thriving in the Twenty-First Century.

How has the way we think about work changed?

In the 20th century, you got the package deal: You can be super rich, but you’re gonna work 100-hour weeks. Today, you can design your work day. We’re unbundling the offerings of life and creating our own custom bundles. It seems like—for Millennials more than Gen Xers—it’s finally kicking in that a rich life is composed of a lot of factors. Seeing wealth as the [primary] factor feels increasingly outmoded.

If you want a passion-economy career but don’t know where to start, check out these online business ideas for inspiration.

If you wrote the book today, how would it differ?

I would make some things clearer. One thing I hear a lot, especially from younger people is, "I don’t know what my passion is." Passion isn’t something you either have or you don’t. Passion is a process. Passion is something you learn.

The other thing I wish I’d made clear is this is not about self-indulgence. You are not enough to make a business. If what you want is to get other people to give you money, then you have to figure out what they want.

Are you saying that passion is where your unique skills and interests align with the demand?

Yes. It will inevitably involve a variety of compromises that you get to fine-tune. But in general, the more money you want to make, the more you’re gonna have to pay attention to what other people want. The more you focus on what you want, [the more] you are amplifying the likelihood of making less money.

I do believe that most people can find a pretty good life, but it probably will emerge from the process of figuring it out. It’ll go down various cul-de-sacs that might be more or less exciting.

When we think about passion in a work context, we think of the job, like an accountant or an oboist. But passion could also be, "I really like putting teams together and driving them towards a common goal." Or "I really like helping organize big ambitious projects and making them happen," or, "I really like dreaming up big ambitious projects and making someone else organize it." These passions can apply to almost any field.

So it's not about finding your passion right away. Instead, it's about starting a career that feels accessible and interesting, then recognizing that you can pursue entirely different careers with the same skills you've developed?

Yes, I think that’s it. It’s unbundling the job. It’s figuring out what "the job" is made of, then putting together your own version. Write down what you know a lot about, what you’re good at and what you love. Then think about who might want some combination of that. It’s a code you can crack.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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