This is a guest submission by Illana from

I woke up one day and realized that, not only was I not going to be the first female shuttle commander for NASA {thanks a lot, Eileen Collins!}, I was also probably not going to be the first female president of the U-S-of-A. The funny part was, it was the first time I realized that I actually didn’t want those things either.

What I really wanted was the feeling I thought I would get by achieving those things. The power, the prestige, the ooo’s and the wow’s. I wanted to be a pioneer, a trailblazer. I wanted to be the quarterback, the captain, the CEO. I wanted to be the unassuming underdog that played with the big boys and commanded a room a-la Melanie Griffith in Working Girl.

Of course, there is no post-script at the end of that movie after the girl gets the corner office. No one tells you that middle management at a huge corporation is probably not going to inspire the sweeping choir-backed power ballad that Ms. Griffith’s triumph did.

No one tells you that investment bankers that look like Harrison Ford are probably not going to forgo their rich girlfriends because you are just so adorable and quirky. They will be too busy working ninety hour weeks and trying to come up with ways to make more money.

No, they just let us go on believing the, ‘working hard = money and security,’ fairytale.

So back to that morning…

I was working at what I thought was my dream job. I had it better than most – good hours, ridiculous pay, fancy title, the whole tamale. But that morning, my boss (the CEO) sent me an email explaining the importance of keeping my desk clear of clutter, and asking me why I had neglected to return a highlighter I borrowed from his secretary the previous day.

And something short-circuited in my brain.

I realized, in that moment, that I had it all wrong. All of it. I didn’t want to be president of anything, let alone America! I can’t even get the guys at Starbucks to agree that ‘Frappuccino’ is a made-up word. Can you imagine having three-hundred million people wanting to know why you didn’t return their highlighter?

OK, so maybe I realized a little before then that the oval office wasn’t in my future… but I was on a collision-course with the American Dream. I had the MBA and all the debt that comes with it, and the career that was going gangbusters. But what I didn’t have was a life.

Sound familiar?

I had what I pretended was a life.

I had a job at a place that used my ideas and never gave me credit, a relationship that made me feel safe (and not much else), and a house in the suburbs that I talked myself into because it made sense and was the logical next step.

It wasn’t a life. At least not MY life.

I was wearing someone else’s life like a cable-knit nightmare because I thought Melanie’s corner office would make me happy.

I didn’t have a life because I was selling it to someone else so that I could afford to buy a bunch of stuff to fill the void that losing all control over my future had left.

So, I quit.

And then the sky fell on my head.

{Insert the-economy-crashed-and-I-lost-everything-and-couldn’t-pay-my-rent story here.}

And then it got better.

It got better because I realized that I couldn’t fix this with another job. I had to redefine what making a living meant to me.

Like most people, I started with what I didn’t want: no more mean bosses pushing me around, no more commute, no more 4am conference calls, no more monthly reports, no more meetings about meetings, and no more highlighters. Ever.

I felt really proud of myself. I had a LIST! Lists are manageable! A list will tell me what to do!

Until I realized that I had absolutely no idea what I did want.

That list was harder.

So how do you figure it out? I mean, when you really stop and think about how short life is, how to you really decide how you want to spend it?

And beyond that, how are you going to make that life?

Do you want to make a living or a life?

Traditionally, making a living is what you do so you can afford the life you want, right? But what if those two things didn’t have to be separate?

What if you made your living doing something that felt good AND facilitated the life you always wanted?

So I started breaking down my skills and passions, and I made four lists:

  1. The first list was the things I did in the past that I was really good at, but hated doing.
  2. The second list was all the things that I was not so good at, but really enjoyed.
  3. The third list was the things I was pretty ambivalent about; the more mundane skills I had acquired over the years that I was competent at, and that didn’t make me feel ill to think about using, but that didn’t really light me up either.
  4. Finally, I made a list of the things that I was brilliant at, AND that I LOVED doing. The stuff that made my soul sing. From dancing in my underpants to Tina Turner to helping business people create better branding… nothing was off the table.

The first thing I did was tack the list of things that I hated doing to the wall above my desk. That was my no-no list; the filter I ran all of my further decisions through. If an opportunity came up, I would run it through that list. If it involved something on it, the answer would be no.

If you don’t agree to do things you hate, you have a lot more room for things you love, right?!?

Then I looked hard at my other lists and started to look for connections.

Some of the key pieces that came out were:

–          I had a good eye for design, and loved the creative process, but wasn’t a great designer.

–          I loved helping business people make their dreams happen, and am really skilled at that.

–          I have a knack for helping people look at problems in new ways, but don’t really like working one-on-one all that much.

–          I’m a solid writer, but had never really cultivated that as a marketable skill.

As these do’s and don’ts started to take shape, I started making decisions that would grow into the next stage of my life, and would help me make a living at the same time.

I decided that the things that floated to the surface would guide me to what I needed to learn, and how I needed to grow to feel fulfilled in what came next.

I looked for opportunities to learn in the things that I loved, but wasn’t great at.

I looked for value propositions in the things I was great at, and also planned for my higher level of skill in the areas I was learning.

And a business started to take shape.

Well, maybe not a business, at first, but a blog, at least.

I started to realize that I had something of value to say, and now I knew the framework in which to say it.

See, an amazing thing happens when you only do the things that light you up: People can tell, and they flock to you because you are lit up like a Christmas tree covered in highlighters.

Pretty soon, my blog became a business, and my business became my living…

…and my living became my life.

So, what does making a living mean to you?

Illana Burk is the mover and shaker behind and She helps people go from idea to business in the fewest steps possible. She uses her considerable and varied business experience to help you find hidden business ideas in every corner of your life so that you can make the living you want and have the life of your dreams.

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