:Mindset / Success and goal setting

How I used my spreadsheet skills to build a career I’m passionate about

ben collins creator month ben collins creator month

The following is a blog post from Teachable creator Ben Collins as part of Creator Month. Ben’s the founder of Collins Analytics, an education business that helps individuals and businesses better understand their data and work more efficiently with Google Workspace tools.

Over 50,000 professionals from 1,000+ companies have enrolled in his training courses, including employees from PwC, Netflix, Verizon, Google, Capital One and other Fortune 500 companies. Google recognized Ben as a Google Developer Expert for Google Workspace Technology in 2019, one of only a handful worldwide. He took his talent for spreadsheets and turned it into a freeing career that he’s passionate about. Read how this creator has built his ideal business with courses and think about how you could do the same.

I never set out to build a career around data analysis and automation with spreadsheets. I didn’t grow up with a burning passion for spreadsheets. Nobody grows up dreaming about a career with spreadsheets. But here I am today, running a small business that revolves around spreadsheets. And I love it. 

The work is never boring. Between the technical development work and the business and marketing side, every day is different and intellectually stimulating. I’m constantly learning and success is in my own hands. 

Best of all though, I love the freedom it affords me. Freedom to choose how I spend my time, so I can stop work early to play with my young children, or go for a mid-week hike.

It’s taken years to get here though. Years of figuring it out, from struggles early on, to constantly evolving, even today.

The standard advice for ambitious go-getters is to “find something you love and pursue that,” but I think that’s backward. 

My belief is that it’s better to find something you’re good at, using a skill the market will pay for — i.e. work you enjoy enough to fall in love with.

When you take something to a deep level and become highly proficient at it, it leads to a passion for that subject. Think about it for a second. What are the chances that the thing you’re really passionate about in life can be turned into a lucrative career? And at what cost? There is truth in the expression, “it is possible to have too much of a good thing.” 

Sometimes turning a hobby into a profession sucks the joy out of it. And let’s be honest, it can be hard to figure out how to make a living from some hobbiesMy passion is adventuring in the great outdoors. But making a career out of hiking in the woods is a difficult proposition. Nobody will pay you to just go and hike, which means you would need to do ancillary activities, like guiding, or public speaking, or photography, to potentially make it into a viable career. And this is a different activity than the original one you had a passion for.

So, I say it’s better to find something that ticks these three boxes: 

1) You’re good enough at it,

2) The market will pay for it

3) You like it enough to work hard for an extended period of time

Then, put in the work, and become successful, and it might just become your passion.

So how can you turn something boring — like spreadsheets — into your passion? 

Know that everything is interesting

Take any topic — accounting, beekeeping, knitting, chess — and you will find a core group of people who deeply love that topic. Often, they’re experts, but not always, but they all spend a lot of time with that topic and will happily talk about it for hours.

They’ve delved beneath the surface, pushed themselves to the frontiers of knowledge within that topic. Perhaps they’ve even discovered or created something new in that domain. And that’s where true passion grows.

Everything is interesting, if you look hard enough. 

Experiment to find the right topic

My first idea after leaving my job in 2014 was to create a paid newsletter for the forensic accounting industry. 

Against the three checkboxes, it satisfied two — the market would pay, and I was good at it — but it failed the third, crucial checkbox. I didn’t enjoy the topic enough to work hard on it for an extended period of time. Deep down, I knew this project wouldn’t be successful because I could never become passionate about this topic.

Instead, I thought hard about the parts of my old job that I was good at and could hold my attention for long periods of time — data, spreadsheets, coding — and steered in that direction. Whilst I didn’t know what the end goal was, I worked hard at deepening my skill set and, crucially, documenting my projects online. This led to client requests, which became a freelance career. And then, in 2017, I launched my first course — Build Dashboards with Google Sheets — on Teachable and went from there.

Take pride in your work

Once you’ve created something from nothing, and brought your ideas into the world, you will feel a real sense of pride. You can use this pride to motivate yourself to keep going and keep improving. 

Creating high-quality work is a self-reinforcing cycle. The joy of creating something of high quality, and seeing it have an impact on someone else, will drive you to keep going. 

Think of yourself as an artist as much as a small business owner. Your canvas is whatever topic you’re working on.

Find interesting new ways to use your skills

One way to wring more enjoyment out of your skills is to apply them to other domains. It can be deeply satisfying to solve new problems, with techniques from your existing skill set.

Perhaps in your role at work, where your output is measured against the clock, you don’t have time to explore the weird, esoteric avenues in your field. But outside of work, or if you take the plunge and work for yourself, then you can absolutely spend a few hours exploring them. Sometimes it comes to nothing, but more often than not, it generates great content and new ideas. Both of which will bring you joy.

So don’t blindly follow your passion.

Instead, take something you’re good at, something the market values, and make it fun. That’s where you’ll find an enjoyable, lucrative career you’ll stick with for the long haul.

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Author: Ben Collins, Ben Collins is the founder of Collins Analytics, an education business that helps individuals and businesses better understand their data and work more efficiently with Google Workspace tools. Over 50,000 professionals from 1,000+ companies have enrolled in his training courses, including employees from PwC, Netflix, Verizon, Google, Capital One and other Fortune 500 companies. Google recognized Ben as a Google Developer Expert for Google Workspace Technology in 2019, one of only a handful worldwide. Ben works primarily with Google Sheets and Apps Script, and also have extensive experience with Google Data Studio, Microsoft Excel, SQL and Tableau. He previously taught data courses and workshops for General Assembly in Washington, D.C. When not crunching data, Ben loves to spend time with his wife and two sons, preferably outdoors in the mountains or on the water, hiking, climbing, cycling, and paddle-boarding.

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