“You will never be successful until I don’t have to give you a dime to do what you do” – Eric Thomas

Growing up there was one simple thought process for what I was going to do in my life. I was going to respect everyone, study hard, get a good job, and earn enough money to be comfortable, raise a family, and retire at 60. That was the only life I knew, it was all I saw around me, within my family, and within the broader society.

However my life took a little turn about four years ago. I wrote an article that cost me nothing more than my time, got it published, and in that process thought nothing of how much I was going to earn from that work. I had worked for free, it felt weird, since I was so used to the simple equation of “work = salary”. However at the same time I felt a strong bond to my work, I spent four hours writing that article for nothing more than the beauty of the work itself.

Now this post isn’t to say that working for free is the path to a sustainable lifestyle for you and your loved ones, because obviously it isn’t, and you must put a value on the work you do, but it is a doorway to doing work you love. Today I get paid for my writing and a lot of other work I do, but since writing that first article for free, I have used the same strategy to open other doors to try work I am passionate about such as speaking, consulting, advising, and teaching. Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way.

1. You have a better chance of trying new things

I have found that to a lot of people in various industries the line “I will do it for free” is music to their ears. Who doesn’t want a free resource?, especially someone with a passion for testing that line of work. It is hard to break into a lot of industries if you don’t have prior knowledge, or if you simply do that work as a hobby, but offering your services for an opportunity to simply learn and grow can be a win-win for the company and for the individual.

2. It tests how much you love the work 

In my opinion there is no greatest test for your love of the work than if you do it for absolutely nothing other than the happiness and warmth you experience while doing the work. We’ve all heard the famous saying from someone who hates their job, “I don’t get paid enough to do this”, so imagine someone who says “I get paid nothing for this” with a big smile on their face, they must really, really, want to be there. So give it a shot, the thing about working for free is all you lose is time, but the upside could be huge in discovering something you really love to do, or in the worst case scenario something you hate and you now know what you don’t want to do which is also a plus.

3. It gives you more chances to learn and improve

I learnt this lesson through my community talks that I give throughout the UAE. I charge nothing for people who want to attend, in high part because I love the work, but also because I want to attract as many people as possible without putting a dent in their wallets.

What I lose in charging people to come to my talks, I gain in sharing knowledge, gaining experience, as well as getting feedback on my talks and how I can improve as a teacher and a speaker. I think of it as an investment in myself, and more importantly as a way I can give back to my community.

4. It leads to money eventually

What I have noticed is that when you work hard enough on your craft, and spend less time focusing on how much you will make, the money will find it’s way into your life. It’s perfectly normal have a job in the meantime to feed you, put clothes on your back, and allow you to live a life while you work towards a plan to eventually make money doing the work you love.

After a while things start to work out, if you are a painter you will start getting requests for your art, if you are an actor you will start getting more calls to audition, if you are an inventor labs and universities will start calling you for interviews. This is because the whole time you have been focused on getting as much of your work out there as possible, learning and growing, mastering your craft, and people eventually start to take notice.

Many of us wait for the perfect moment, or the perfect conditions to try something new that we think we would enjoy doing. Like the accountant waiting to have enough money to quit and pursue his dream of being a writer, or the salesman waiting for that big sale on his resume before goes to culinary school to become a chef. The problem with that strategy is the money or the sale will ever be big enough because with all material things the possible amounts are endless.

Start now, focus on the work, focus on growing, learning, and achieving mastery at whatever it is that will bring fulfillment to your life. Remember this is your life we are talking about, and it deserves the chance of loving every second of your life spent working.