Brendan Burns on How to Turn Your Profession into Your Passion

Life and Business coach Brendan Burns experienced a period of major personal and professional turmoil in early 2013 when he went through a blindsided break-up, an unexpected Wall Street layoff, and a surprise family health crisis. The next day he found himself in the self-help section of his local Barnes & Noble for the first time in his life desperately seeking answers. “Self-improvement literature felt like the missing piece to my life — the answers to all the questions I was too afraid to ask,” he said. “I went on my own personal journey.”

But Burns wouldn’t have predicted that resolving these issues, which included addressing the abuse he suffered from his childhood, would have turned into a complete career 180 where he traded his day job for a passion business. In 2017, Burns left his job at a New York City-based Hedge Fund to document a year of nearly continuous travel, updating his social media feeds with an inspiring chronicle of his personal journey. When he got back to New York, he had amassed tens of thousands of social media followers and plays on episodes of his podcast, The Brendan Burns Show. While Burns had received a law degree and MBA from Cornell, his personal development journey helped him realize that working in finance was not his passion and he now spends his time challenging his clients and students from all over the world to face the tough question: Is what you do for a living truly fulfilling your purpose?

Confident that his message was resonating with others, Burns dove in and became a life coach and started doing group programs and events. Now, he has a staff of seven and is looking to grow. “I have a passion around having enlightening conversations around topics that are taboo and shameful, like how men and women can put themselves first in the context of their careers,” he says. “My content resonates with people who want to live life on their terms and not pursue a multi-decade career because of the expectations of others.”

Leaving his steady finance pay check was scary, but two months after the passing of a co-worker due to addiction, Burns never felt so alive as the day he walked out of those office building doors and said goodbye to Wall Street forever. He also prepared for this moment and didn’t start his own passion business on a whim.

“I saved up as much cash as I could, moved into a more affordable apartment, and created a business that gave me over a year in cash flow,” Burns says.

He often encourages his clients to begin mapping out their game plan well in advance of leaving their day job.

As Burns began building his coaching business and podcast, he noticed an interesting pattern. He saw that people would retire at 65 years old after a long career doing a conforming day job, and then once retired would pursue their true passion with their remaining years. They would spend the next 5-10 years doing work that was meaningful to them and some would earn more money than what they had been making in their day jobs because they were doing what they loved. Burns felt compelled to carry his mission out earlier in life.

After traveling for a year, Burns came back to New York City to officially launch his business as well as his podcast The Brendan Burns Show. He started his own coaching business and fell in love with helping others. It was a turning point in his life when Burns started making a steady income again and for the first time felt true fulfilment in his career. Over the previous year, as his business has grown, Burns launched several online courses, hired multiple employees, a Chief Operating Officer, had clients and podcast guests ranging from professional athletes to billionaires, and developed a life and business coaching membership program. The business has seen its ups and downs, but it’s continuing to grow and he couldn’t be more excited.

Burns likes to quote former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. Don’t settle.” Steve Jobs delivered these words in his famous 2005 Commencement speech to the graduates of Stanford University.

“He told the story of how he was unwilling to accept what other people told him he was ‘supposed’ to do with his career and how he instead aggressively pursued what he loved,” Burns says. “Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003 and just two years later stood in front of the graduating class at Stanford to deliver these words. He was well-suited to share his perspective about how we only live once and he used his time in front of the imminent graduates to convey that choosing a career doing work that you love is key for fulfilment in life.”

After working in finance for only a short time, Burns knew it wasn’t his true passion. Starting his own business and leaving his steady pay check required a lot of courage, and he can now say that he is doing what he loves.

So, what is it that you love to do? Think about what an ideal job or career would look like for you. You don’t need to quit your job tomorrow. You can start by seeing if your current job offers some projects or tasks in areas that you would be more interested in, and over time think about shifting gears to what you truly love.