What is Work? Cutting Yourself Free With Heart

Ditching a steady paycheck takes guts in an unsure economy.
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In previous posts, we've met people who have created their jobs by pursuing professional passion.

In today's post, we'll meet Jen Consalvo, a woman who left her job to pursue her dream career.

Ditching a steady paycheck takes guts in an unsure economy. But Jen is, by nature, an optimist.

Her new company is called Shiny Heart Ventures The name reflects Jen and her partner, Frank Gruber,'s passion for human connection and technology.

You can see a landing page for their newest product here - and should be able to get complete deets on what is on August 27.

Jen's professional passion, as embodied in Shiny Heart Ventures, is "a technology company that builds community-driven projects that remind people of the joys of life." That may sound a bit nouvelle for those us in more traditional industries.

But her transition from full-time employee to self-employed-ee offers a great working model for anyone considering a similar transition.

Here's how she did it:

Last November, Jen had a full-time job at AOL. She'd been there for 13 years. She'd gotten to AOL as a result of her interest in visual media - photography, in particular.

"It didn't feel like a normal desk job," she told me from her home in Virginia. And she meant that in a good way.

One of her biggest projects at the company, "You've Got Pictures," gave her a chance to combine her passion for taking pictures with her love of community.

When "You've Got Pictures" was in the works, Jen remembers, "I marched into the vice president's office with tears in my eyes and said, 'This is the culmination of everything I need to do." She wanted in on the project - and if she didn't get it, she warned her boss, "I'm gonna curl up and die."

She got it.

But by November of 2009, Jen felt her true career path was leading her beyond AOL. The company had been a place where a person could bump into then-CEO Steve Case. And that kind of working community appealed to her. But that era was gone.

Jen made the leap to self-employment sanely by following these steps:

1. Do the Math

"Before I quit my job, I looked at my financial situation," she says.

Jen wanted to have a year's living expenses in the bank. So she:

* "Downsized" her life
* Traded a house for an apartment
* Separated luxuries from must-have's

2. Assess Your Skills - Be Responsibly Bold

Jen wanted to earn money while Shiny Heart Ventures got underway.

She broke down her expenses into a daily nut - let's say it's $100, for the sake of easy math.

Then she looked for ways to earn that $100/day.

Her ideas:

* Digital Media Consultant
* Part-time jobs
* Do Photography

Photography was the most appealing option to Jen.

Then she looked at the money-earning part.

Headshots were a profitable, if not wildly creative area of freelance photography.

But profit was her goal in this area of her life; not passion.

"I'll do what it takes because sometimes you have to do that," she said.

Interestingly, however, once she started doing photography, Jen came up with a great idea for a how-to book on photography.

This seemed like "Big Dream, Part II." But she discovered that people were willing to help her realize her idea once she had formed it.

3. Eliminate the Fear

Like other passionate professionals in this series, Jen believes our career path will find us. The key is to lay the groundwork for it.

"I know that doesn't come without a lot of hard work. But I'm up for that work," she says.
"Once you do the planning, you find the joy."

Planning and joy.

These ideas may sound like polar opposites. But they make a huge amount of sense for anyone who'd like to go solo with a happy heart.

And these days, Jen sounds like a very happy woman.

"I would love by this time next year to have at least two products out there and running that we have turned into viable businesses," she told me.

But if that doesn't happen, she has a back-up plan: herself.

"Even if things don't work out with Shiny Heart Ventures and the photography, I have a new view of the world and how I can make money in it. Life, I've discovered, on the flip side, is really good."

And good is a really good place to be at heart.