Satisfying Life vs. Successful Life

If you would like to have a deeply satisfying life, do what you love.

However, contrary to what some people say, doing what you love does not automatically mean you will have a financially successful life.

To have a financially successful life, do what others value and are willing to pay for.

If you want a deeply satisfying AND financially successful life, do what you love that happens to be what others value and are willing to pay for.

These guidelines to life are pretty simple.

Here’s where things get more subtle and interesting.

If what you love to do does not happen to be what others value, what can you do?

Enter the world of stock market portfolio theory.

Yes... portfolio theory.

If you’re not familiar with the term, the term comes from Wall Street. It refers to a situation where an investor is looking for a particular kind of risk vs. return profile but can’t find it.

For example, maybe an investor is looking for the upside potential of an Amazon but some more stability like an IBM. Perhaps a stock with these specific characteristics does not exist.

So what should an investor do?

What Wall Street figured out many years ago is if a single investment doesn’t give you the risk/return profile you seek, sometimes taking a mix or portfolio of stocks can give you what you want.

For example if a stock portfolio of 100% Amazon stock or 100% IBM stock doesn’t give you a risk/reward profile you want, maybe a portfolio of 70% Amazon and 30% IBM might.

The same principle applies to managing your career.

Maybe you love to sing as I do. Perhaps you’ve done a realistic assessment of your skills and realize, like I have, that your skill level isn’t high enough to earn a good living from your passion.

Should you give it up entirely?

Hell, no.

Just take a portfolio approach.

Find another career that’s in demand by others, and have that be the majority, but not 100% of your career “portfolio.”

Maybe it’s 70% vs. 30%, or 90% vs. 10% portfolio allocation.

From a portfolio theory stand point, you can pick any mix you want to get the specific kind of “performance” from your career investment portfolio.

There are two practical considerations to keep in mind when using career portfolio theory.

First, some professions are so incredibly demanding that it’s not possible to have anything else in the portfolio. Management consulting, particularly at the top few firms, is one such career. When you’re a consultant, the job is not just 100% of your career portfolio; it is often 125% of your ideal time devoted to career.

Investment banking is another such profession.

However, these two more popular business professions probably represent less than 1% of all possible business jobs in the world. It just happens that they the ones most visible, and thus most talked about, on elite college campuses around the world.

As you look ahead at your career options, it’s useful to apply a portfolio theory lens to your career choices.

It’s okay to do things that aren’t very profitable, or perhaps not profitable at all.

Several years ago, was my passion project — probably a complete waste of time financially, but really fun to work on. So it entered my career portfolio originally at 1% to 5% of my time annually.

As you might imagine, portfolio allocations change over time. These days I do spend much more than 1% of my time annually on

At the same time, I have another project I am super passionate about. It’s not focused on business at all. I can’t see how it can possibly earn any money at all, but I’m really excited about doing it. It will be my new 1% project in late 2015.

What’s significant about these 1% (or whatever % works for you) passion projects is that even though they take up only 1% of my time, it may end up contributing to 50% to 70% of the satisfaction in my life.

Using more finance concepts, this is an incredibly good Return on Investment (ROI). This is true even if you invest for both income AND life satisfaction.

What are the 1% passion projects in your career?


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30 comments… add one
  • Dilara Jul 29, 2015, 8:22 am

    Victor hi!
    This is maguc, I was thinking about this very deeply during the last half an hour and – I see your email! Thank you!!!
    I will start the volunteering projects regarding sports and/or animals ASAP.

  • Elzet Jul 29, 2015, 8:38 am

    Such a useful way to look at it!

    Since I entered high school and started thinking about my career, I have battled to figure out how to marry my passions, talents, the (job) market and what I want out of life. I’ve been told to simply follow my passions but something in me knew it was only a partial truth.

    This article has honestly offered the most helpful approach I have encountered in 15+ years! Thanks, Victor.

  • Artem Jul 29, 2015, 8:39 am

    Teaching a university course on Corporate Strategy, while working full time on Global Business Development at a major German corporation. This helps me to build-up skills of teaching business subjects, which will be useful 30-35 years later, when I decide to retire, but can continue to have a meaningful life teaching some university courses.

  • Tia Jul 29, 2015, 9:22 am

    Hi Victor,

    I read your email at 9:18am in my office, and you light up my day! Yes, what you’ve talked about in the email is EXACTLY what I have been thinking over and over and struggling with myself these days. I’ve landed a decent job within consulting industry, however, after 3 months’ working I find it’s not that interesting as I thought (plus unlimited unpaid overtime)… So I start wondering: is this really the life I want? Why should I spend all my time doing something I don’t even enjoy?

    After reading though your email, I somehow find a clue to solve my problem.

    Yes, let’s go back to the topic, my 1% passion project in my career is travel. Anything related to travel is what makes me happy ultimately.


  • Mert Jul 29, 2015, 9:29 am

    This inspiring article reminds me that I shouldn’t spend too much time on working. I should figure out what the 1% passion projects is in my career, it’s a good point!

  • Syed Ali Jul 29, 2015, 9:29 am

    I believe like many other this is an excellent afvice from you, Victor thanks.

  • Zane Bain Jul 29, 2015, 9:33 am

    I think this concept is very interesting, wonderful and true. Fulfillment is important but so is comfort due to adequate finances to care of the things pertaining to your life. This is showing you an example of how you can weigh things in your life to get both out of it. I appreciate the info and love reading your emails. They have helped me to think differently.

  • Vishal Jul 29, 2015, 9:34 am

    I really liked todays email. Unknowingly, I have been doing this for the last 15 years. I am working as a Computational Biologist but my real passion is anything but computers. I’m good at what I do in my job but I’ve worked really hard to get jobs (as well as turn down a lot of opportunities) that ensure I have quite a bit of time for my 1% projects which have ranged from learning languages, being a DJ, starting a band, directing plays, playing badminton and the most important of all Startups! I really enjoy ideas and taking them from a thought in my head to something tangible. I’ve had 1 failed startup so far and I am actively working on my second one in Ed-Tech space now. I do feel that one ends up spending way more than 1% of ones time on such projects eventually but as Victor said, the ROI in terms of satisfaction is much more! It does come at a high price though. I have estimated that I have lost more than $500K in the last 10 years in terms of money that I didn’t make due to opportunities I let go but I don’t regret that because its the price one pays for what you enjoy and that is always worth it! 🙂 Thank you for the email Victor and thank you for reading this long comment!

  • Ilys Jul 29, 2015, 10:26 am

    Running a hotel in the Baltic Sea region. The one that I woukd like to live in, so that others would like as well.

  • Gabriela Jul 29, 2015, 10:31 am

    I loved your Satisfying Life vs. Successful Life email.
    I’m an engineer, with a master specialized in international energy management, so needless to say here I am working for one of the top 10 biggest oil companies in the world. Nonetheless, environmental issues and teaching are my two biggest passions and I would love to be able to do something related to that. Thinking of it from a Portfolio Theory point of view, sounds like a great idea.

  • Martin Lofaj Jul 29, 2015, 11:58 am

    Doing “nice-to have” things. Things that I don’t need to do to live, but that add the spice to the substance of life.
    – Making home-made films
    – Going on experience trips (fast-car drive, travel around Thailand holiday)
    – Participate in workshops, seminars (entrepreneurial, presentation skills, marketing)
    – Particiate in projects (Erasmus+)
    – Listen to audiobooks
    – Read literature
    – Subscribe to interesting blog-writers, to interesting content websites
    – Create memes
    – Play the clarinet
    – Take a nap
    – Meditate
    – Think of how to be awesome and then do it
    – Slow down and unburden myself of stress, help others do the same
    – Have something that is ONLY mine (some money, some ideas, some experiences)
    – Drink beer
    – Remember the amazing people I meet and plot schemes that would make use of my network
    – Collect, remember, and live by quotes I like
    – Explore my soul
    All the best to you, Victor!

  • Amalia Jul 29, 2015, 12:36 pm

    A point well made. A year ago I decided to do just that and to pair my work as an English teacher with working towards a degree in Finance and Accounting, so I went to a target school for McKinsey in my region. I already see the benefits, though they are not tangible yet. And I discovered a new passion on the way.

  • Vish Jul 29, 2015, 12:54 pm

    Great article Victor !

    Ultimately it’s about having a balance between what makes you happy and what buys bread and butter … and recognizing that life is not perfect.

    Even for the fortunate few for whom – what makes them happy buys them bread … they still can’t expect to have an ideal profession. …

    Take for example the aspiring mgmt. consultant who makes it and realizes that he is not working the latest strategy super-project but system implementations … or the aspiring movie director who makes it as as assistant to a super-star movie director only to find out he is doing crowd control and production budgeting rather than work on the next big script.

  • Mandy Jul 29, 2015, 1:14 pm

    I love to cook, and I hope I can open up my own restaurant someday.

  • Daniel Chew Jul 29, 2015, 1:19 pm

    Nice email Victor! It resonates with me straight away.
    I am just like Gabriela, an engineer working for one of the major oil.
    Investing and Teaching are my passions. I’ve been investing for years and recently I started an investment blog to share my experiences. So that’s my 1% passion project to give back to the community.

    Will be interested to see whether this 1% grows over time.

  • Jan Jul 29, 2015, 1:42 pm

    Dear Victor,
    Thank you so much for your letter “Satisfying Life vs. Successful Life”. It is incredible in its wisdom and its practical value. Many thanks for this!

    With many best wishes,

  • Greg Campbell Jul 29, 2015, 3:33 pm

    I’ve been blessed to have had the “career” position but with that came a high price – I was traveling a ton and missed a lot of family life. I had to chance to early retire from career #1 and now am focused more on a “job” than a second career. I found out early how I was “wired” and what type of work I enjoy doing. Although I worked in several different functions, overall I stayed under the same industry umbrella. I have found my work very rewarding but am looking forward to focusing on work that truly adds value and has a Kingdom purpose. Thanks for all you do.

  • Reina Jul 29, 2015, 4:48 pm

    Your material has a very calming quality.
    Thanks, Victor!

  • Gregory Jul 29, 2015, 10:11 pm

    Thank you Victor. I read all of your material, from the consulting to the life advice. Between you and Facebook’s Humans of New York, I have the human side of my life covered. Cheers!

  • Viatcheslav Jul 30, 2015, 1:40 am

    Thanks, Victor! Very interesting point of view

  • Mike Colucci Jul 31, 2015, 9:18 am

    What I really like about this post is the idea of managing your career portfolio over time. Just like an investment portfolio the mixture of investments in your portfolio will change over time.

  • Victor Cheng Jul 31, 2015, 9:40 am

    I excited to see the diversity of what people are passionate about.

    Also, I deliberate choose the idea of the 1% project to emphasize how little time it takes to create a focus shift to something that’s meaningful to you. In practice, most people enjoy their 1% projects so much, that it becomes a larger % of their time allocation portfolio.


  • Ayman Jul 31, 2015, 12:38 pm

    Really,it’s the first time I hear about career portfolio.Also I’m very very interested in your topics .I’m working as product manager . But I love Dawah to Islam (inviting others),So after your words I will start with it in October 2015 as 20%project.

    But I want to ask you , can I make portfolio like Product manager 79%, Dawah to islam 20% and 1%teacher ?

    • Victor Cheng Aug 4, 2015, 12:11 am


      Any portfolio combination is possible.

      The real question is does that combination with its inherent strengths and weaknesses work for you?

      Does it give you enough joy? Does it give you enough income? Does it give you enough upside? Does it give you enough safety? Does it give you enough excitement?

      Some of these traits are mutually exclusive. You can only have one at the expense of another. Other traits are not.

      The key is to figure out for YOUR life what works for YOU.


    • Abdulazeez Sep 9, 2015, 4:16 pm

      I like the dawah part of your portfolio. i wish u the best

  • Colin Aug 2, 2015, 2:12 pm

    Hi Victor and everyone else on this thread!

    Applying portfolio theory/risk-return ideas to discern which passions I spend my time on is definitely an interesting approach. For me I know my Satisfying Life comes from pursuing global health equity: the idea that someone can expect less years of healthy life due to their income or where they live is absolutely ridiculous to me! I want to make the most of the privileges I’ve been given in life to ensure no one dies of a disease we have a cure for. However, there’s a lot of complexity to embrace to actually do this.

    The idea that I should spend 30% of my life on global health and 70% on my career is a great one — but aren’t the two going to inevitably overlap? Why not encourage the organization I work with to be an advocate for global health equity? Even if my passion takes up 1% of my time, it will shape my thoughts and actions in my career every step of the way!

    I’m realizing that for me to have the most helpful impact with global health, I need to gain skills first. For my Successful Life, improving my quantitative skills and understanding of organizations is a great way to catch my bearings and find out how the global health movement can be assisted by the globe’s most influential organizations.

    Victor — Thank You for your help! I’m excited to see what happens next!

    • Victor Cheng Aug 4, 2015, 12:14 am


      There are many ways in life to be right. There is no one correct path.

      I do like the way you’re thinking about your options more broadly, more holistically, and more creatively. That was the entire point of my article. Think less in the yes/no paradigm, more in the “how” (could I make this work for me) paradigm. It may not be possible, but if you ask yourself “how” you will often get a more useful answer than simply asking a yes/no “is this possible?” kind of question.


  • Felipe Aug 5, 2015, 2:55 pm

    Hi Cheng!
    I am working as an IT consultant, and my passion is to listen, produce and mix music. The results are maybe comparable to your singing passion, but it is a lot of fun, I can tell you! One installation of Ableton Live, some synthesizers and hours and hours of joy.
    I decided to completeley separate this passion and my management/marketing background. I don’t want to be succesful with that, don’t want to have any duties because of music: no synergies allowed 🙂
    Thank you for your inspiring ‘big picture’ mails!
    Your sincerely,

  • Sherry Aug 14, 2015, 11:08 pm

    Hi Victor,
    I’m a new graduate and have been onboard with a consulting company for less than a month. Honestly speaking I have a very mixed feeling right now but I suppose this is not the place for me to share all my feeling with you. I just want to say that you career portfolio theory really inspires me and now I have a better idea about how I shall arrange my spare time.
    Thank you so much!

  • Samantha Dec 6, 2015, 2:45 am

    Hi Victor,
    Your emails are always an interesting read, and in particular this one struck a chord with me because its something that has been occupying my mind recently. I’m a recent graduate thinking about applying for management consulting jobs. However, I have two concerns. First, that I’m jumping into the deep end and am leaving a job which provides a good work life balance but which I find no longer challenging. Secondly, I’m not sure if I want to do management consulting for the right reasons nor whether I would be any good at it. Problem solving is something I enjoy and the perks of being able to travel for work is very appealing, but I’ve also heard MC is very process driven. What I am certain of though is that it is time for me to make a change! As to what are my 1% passion projects, there are many: reading, taking photos for my (new) Instagram account, and in particular travelling to new destinations always brings me such joy and has infinitely enriched my life. Keep up the great work!

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