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
  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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,

  • 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.


  • 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

  • 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.


  • 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.

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