Celebrities With Big Dreams, Bigger Payoffs

By Erin Joyce | December 09, 2009 AAA

When you set out to find a career, it seems there are two warring camps you have to decide between: doing something you love or doing something that pays well. The dream, of course, is to find something that fulfills both goals, and it is possible. Here are five big names that made it by following their hearts, and ended up filling their wallets.

"Never move out of your truth." - Jillian Michaels
The ferocious trainer from NBC's The Biggest Loser went from (in her words) fat kid to fit kid. She revealed at an eDiets.com conference that she left high school at age 17 to start training others. At age 24, she decided she needed a "real job" and went to work as a motion picture packaging agent, a job she says made her wake up every morning and "wish for death."

At 27, she went back to training and considers her job now what gives her life meaning. She has trained celebrities (which would be one way to do something she loves and get paid) but Jillian says she is not interested in focusing on "the privileged few" and is instead committed to helping regular people become healthier.

Since leaving her "real job", Jillian has created a fitness empire under the company name Empowered Media. She has written several books and created an online diet program as well as a meal-delivery weight-loss program. She has a self-named Wii game and a treadmill with her voice programmed in for some gentle encouragement. On top of all that, she hosts a weekly radio show and will be returning to The Biggest Loser for its ninth season in January 2010. Jillian also co-owns Sky Sport & Spa in Los Angeles. (Learn about investing in entertainment. Read Leisure Funds: Where Luxury And Fun Come To Make Money.)

"You can make fun of everything." - Matt Stone
Trey Parker and Matt Stone are best known as co-creators of the Comedy Central show South Park. Trey Parker graduated from the University of Colorado with a double major in music and Japanese. Matt Stone graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder as the first student to hold the double major of film and mathematics.

While both of them hold degrees in areas which many would argue offer more fruitful career choices, their passion for film, music and entertainment led them to create the Comedy Central's highest-rated and longest-running program.

The pair created a full-length South Park movie, as well as the film Team America: World Police, the low box office numbers for which did not reflect the popularity of the movie once it was released to DVD. The two are members of the band "DVDA" and they create nearly all the music in their projects. In fact, Trey Parker performed every song in Team America.

It certainly wasn't the easiest way to follow their dreams, but they certainly have a lot to show for it. South Park merchandise is everywhere (which includes everything from t-shirts to video games) and the show is scheduled to continue into 2011 - at least. Trey Parker is said to own seven houses and the duo have energy-efficient, sustainable getaway mansions in Colorado and Hawaii.

"The best four letter word in the world is Hope." - Stephenie Meyer
Now a household name for her authorial debut, Stephenie Meyer was a stay-at-home mother of three until a dream on June 2, 2003 changed her life forever. Over the course of three months, that dream became her first novel, "Twilight", which debuted at #5 on The New York Times bestseller list.

Since then, the first book alone has sold over 47 million copies worldwide and the subsequent novels in the series fared even better, with "New Moon" hitting #1 on the Times' list and "Breaking Dawn" reaching 69 million copies sold. The movie version of the first book grossed $70 million in its opening weekend, and the sequels have done even better.

While her degree is in English, Stephenie says she is happiest when she's at home being a mom, rather than an internationally famous author. Her goal is to write five books in the next year, so she will be at home writing rather that enjoying the perks of fame. Undeniably, though, her new-found passion is also a commercial success. (For info on a different type of writing, check out Becoming A Financial Writer.)

"Advertising on the Web is less about just hitting someone with a message ... It's about engagement [with that user]" - Mark Zuckerberg
The founder of social networking site Facebook.com, Mark Zuckerberg began the site when he was a student at Harvard with the help of fellow students and roommates. In 2004, after dropping out of college, he went to Palo Alto with nothing but his fledgling site to his name. With the help of $12.7 million in venture capital, Facebook became the number one social networking site in terms of monthly visits with over 1.19 billion hits in January 2009 according to compete.com.

So how's Mark Zuckerberg doing today? He was named "the world's youngest self-made billionaire" by Forbes Magazine in 2008 and he is estimated to be worth US $1.5 billion. And just how popular is Facebook? As Mark explained, with more than 175 million users, if it were a country, Facebook would be the sixth-most populated country in the world. (Learn more about how technology affects finance in From The Printing Press To The Internet.)

The Bottom Line
It's a scary prospect to follow your passion instead of following the steady paycheck, but the rewards that come with it are more than just monetary. If you loathe your job, the salary may seem less appealing. If you love your job, however, that might be worth more than the wage in your pocket. And if you're lucky, you can have both, but it starts with your passion. And it may be more achievable than you think.

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