Earning

Wall Street trader turned bakery owner: 'Forget your passion' when choosing a career

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Fat Witch Bakery Brownies.
Courtesy Fat Witch Bakery
Key Points
  • Fat Witch Bakery founder Patricia Helding says her decision to start a bakery was based more on her ability to be decisive than her love of baking.
  • "Not everyone who enjoys cooking — even if they're a wonderful cook — is equipped to run a successful restaurant," one career expert says.
  • Identify what you're good at and what you like doing. If there is any overlap, this can help you find a viable career path.

Patricia Helding was a trader on Wall Street for 10 years before she started Fat Witch Bakery in the early 90s. Helding was "looking for a way out," she says, which is why she started perfecting brownie recipes in her spare time.

Now, Fat Witch Bakery is a staple of Chelsea Market and a well-known brand in New York City. So well known, it was featured in the Sex in the City spinoff, "And Just Like That." Its "legendary" brownies are sold in an variety of flavors including matcha and caramel. It also offers brownie mixes and gifts sets, which have accounted for most of the bakery's business since the pandemic.

But if you assume Helding's career pivot was driven by her love for baking, you'd be wrong, she says.

Despite an affinity for cooking and baking, her decision to start Fat Witch was based on what she thought her strengths as a worker were, not what she was passionate about.

This, she says, is key to having a successful career: "Forget your passion. Forget it. Instead, do what you're good at."

'One of the things I'm good at is making decisions'

As a trader, you're constantly making decisions despite the uncertainty of the market.

"You know there is going to be ups and downs," Helding says. "It's a given. In trading, you have to have an opinion and just go with it."

Forget your passion. Forget it. Instead, do what you're good at.
Patricia Helding
Founder of Fat Witch Bakery

"One of the things I'm good at is making decisions," she says.

Helding's ability to be decisive on the fly drove her to start a business, more so than her love of baking: "Trading, you're making decisions every minute. In business, you're making decisions all the time."

Finding out what you're good at and monetizing that skill is a better formula for success than trying to capitalize on a hobby you really love. "If you like to bake pies, you might not like running a business that bakes pies," Helding says.

And, sometimes, what you excel at becomes what you love, she adds: "Find what you're good at, and that will become your passion."

How to decide whether your passion is a profitable career

Career experts agree that trying to transform a hobby into a career is not always wise.

"I would argue that not every person who loves to knit needs to turn their hobby into a side business by opening an Etsy shop," says Amanda Augustine, career expert for TopResume. "Similarly, not everyone who enjoys cooking — even if they're a wonderful cook — is equipped to run a successful restaurant."

If you're grappling with how to differentiate your strengths from your passions, it helps to identify what skills you do, and don't, have, Augustine says. Start by asking yourself 4 key questions:

  • What am I great at?
  • What am I not-so-great at? 
  • What am I excellent at but unexcited by? 
  • What do I excel at and become passionate about? 

Think about past performance reviews or feedback you've received from managers, professors, or even friends, to answer these questions.

I would argue that not every person who loves to knit needs to turn their hobby into a side business by opening an Etsy shop.
Amanda Augustine
Career Expert at TopResume

Then, think abut how your passions could be applied to an occupation, Augustine says. Talk to professionals in the line of work you want to pursue and see if you have the interest or skills to pursue that same career path. Some questions that can help you include:

  • What are the different ways my passion could be applied to various careers?
  • Are there ways to leverage my passion with my other marketable skills? For example, if I was a finance major who's good with numbers but passionate about dance, could I search for an accounting role within a dancewear company, rather than open a dance studio or pursue a career as a professional dancer or dance instructor?
  • If the roles that play to my strengths don't involve my passion, how could I find other outlets for those interests that aren't related to my work?

"Having a passion for something doesn't ensure you have all the skills — or even the desire — to turn it into a profitable career," Augustine says.

Be honest with yourself and, remember, you can still pursue your passion in a way that doesn't affect your income.

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