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Why you should ditch long hours and learn to dance

After years of planning, Dave Bouskill and Deb Corbeil made the jump to being professional nomads.

GEOFF ROBINS/The Globe and Mail

Barely a week into 2013, a key line item may be worth adding to your list of New Year's resolutions, however dog-eared. Dig it out, find a pen, and jot this down: Follow my passion.

It may feel hokey and farfetched, especially if your passions consist of things such as learning to flamenco dance, being paid to travel the world, writing a book or opening a cupcake shop. No matter. Pursuing them could be the best strategy for success in 2013, said Susan Biali, a Vancouver physician turned professional dancer, speaker and writer.

She is part of the growing swath of people in Canada who are finding happiness and renewed professional success by reordering their priorities – and coaching others to do the same.

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"It does not mean that you stop going to work," Dr. Biali said. "It's about making sure that our focus on work and finances doesn't crowd out the things that give life its deepest richness. Make sure this is the year that you sign up for that watercolour course or take your family to Thailand – and work isn't going to stop you."

More than 80 per cent of Canadian respondents to a recent survey commissioned by American Express said they plan to learn new things this year. And about 90 per cent said following their passions should take priority over all other commitments. For Dr. Biali, those numbers signify a crucial shift in the minds of a burned-out population.

"We've all been living out the wrong formula for success, linking it too closely with over-ambition and long working hours," she said.

Dr. Biali followed her dream of becoming a professional dancer after falling into a deep depression as an emergency room resident. She now juggles a multifaceted career as an entertainer, motivational speaker, author and "very" part-time family physician. She said she is happier and more successful than she ever imagined.

"You want to be happy at work because it represents such a gigantic part of your life," said Gretchen Rubin, the New York-based lawyer-turned-author of The Happiness Project.

The book charted her year-long effort to test-drive studies and theories about how to improve happiness. "Admiration and approval of the people around us is very sweet, but it is not enough to be the foundation of a happy life," Ms. Rubin said, adding: "You really have to have a very clear vision of what is for you."

For Jean Blacklock, that vision first came when she was a girl. The Saskatchewn native loved to bake and cook and dreamed of having her own food business. "Everyone said, 'You can do that later. You can bake and cook as part of your hobbies, but it's a tough, tough field, and you should get a real job,'" recalled Ms. Blacklock, who went on to become an estate planning lawyer in Calgary and then took an executive role with Bank of Montreal.

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In 2009, she married another bank executive and left the company. To determine her next professional step, Ms. Blacklock looked back on her early passions and eventually launched Prairie Girl Bakery, a high-end cupcake business in Toronto's financial district. Come April, she will open her third location, in the city's tony Yorkville district.

Still, she said there have been unexpected hurdles. "If it's a huge success, it's going to be a ton of work," she cautioned would-be entrepreneurs. "There's a lot of times when it might look really fun from the outside, but it's hard work. This is what I didn't think about."

For Deb Corbeil and Dave Bouskill, married travel bloggers who left jobs in Vancouver's film industry to roam the globe full-time in 2007, loving their job makes hard work and stress easier to face. "I'm never thinking 'Oh gosh, I can't wait until I'm 65 to retire.' I think it's because we finally found what we wanted," Ms. Corbeil said.

The couple planned carefully to get there. It took seven years to engineer their complete exit from the film world. Then they alternately worked to save money and travelled, test-driving ideas that would allow them to make a good income doing what they loved.

Now they travel – staying with relatives in Woodstock, Ont., when in Canada – write about their adventures on their website, The, and speak at conferences. The first step to being able to do more of what you love to do, Mr. Bouskill advised, is to think small. "Too many people think: 'I have to quit everything and start new.' That's the worst thing you can do.

"You need to think about it, find what you want to do, make a plan. The life change isn't going to happen overnight."

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Ms. Blacklock's advice for the professionally disgruntled is equally practical. "It doesn't have to be 2013 that you actually quit your job," she said. "There's a lot we can do mentally to move our hopes and dreams along without actually handing in our resignation letter."

Dr. Biali recommends starting with a "bucket list" of goals and interests. "Then pick something on that list you can start doing in some way right now.

"If you at least have some area of your life where you're pursuing what you're passionate about, it's a light that lights up the other corners of your life."

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