Living in Los Angeles, one meets an incredible amount of people who are passionate about a number of things. One of my friends who has worked as a bartender for years in a swanky West L.A. restaurant spends most of his day job going to audition after audition waiting for that one callback. Pursuing a passion is hard work, just check out most, if not all, of the reality shows on TV these days: “American Idol,” “America’s Next Top Model” and “Project Runway” all give contestants their one shot at somehow “making it.”

These specific goals, or passions, that drive people to pursue something they love despite insurmountable obstacles take special care and cultivation. One would be surprised that when asking people, especially young people, about what their goals are in life, many can’t answer the question.

Sometimes the question is misconstrued to be: What will earn me the most money? After all, in order to be happy basic human needs must be met such as food, clothing and shelter, but once you have these things, what else is there worth fighting for? Finding what makes you happy and gives you purpose in life is an important question to tackle at any moment, whether you’ve just graduated from high school or college, or hit 30.

I’m often reminded of the scene in George Clooney’s recent movie Up in the Air, when he asks a man how much money it took for him to give up on his dream of becoming a chef. The responding recipient, who was just fired from a corporate job, said it was around $30,000 a year. It is true that the lure of stability often overrides a dream that seems hopeless, but what comes into question is whether this rationality is based on reason, or fear of being unsuccessful.

Frankly, to follow one’s dream is extremely scary, at any point. There is reason to believe that luck and chance will always have their hand, and failure is inevitable. Opposition to your dreams might even come from the people closest to you, family members or friends that seem to care about you the most. Where do you get the support or inspiration to keep from being in the trenches, when the opposition from your environment and from within yourself prevails so strongly?

What I have learned about following a passion, goal or career choice is to first understand why something makes you happy. If it’s simply money, and nothing else, then you can take any job offered on craigslist. Real passions derive from something more. It’s an intrinsic manifestation in a way that helping others or enjoying a piece of art can affect and enliven your soul. Passions can be people, places, things or actions that enrich your life in ways money can’t.

Another misconception is that it has to be one thing. As I’ve learned you don’t have to close 10 doors to open one; it’s important to take everything that you’re interested in and find the opportunities that can get you to where you want to be.

Also, it is very important to surround yourself with like-minded people who can understand and motivate you. This may be hard since not everyone is born in an environment with a strong support system, but there are organizations and positive people out there who can give you a strong support base like family or friends, or a specific community within or outside your neighborhood. The Internet is a great place to start to find such support systems, if they don’t already exist in your life already.

To achieve your goals, set a timeline of mini-goals to check off, that way it doesn’t seem like a daunting task. It can be as easy as practicing or reading a book on the subject. Take it as a ladder of opportunity, where each step is one step closer to your dream. Even the most hardened pessimist needs to look at each rejection or failure as one step closer to his goal.

The famous playwright Samuel Beckett once said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

It is during these times of “failure” that you can look back at why this dream made you happy in the first place, and to look to your support system for inspiration. Then you can go back to your mini-goals ready to “fail better” toward pursuing something that gives life more worth than any mountain of gold can buy.