In my case, my passion became my career. And it was only through what others may view as hard work (what I would call 'just playing') that got me where I am today, as a player. It's an attitude. Some see things as hard work, others see it as a pleasure.
There's nothing on earth worth having that doesn't require a little hard work - Thomas Edison (I think)
In a past post, someone quoted Charlie Parker when asked about how he achieved his amazing musical ability: "I practice the scales, I practice the scales, I practice the scales, I go out and whale the shit out of the scales".