I am inspired this week by a man known as Larry Smith. Smith works primarily as an economics professor at the University of Waterloo. On Monday, he told a room of 100 hundred other students, including myself, why you will fail to have a great career. He then told us how to fix it.
I mean really, have you ever seen a gravestone say “Here lies a terrible parent, an untrustworthy friend, and an unfaithful spouse?”
The main point of his presentation was to follow your passion, or else you will die as wasted potential. He urged us to do something that will make our life worth living, and not just about making a living. One thing I really enjoyed about Smith’s talk was how down-to-earth he was. His presentation was essentially an expansion of the TED talk he had presented for TEDxUW, which I felt was too short to do him justice. He was very much aware of the common issues students—and people in general—have when they want to pursue a job based on passion: the risk , the loss of resolve, and the hardships of actually making a living off that passion.
For students such as I who are in the middle/late stage of their first university degree, it can be a frightening thing to think about what will happen to our future. Like many in post-secondary institutions, I chose my program not for passion but for the guarantee of a safe living (well even then, I can’t say it’s a guarantee since I haven’t actually graduated yet, heh). During the Q&A portion of the talk, a student raised his concern over the dissociation between his passion and his current program of study. Smith responded with two major points: sacrifices must be made, unconventional connections always exist. Even if you already have a well-paying job or have already graduated, if you are feeling dissatisfied with your career and you have a passion so strong you want to quit your job to fulfill it, you will find a way. It will be at that point that your creativity, resourcefulness, and determination will be your best friends. How will you know if your passion is strong enough?
Oh, you’ll know. And if you don’t know, it means you’ve never felt it. Once it hits you, you’ll know you have your passion.
the Loss of Resolve
It is too late for me to start my post-secondary education over. I am also at a point where I’m not exactly willing to; my major may not necessarily be my passion, but it is definitely an interest. The student I mentioned in the previous paragraph was pursuing a degree in engineering. He did not specify what his passion was, but he made it clear he felt it was irrelevant to his program of study. Smith told him that no matter what you are studying, if you are seeking a successful career—one that taps into your passion(s)—creativity and resourcefulness are a must. He then gave examples of people he knew who had indeed graduated with an engineering degree and went on to pursue their passions with the background knowledge gained from that degree. His message: all is not lost if you keep your mind open. If you are truly passionate, you will find a solution… which may or may not involve changing your job description once you’ve infiltrated the workplace.
Following your passion comes with risks, as Smith is well aware. He is fortunate enough that his job both pays well and satisfies his passions for connecting with people, putting his experience to use, and statistics. The reality is that passion is only one piece of a career. To have a career from which you will have emotional and material satisfaction, you will need to take into account your skills, your personality, and luck. Someone with a passion for music may not necessarily be a very good musician. However, if passion can drive you to spend a lot of time improving your skills, networking with the right people, and taking as many opportunities as possible to expose yourself to your potential career, you will be successful.
My dream career is probably out there somewhere, but I don’t really know where. In this post by Erin Little, she lists some start-up advice for those who want to make their passion their career. For an encouraging story from Alex Banayan, a 19-year-old associate VC who started his career from his passion for technology (despite studying as a pre-med student), click here. As for me, I’m still in the midst of figuring out my passion and pairing it with my current undergraduate degree and skill set. I definitely feel like I’ve come closer to my aim than I have been in a long time… but as for my future career aim, only time can tell at this point.
P.S: If anyone happens to know a speech pathologist, do send me a message. Thanks for reading!
Are you living your passion?