I started speaking with executives who were looking for work and with students about Passion because I found that many would articulate what they wanted to do with little to no energy or real connection to something more authentic.
I remember one student who came to me for advice about a consulting job in her home country. She explained how she had been in contact with one of the partners of a particular firm but was not sure how to proceed as they had been quiet for several weeks. I asked her why she wanted to go into consulting and she gave me a well-prepared, but soulless answer.
As the woman was wearing designer clothes, very elegant eyeglasses, and a well-known, designer handbag. I asked her if she would have more interest perhaps in luxury consumer goods. Finally, her eyes lit up and she explained that working for a high-end fashion house would be her dream! As she had a financial background my advice was to try and become the controller in such a company in her home country.
Instead of talking about what they are really passionate about, people answer my question with ideas that might be true but are neither compelling nor particularly helpful. They say they want to “work with people”, “be in an international, creative environment”, or something along those lines. The problem is it’s very hard to help someone with such vague interests.
The economy is actually set up around industrial and service sectors and while these are starting to blur into what I will call spaces, you might think about them in terms such as financial services, media, and health care or the different aspects of information and telecommunications technology.
One of the things that have always intrigued me is how there is a complex web of companies behind every facet of the world we live in and with a little thought, creativity, and homework one can begin to drill down into virtually anything.
If you have a passion for toy soldiers, kite surfing, or bubble bath, there is an industrial ecosystem that is manufacturing these items and a complex supply chain going both upstream to raw material manufacturers and downstream to distributors and retailers as well as in many cases service providers, specialty web sites, etc.
In my case, while my first passion has always been for boats, I did spend a lot of time in the automotive industry and I do not think I would have been able to do so without a genuine interest in cars and trucks. My attitude is that if you are going to spend 60-80 hours a week dealing with a business, then it is extremely helpful to have some fundamental identification with the product or service that is offered.
The most important thing is that in the absence of experience or qualifications, passion is often the only thing that one has to convince a potential employer to give you a chance!
Fortunately, if your passion burns bright enough, it is sometimes enough.
- What is your passion?
The hard part, for many people, is to actually look inside themselves deeply enough to be able to identify what their passion really is! Some people have known you all their life and can tell you straight away. Others, it seems don’t know or don’t remember.
If it’s hard for you to articulate what you are passionate about, I suggest you try to remember what you wanted to be when you were 6 or 16.
Did you have a clear idea at one point in your life? What happened to that? Did you want to be a Doctor, an Astronaut, a Fireman, or a Fashion Designer?
While for most of us it might be too late to follow such dreams or even to have realized that perhaps firefighting is actually more dangerous than we thought when we were children, there is still hope to be able to leverage that interest into a meaningful career path.
While we might not be ready to become firefighters, there is an industry devoted to providing them with equipment and a host of services in the emergency response area. If, as a child, you played with fire trucks, then my point is that as an adult you might be able to make your living selling or servicing them!
In another example, while most of us would never qualify for astronaut training, there is a fast-growing, space industry that needs all types of skills from engineers to financial controllers, HR managers, and operations experts today.
If you do not remember what you wanted to be, ask your aunt or uncle, as they will. I do not recommend asking your parents because it might cause them some concern if their 30, 40, or 50-year-old daughter or son is rethinking their career. A favorite aunt, on the other hand, will happily explain whatever your interest was back in the day.
There are valid arguments against working in a field or with a subject for which one is truly passionate. One is that you might lose yourself in the subject matter and become a one-dimensional, workaholic. The other is that by getting involved in the business end of something you might lose part of the romance of the thing.
I do agree with both of these arguments and in many cases, it might not make sense for a specific person to focus on what they like best. It takes a special kind of person to be totally engaged in what they do and still manage to have a balanced life. What I do feel strongly about however is that the opposite logic is not valid and you should not deliberately seek out a product or service area for which you have no feeling whatsoever.
In my view, one of the biggest benefits of being clear about your passion is that it makes it much more likely for you to get help along the way. Not only will a prospective employer be impressed by your genuine interest but others will also.
Senior managers are generally looking for talent all the time. It’s actually quite difficult to find people with genuine interest and a high level of energy and when a friend or acquaintance sends one to you, the normal response is gratitude.
- Write it down!
One way of helping clarify what you can be passionate about is to write down your ideas. The chart shown below is designed to stimulate your thinking. On the left, you can list the things you may find interesting today. On the top right is a space where you can add the things you were passionate about at some earlier points in your life. In the bottom right, you may want to pick out a few ideas, and perhaps you would have some comments about each one of them such as how practical they are or what possible downsides you see in them. The chart is available for download in the charts section.