A few years ago, I attended an inspiring lecture by Larry Smith, an economics professor at the University of Waterloo. During that lecture, Dr. Smigh told a room of 100 hundred undergraduate students, including myself, why we would 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 to look beyond simply 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 in the middle/late stage of their first university degree (as I was at the time I attended the lecture), it can be frightening to think about what will happen in the future. Like many students who attend post-secondary institutions I chose my program not out of passion, but to give myself the best guarantee of an economically comfortable living. 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.
Dr. Smith made a point of telling us that 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. In that bubble of frustration and desire to find meaning in your life, there will come a point where 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 restart my post-secondary education. I am also at a point where I’m not exactly willing to. I may not have been passionate about my studies in biomedical sciences, but I certainly found it interesting. The student I mentioned in the previous paragraph was pursuing a degree in engineering. He didn’t specify what his passion was, but he made it clear he felt it was irrelevant to his program of study. Dr. Smith told him that regardless of what you study, 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 Dr. 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.
All in all, I just wanted to share this post as some food for thought to inspire you to stop and reassess where you are in life and what could make it happier. My dream career is probably out there somewhere, but I don’t yet know where. Nevertheless, I can say that I am happy with the way my life is currently headed. I await its adventures and surprises with hopeful optimism.
Are you living your passion?