Monday 24 August 2015

Find Your Passion, but More Importantly, Find Your People

An original version of this blog can be found on The Huffington Post here.

According to the Conference Board, a New York-based research nonprofit group, only 48.7% of American employees are satisfied with their job. Career articles advise working-age adults to “Find Your Passion,” but the issue’s still difficult to figure out how. The reality is that there’s no guidebook out there as our lives are so diversely unique.

If you are in the predicament of figuring out your passion, it is recognized that you are ultimately a part of a privileged group. How lucky are we to have the time, stability, and choice to figure what we want? Unfortunately, choices and expectations themselves can be unknown and overwhelming. I fear; however, that we too often get stuck in our day-to-day routines and miss out on what we truly need...that perhaps we get so blinded by what we’ve always done that we can’t identify and lose track of what we actually want. But most importantly, because of this pursuit of a higher meaning, we often forget the people around us.

Throughout the years, I’ve become convinced that more important than trying to figure out a passion is building a foundation of good people, those of whom may ultimately lead you to unexpected paths and unpredictable careers. And simply enough, when you’re surrounded by good people, life just gets better.

There are certain transformative experiences that demonstrated to me that relationship-building trumps any individual pursuit.
  • Collective activism is more empowering than your own journey - In 2006, the United Nations Secretary-General estimated that 2.7 billion people lived on less than $2.00 a day. I felt a calling to do whatever I could and set out to serve for 27 months with the US Peace Corps in West Africa. The Cameroonian community members I lived and worked with; however, taught me more than any technical skills I taught them. We may have lacked electricity and a budget, but we were able to create a community market for 8,000 residents based on the power of bringing people together and a strong a sense of community.

  • A good network can alleviate doubts and encourage action - StartingBloc is a 5-day institute that has brought to date 2,000 Fellows together to cultivate social impact ideas. In August 2014, Kat Alexander came in with a small website called Report, It Girl that serves as a safe and moderated space for survivors of sexual assault to heal. It had zero user-submitted stories and though a survivor herself, she didn’t know if it was worth pursuing. Her pitch was voted first place, another Fellow soon joined her team, and the community even kept her accountable to pursuing her idea. One year later, Report It, Girl has grown to 3,000+ users globally, is fiscally sponsored by Sexual Health Innovations, and was featured on Fast Forward’s tech-nonprofits list. Her next step as CEO beyond scale and funding? She plans to connect to other social entrepreneurs to continuously grow her network of good people.

  • Supporting others on their paths can be humbling and motivating - If you dare stereotype Millennials as lazy, visit one of the residencies of Duke Fuqua’s Cross Continent MBA. Each year, 100+ students enroll to complete an MBA in 1.5 years while working full-time jobs. The students are professionally successful and individually ambitious, but we’ve a built a “we’re-all-in-this-together” mentality. Need an accounting help at 11pm? Want 100 people to cheer you on after a triathlon? Contact a fellow CCMBA classmate...or even all of them. Academically, this program is teaching me how little I know. Personally, after meeting each other at our first two-week residency, I’ve feel like I may be at home within the network based around the world.

I have a friend who's a fighter pilot for the Marines Corps and flies and F-35, the newest stealth fighter plane in the world. He's the toughest guy I know with bucket list items checked off form running 50-mile races to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Even fighter pilots; however, must always fly with 2-4 other jets in formation serving as wingmen. Their mantra is built on system of mutual support to always look out for one another. The last time we spoke, I asked him about what retired fighter pilots miss the most. Was it the covert missions? Flying jet planes? The most common answer was simply "brotherhood."

You don’t necessarily need to sacrifice large amounts time or money for transformational experiences or to find good people. Building and cultivating a network could be in the form a Lean in Circle or simply appreciating your family and friends.

At the end of the day, find your passion, but more importantly find your people. They may just get you to your passion after all.