How to Find Your Passion in Life

I really enjoyed Fred Wilson’s post on “Finding Your Passion.” He chronicled how he found his way into VC right out of b-school and about his life partner’s strong role in that process.

My journey took a lot longer. I tried different jobs, had a very support spouse as well, but it took me longer to find my way. I don’t know if other people find that, too, but I certainly wanted to find my passion, but it seemed very elusive for a long time.

I went from i-banking to management consulting in Boston to a summer internship at Bain Capital to management consulting in Singapore/Hong Kong/Thailand/Korea/Malaysia/Indonesia to turning down a job reporting directly to Jeff Bezos at to VC to starting a new VC firm. (I’ve written about a good chunk of this journey among the blog posts here.)

Moreover, I think that we as a society are programming our children to try to find their passion way early. Two of my children were visiting a college this weekend, for example. During the Admissions Q&A, the Admissions officer told them how to write their college essays. The advice boiled down to this: tell us what you’re passionate about and how that will contribute to this college’s life and well-being.

I think that’s all good, but it made me wonder whether it is realistic to expect a 17 year-old to know all that when many middle-aged people are still trying to figure that out.

Also, in my job, I meet with many, many people looking to find their next job. We have been quite fortunate to source many great executives for our companies, and so, it’s a key part of my role as a VC. We embrace that role, in fact.

So, here are some lessons learned:

  • You need a brainstorm partner and sounding board. IMO, it is nearly impossible to iterate to your passion, unless you have a trusted verbal-sparring partner. For example, I was lucky enough to get an offer to join Bain Capital coming out of HBS. There was a lot to like: prestige, high compensation, an incredibly smart team, etc. But, something didn’t feel right. Well, I was having lunch with a fellow section-mate, Chuck Elias. He heard my pros and cons. He then said: “I think you already know the answer, but you’re trying to talk yourself into taking the job.” He was right. But, I needed to “talk it out.”
  • Embrace that finding your passion is tricky. It is hard to define, but you “know it when you see it.” I think articulating your passion is hard because you as a person are changing over time. Your immediate interests, priorities and internal scripts are evolving. So, just knowing that it is challenging to define your passion at any point in time is helpful. You’re not abnormal if you’re struggling with the process. It’s just how it is, and just embrace the ambiguity and stop beating up yourself.
  • Moments of passion are already known. I’d encourage you to think about a moment in a prior job where you felt really good about it. Maybe the job overall sucked, but there should be some moments where you had a “peak experience.” Then, write that down. What happened and what did you feel? There is huge value to writing and making explicit what is implicit. So, write. Then, recall other prior peak experiences and write those down, too. Over time, you will see a pattern. Was it the company culture? Was it a day-to-day task that you really enjoyed doing? Was it a work-life balance?

So, I hope that is helpful. I think finding your passion is a life-long journey, but it is good to be mindful about it and periodically check in with yourself. I think we owe it to ourselves to live the life that we actually have envisioned for ourselves but are having difficulty actualizing.

I think we all are very good at knowing this within ourselves: are we currently on a true path in life, or not?

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