Finding your passion

by seangljacobs

Part of the New Guinea Commerce Winners Don’t Cheat Series.

By Sean Jacobs

‘Well we sucked,’ says the musician Dave Grohl. ‘But we loved what we did so we kept playing. But we always found ways to improve… we kept sucking but eventually with improvement we became Nirvana.’

Grohl’s simple approach highlights the value of sapping some enjoyment from what you do and how important this is to propel to new heights. I use the term ‘some enjoyment’ because finding your passion is not always an easy or complete endeavour.

Many of my young friends, for example, studied law with ambitions of prowling around the courtroom but ended up ‘hating it’. Others started with hands on professions but found that, with experience, they’re more cut out for the corner office. Many successful people also say that they ‘still don’t know what they want to do’ even after rising to the top of their professions.

The businessman Russell Simmons thought he found his inspiration through drugs and models – appealing outward signs of success. But, when building his clothing label, he found a sense of ‘peace and tranquillity’ when marking up sketches and designs. This, he says, ‘were the foundations of my happiness and success’ and ‘not the chaotic life I had created.’

Chasing the appealing outward signs of success, such as the next pay rise, will mean little if it’s not aligned to your core passion. As the investment legend John Bogle says, ‘The point is whether you want to choose the illusory rabbit of success – defined by wealth, fame, and power – rather than the real rabbit of meaning – defined by integrity, virtue, and inner strength.’

So how do you find your passion? Again, it’s not an easy or overnight process. But I’ve found that, especially in your formative years, it’s worth exposing yourself to potential opportunities, industries and careers. ‘If you don’t know better,’ says John Hope Bryant, ‘you can’t do better.’

For me, and although I didn’t know it at the time, a major turning point was a high school visit from Australia to Washington D.C. and seeing the institutions of democracy intersect with foreign embassies and international organisations. Current affairs made sense to me over rearranging triangles and fiddling with Bunsen burners in the school science lab.

Although it sounds pretentious – a sense of destiny began to grow. After working across government and non-government sectors in three countries ‘the dots’, to use Steve Jobs’ famous words, began ‘to make sense.’ I won a university academic excellence award, turned around a national sporting organisation in Fiji as part of the Australian aid program, consulted for the United Nations in one of the toughest governing arenas in the world and then wrote policy briefs for the Prime Minister.

My first years out of school, however, didn’t point to such success. Although I didn’t get into university on my first go, and there were plenty of rejections to be disheartened, there was something inside me – a passion – from my early years that came from ‘knowing better.’

This helped me to take setbacks, get over my ignorance and, in Grohl’s words, ‘find ways to improve.’

Many young people complain about their perceived lack of capabilities. But, as the actor Stephen Fry points out, these people usually have no problems reciting ‘hundreds of pop lyrics and reel off any amount of information about footballers, cars and celebrities.’ Being interested, he says, enables such young people to suddenly call-upon their supposedly absent capabilities.

Many young people also complain about the lack of opportunities. But there is no better time in history for young people to find or chase their passion. We live in an era, to paraphrase the comedian Chris Rock, where the best golfer is a black guy, the tallest basket baller a Chinese guy and the best rapper a white guy. The pathways open to the current generation are what previous generations could only dream of.

General Colin Powell, when asked if he knew that he would go from sweeping floors to US Secretary of State, says that he didn’t know such prospects existed in his early years. What he did, however, was build on the things he enjoyed while working hard, constantly preparing and learning from failure. The success, over time, found itself.

If you can’t immediately find your inner calling, or don’t know exactly where you want to go, Powell’s lesson serves as very simple but decent advice.

Finding your passion certainly doesn’t take away the personal or career challenges but it does gives you some sense of purpose or direction. If you can’t find it right now a journey of genuine self-exploration will help. Once you do you’ll have at your disposal the greatest resource of all.