Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Follow Your Passion: Is it Really Good Advice?

You've all heard the advice:  Discover and follow your passion.  I certainly advise my students to do so.  Is it really good advice though?  Sarah Leary, co-founder and Vice President of marketing and operations at Nextdoor, has an interesting perspective on this topic.   She shared it with Fortune recently.   She explains:  

Many talented businessmen and women advise young people to follow their passions. However, I’ve seen that most are paralyzed by this open-ended advice because they don’t know what they are passionate about in the professional world. And this isn’t entirely their fault. They simply lack the real world experience and feedback to distinguish what they are truly passionate about — yet. In fact, the advice to follow your passion can often work against you as an inexperienced young professional.

What should young people do instead?   Should they not try to discover and follow their passions?  No, she simply argues that one needs to get out there and gain work experience so as to learn what really motivates and inspires you.   Gaining a variety of professional experiences early in your career can help you discover what your passions are and what you enjoy doing.  She recommends pursuing multiple internships while in school.   She advises exploring different industries, companies, and roles.  As Leary states, "Concrete work experience, even as an intern, is illuminating."  Students will not only learn what they enjoy doing... they also will learn what they dislike.   

I would take it one step further.  Internships provide one important way to discover your passions.  There are others.   Take on leadership roles on campus in various organizations.  Shadow alumni  for a day at various companies, if your university has such a program (we do at Bryant University).   Work hard on class projects that involve consulting work for companies and organizations in your region.  Think carefully about the type of campus job that you might like to apply for, particularly in your junior or senior year.  Use independent studies or field study projects to explore an area of interest in more depth.  These techniques, and many more, will help you discover your passions. 

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