Discovering Our Passions

25 Feb

I want to first thank everyone who has shown enthusiasm and interest in this project, I have had a variety of people reach out to me already! It just goes to show that many people have an opinion on this subject matter, which just reinforces my own motivation to give this topic and conversation increased visibility. I will be posting on some of the interviews I have conducted thus far as soon as possible, hopefully later this week. Until then, I want to talk about a few things that have been on my mind this past week.

The first of these thoughts is on the concept of career exploration. When we enter college and begin the process of picking a major, we are forced to think about what we’re going to do with our lives, and the major we pick “should” be related to that. How are we supposed to know what we want to do at our age? As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are those lucky few who just know that they want to be a doctor, or an interior designer, or a chef. But what about the rest of us? For the most part, traditional schooling does a poor job not only in career exploration for students, but personal identity development. By discovering who we are as individuals- our skills, passions, values and beliefs- we discover what career could potentially be our passion, something that drives us all as humans. This concept of career exploration and mentoring should not be considered handholding… it’s something that all high schools and colleges should pay more attention to, especially since a major stress factor that I hear coming from friends and acquaintances is the fact that we are having to make these important decisions without much inspiration to guide us.

One of the additional problems with this is that the job landscape has radically changed and will continue to change more rapidly. And I’m not talking about in terms of the availability of jobs due to the
recession (although that is another important factor weighing upon our generation). I’m referring to the fact that the top 10 in demand jobs of 2010 didn’t even exist in 2004, something I learned from this great video. Fortunately, I grew up in a family that emphasized self exploration as well as learning about all the possibilities that exist in terms of “lifestyle design,” including career possibilities. Many times students and young people talk about our role models, or when we hear of someone doing something amazing in their life we say “that’s what I want to do!” But we don’t really hear how that person got from point A to point B. I was excited to learn of a group of young changemakers who decided to do something about the lack of conversation and teaching on this issue.

Mike Marriner and Nathan Geghard were students at Pepperdine University in Southern California during the late 90’s, and just like myself and many of my peers, they were struggling with the decision of what they wanted to do in their lives. What they were each respectively studying in school (Biology and Business) was preparing them to follow traditional professions suited to those majors, but they just weren’t passionate about those professions. They realized that they weren’t sure what they wanted to do in terms of their life paths, and they didn’t have a very good idea of what the options and opportunities were for them. So they had an amazing idea:

“Why not take a road trip across the country and talk to dozens of people who followed amazing roads and discover how they got to where they are now. Maybe they were once as lost as we felt.”

So, what did Mike and Nathan do? They wrote to a bunch of people for ideas and connections, and ended up getting funded to “climb aboard an old RV, paint it green, and traverse the country with the purpose of interviewing people who inspired them by living lives that centered around what was meaningful to them.” They interviewed a whole bunch of successful people, from the chairman of Starbucks to the director of SNL, to Madonna’s stylist and even a lobsterman from Maine. Along the way, they picked up and brought other college students with them to attend the interviews and become inspired.

I just finished reading the book that they published which included a bunch of the interviews, with flow charts at the beginning of each interview representing how that person came to be where they are and who they are today. And the thing that was most surprising was that the majority of these “leaders” of today did not follow the traditional path, especially when it came to education. Many dropped out of college to pursue other oppurtunities and explore the world, or even flunked out of courses in subject areas that they are now leaders in. Some majored in things totally unrelated to what they do now. Of course there were also those whose learning style was actually well-suited to college, and as I have said in the past (and want to remphasize), college is definitely a good fit for some and not for others . The point is that as I read this book I became more confident in my belief that alternatives to the norm have if not more, at least equal value, and the popular narrative in our society that “intelligence and success is only fostered by the norm” is merely a myth.

I want to share a few of the things that stuck out to me the most:

  • Ben Younger, Screen Writer and Director
    • “During my freshman year at Queens college I had no idea where I was going. How are you supposed to know at that point? You have so little to go on. Electives are not really introductions to career paths, and it’s very hard to make the connection between classes and a line of work… In hindsight I wish I’d taken two years off and then gone to school. I did well in college but I didn’t understand what a privilege it was.”
  • Randy Komisar, a “virtual CEO,” and former lawyer for Apple:
    • “When you speak to people who have all the trappings of success but are really unhappy, there’s a common syndrome: They’ve crossed a lot of hurdles, but they weren’t their own hurdles. They were someone else’s hurdles.”
    • “Now here’s the dirty little secret: You don’t need an ultimate goal. A lot of people we celebrate as successful didn’t have an ultimate goal. So when people look like they have these nicely laid-out lives and they look like they have accomplished all this stuff, by and large the reason that it happened is something that they figured out in retrospect. It won’t happen the way you plan it. It just won’t. The path is never linear going forward. It’s only linear in the rearview mirror.”
  • Mike Egeck, Former President of The North Face:
    • “Expose yourself to many different careers as you can. You don’t have to pick one and stick with it. You can always change. Sooner or later it will come down to your gut”
    • “Networking is so important. SO many career decisions are based on who you meet and run into. It’s important to know a lot of people. Try to find others whose lifestyle you admire and who seem to enjoy what they do, and investigate why.”
  • Beth McCarthy Miller, Director of Saturday Night Live
    • “I learned more in a day at the radio station than I did reading about it over a semester in a book. When you have hands-on experience, when are are physically in the world, you learn so much more. It adds another layer to your understanding.”
  • Laurie Coots, Chief Marketing Officer of TBWA/Chiat/Worldwide
    • “Now I have a son who’s a sophomore in college. He’s so creative, but I worry about his last two years of school. A lot of juniors and seniors don’t read the newspaper every day. They get myopic. They are out of touch with the world, and when you do that you lose touch with your intuition. A lot of students coming out of school have had the intuition just beaten out of them. To follow your bliss you must know what your bliss is, and the only way to know that is by trying new things and having different life experiences. If you’re too disconnected, you run the risk of eliminating choices before you ever see them. That’s sad to me.”
There’s so much I could add, but to learn more, go to, and you can learn more about what these awesome people have done with the program!

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