When you live, work, or study in the Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bay Area region, you will often hear this question: “What is your passion?” However, when I was studying business at a university in San Francisco in 1990s, this question never came up. For the past decade or so, I have realized how important this question has become for many of us. When I ask this question to my students in my undergraduate and graduate classes, most of them answer they do not know what their passion is or they never thought about it. I would have given the same answer as these students if I were asked the same question when I was in college.
I personally never thought about what my passion was until I started working in higher education. One of the reasons why I never thought about it was because no one asked me. The other reason was I did not understand why passion was so important in life. After working over 15 years in this unique region where so many young start-up entrepreneurs from all around the world come to launch their dream, I have started to understand the importance of discovering one’s passion. That is why I have been incorporating a lecture and workshop in the courses I teach in order to help students have a moment to think about why passion is important and how they could discover their true passion.
Even though it took 20 years for me to discover my true passion, I am very grateful that I was able to discover it. People have a different path to discover their passion. Since I did not discover my passion while in school, I took a few detours and quite a long time to discover it. Looking back to the early 2000s, I did not quite connect the dots between my desire to do something meaningful in life and my profession. After I encountered an event that led to a life and death experience, I wanted to do something more meaningful in life. However, I did not know what that was or how to discover it.
Going through different professional opportunities in 2000s, I kept raising the same question in my mind, “Is this something that I want to do or can do for the rest of my life?” Some people might think that I was in a career crisis. Most likely I was. However, more importantly, I was looking for a meaning of life. Looking back how I spent my time each day during the crisis, I literally spent 12 to 15 hours of my day at work (Some people might think working 12 to 15 hours a day is insane. Believe or not, I just enjoy working). I did not mind long working hours when I could deliver positive results for organizations. However, I was not able to envision or connect what I was doing at work to a meaning of life. I was not even sure where or how to find a clue to look for a meaning of life.
I was very lucky to be able to reconnect with a former professor and had an opportunity to discuss my dilemmas. I was advised to consider exploring possible opportunities in higher education. Working in higher education never crossed my mind before. However, working in higher education was the best thing that ever happened in my life because I was able to discover my true passion. I realized that I started calling what I was doing in higher education work instead of job. It is such a wonderful feeling that what I do can make a long-lasting positive impact on individuals. Working in higher education has given me an opportunity to constantly research and learn from others and grow as a more appreciative and humbler person than I ever was.
It is hard for me to imagine or think about myself not working in higher education where my heart now belongs. Inspiring and motivating individuals to become effective leaders through education is something that I care very much and am very passionate about. Discovering my true passion in education has helped me see my life purpose which I am very grateful for. Throughout the journey to discover my true passion I learned how important it is to look for something that you can see a deeper meaning for what you do in life. We spend a large amount of time at work, at least one third or more of our time each day. We also go through many challenging times in life that will bring us down. I realized what can help us get through those challenging times, in addition to our loved ones, is our work that we are passionate about. It helps us focus and also helps us connect to our life purpose.
If you have not discovered your true passion yet, it is not too late to start searching for it. I want to share a quote from Steve Jobs, one of the legendary business leaders in Silicon Valley which truly resonate with my personal journey of finding a true passion, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you will know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”