Imagine this: you’re about to graduate college. Your entire life up to your graduation day has revolved mainly around one single structure: the school system. Life was centered around your educational journey. In middle school, you worked hard to get good grades so that you could get into the best classes in high school. In high school, you worked hard to get good grades so that you could get into your first-choice college. In college, you worked hard to get good grades so that you could get your first-choice job.
Now, your “real world” journey is about to begin, and you’ve done everything right. You have a job lined up that fits with what you studied in university, and your family and friends are proud of you. You’re hopeful that you can use the same high-achiever mentality to go out and take on the world, just like you have done all through your school years. Plus, you’re excited because you’ll now have a decent income to pay off your loans afford more than Chipotle once a week and a few dollar beers on the weekends (or was that just me?).
You’re ready. Go show the world what you’re made of.
If you can relate to the above, I’m happy for you. That means that you’re pretty good at getting things done and following the rules, which can definitely set you up for success in the real world. The problem is that following the rules and getting things done can only get you so far when you’re missing one key ingredient: passion.
I’ve been there. After college, I accepted an offer at a top company in the financial industry, which was exactly in line with what I studied in school. Pursuing a career in finance just made sense after spending four years in business school. Work hard, get a job on Wall Street, earn money. I spent my first 6 months after graduation in full-on grind mode. My routine was simple: wake, study for the CFA exams (important for a career on Wall Street), work, work out, sleep, repeat. Discipline was key, and there were no days off, even on weekends, when I would often sacrifice time with friends and family to study. When I sat down to take the CFA exam, I was prepared.
A month later, I found out that I was in the 40% of candidates that passed Level I. But to my surprise, I wasn’t nearly as excited as I thought I would be. I remember questioning what led me down this path to begin with. I studied finance in school, yes. But what led me to a career on Wall Street? Did I even enjoy finance? Was I excited about learning more?
It was clear at that point that the passion towards finance just wasn’t there for me, but the thought of pursuing something different was extremely daunting. I would have to leave my comfort zone, my safe job, and feel the pressure of friends and family who would certainly ask, “Why would you leave such a great company?”
When we were young, our parents or teachers would always ask us what we wanted to be when we grew up. We all had these ambitious goals and exciting passions. But then, we set off on the realistic path of higher education and got pigeonholed into career paths that our younger selves would cringe at. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” turned into “How will you afford to pay rent?”
After some serious research, I came across Tim Ferriss’ book The 4-Hour Workweek. Tim walks the reader through the steps to create a lifestyle business — a business that is built around a particular passion that would allow you to earn enough income to support the lifestyle that you want, so that you can live life on your own terms. Passion is critical in Tim’s framework because building a business is hard. Truly enjoying the work that you are doing and the change that you are making in the world will allow for the stamina necessary to succeed in the long term. Another added bonus is that building a lifestyle business would allow for flexibility of one of the most important resources of life: time.
This was promising. Growing up, I was always that cliche example of an aspiring entrepreneur. I would be the kid running the lemonade stand, and, at the age of ten, I even went as far as creating a bee extermination business with my brother. Seriously, if you had an issue with bees in our neighborhood, you called us at Bee Business. We had business cards, and we were certainly notorious within the bee community.
It was time to think deeply about my passions and give this entrepreneurship thing a shot. Given that I spent my entire life, beginning in kindergarten through college playing soccer, it made sense to leverage this particular passion to build a business. It was at that point that I came across TOMs Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie, and the one-for-one model; for every pair of TOMs shoes purchased, TOMs gives a pair to a child in need.
I realized that some of the best entrepreneurs use business as a platform to better the world.
What if I could leverage my passion of soccer to better the world? What if I could create a business in which, for every product purchased, we give away a soccer ball to a kid in need? After all, soccer is the sport most universally loved around the world. It just makes sense. Moreover, giving away a soccer ball to a kid in need not only promotes teamwork, creativity, and health; it also leads to happiness.
Thus, Universal Dialect was born.
When I began working on my company as a side hustle, my perception of “work” changed. Work used to feel like an obligation. Something that you simply had to do because it was expected of you. This was the case both in school and in the corporate world; think: that paper on political theory is due next Friday, or that project at work has a hard deadline of Tuesday.
My change in perception was most evident when “work” transitioned from an obligation to a mission.
It’s hard to explain the feeling of adrenaline and the focus that occurs when you begin working on something that you are truly passionate about. Late nights are no longer painful — they are magical. Hard deadlines turn into exhilarating personal challenges. Hunger for additional education increases because you know that you are on this path for the long haul, and there is high value in investing in yourself.
My worldview began to shift. Post-college, we hear a lot about work-life balance, which is hardly a reality in most industries. When you’re passionate about your work, you no longer need to separate work and life. It begins to be all about life.
Even on your worst days, you know that the work that you are doing has a purpose, so you’ll still go to bed proud and wake up excited the next day. You begin to feel fulfilled.
If you can relate to that same hungry college graduate, and you’re ready to add the missing ingredient in pursuit of fulfillment, then I leave you with these three asks:
1) Spend some time thinking deeply about what you are truly passionate about. Are you currently fulfilled with your work? If so, I am truly happy for you! If not, write down your passions and explore how you could use your free time to pursue one of them. Even better if you can find a way to work at the crossroads of two or three of your passions. At Universal Dialect, we work at the crossroads of soccer, adventure, and social entrepreneurship, which are three of my greatest passions.
You may already be highly skilled at something that you could leverage to build a business, or capitalize on to earn some money and further develop your skills. For example, a highly skilled amateur artist could leverage her skills to create a design business. If you’re not interested in building a business, a smaller side-hustle is a great option. The same artist could sell her work on a print-on-demand platform like Redbubble, thus expanding the reach of her art and earning some income on the side. Take a passion, and delve into how you can use the valuable resource of time to take it to the next level.
2) Do the research to determine if there is a group of people, a tribe, who would be interested in what you can provide them with. Seth Godin said it best: “Do work that matters for people who care.” This is the step where you can begin to explore whether or not it is feasible to turn your passion into a lifestyle business or successful freelance gig. If you’re stuck on this step, check out Godin’s book, This is Marketing.
3) Don’t be frightened about breaking the status quo and chasing your dreams. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of having a comfortable, steady job that isn’t truly fulfilling you. Similarly, don’t rush and think that you need to quit your job right away to pursue your passion. There are many ways to build towards your passion on the side and even use your day job income to fund a business. If you have an idea and are looking for the resources and mentorship to advance your idea, check out Next Gen, a hub that connects a community of high-performing entrepreneurs.
The “real world” is a challenge, but when we take a step back, it’s easy to see that life is beautiful. We are all fortunate to have the opportunity to leverage a passion, do work that matters, and truly feel fulfilled. The good news is that the same, seemingly stuck graduate that was very good at getting things done and following the rules can make a simple change in order to improve quality of life: add the missing ingredient, passion, and you’ll be well on your way to genuine fulfillment.