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Follow Your Passion

This would be so much easier if I was nailed on to be a sporting icon…
There is an oft-used phrase at this institution that is more irritating than any other.
Any guesses? Yes, fine, “Oh man, I really am struggling to choose between job
offers” and “I have no idea how I got all these ones!! This place is ridiculous!”
definitely rank up there. There is an outright winner though, and one which probably
99.6% of the school struggle with – “Whatever you do, follow you passion”.
“Passion”. This is a poisonous word that is bandied around in the professional
context with the reckless abandon usually reserved for Bud Light at a house in
Allston, and as yet no-one has provided an adequate definition for what it means.
Ever. Since when is a mid-level job that most of us are going to go in to ever going
to arouse the kind of feelings that this word is usually associated with (although that
would clearly be awesome).
I, like everyone else, am insanely jealous of those who have discovered their
“passion”, and are brave enough to follow it – Anyone and everyone in the arts,
entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers. Ok, maybe not the last one, but there are literally
hundreds of people in this place who really don’t know if they’re ever going to get
there.
This is deadly serious. For the people who are wandering around, tears streaming
down their face, chewing their fingers, terrified of not nailing down the exactly
perfect ideal exactly-what-they-want-to-do-always job, telling them to follow their
“passion” doesn’t help. It’s too amorphous and subjective. If it’s a calling we should
follow, then maybe it should call a bit freaking louder.
How do you know when you’ve found it? W.H. Auden puts it this way “You need not
see what someone is doing / to know if it is his vocation, / you only have to watch
his eyes: / a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon making a primary incision, / …wearing
the same rapt expression / forgetting themselves in a function”. Instinctively, this
seems like a good identifier, but who of us is going to feel like this doing a pricing
study for McBainCG, or tweaking an investment model at three in the morning, or
dealing with obstinate engineers? Some, sure, but by no means all who will find
themselves in these situations.
To its great credit, HBS takes this stuff seriously. ALD allows you to work through
deeply personal stuff. Career coaches give you a sounding board off which to
bounce you’re latest freak-out. This place tries it’s best to shepherd you towards
what matters to you, which is so important – It’s a lot easier to roll out of bed in the morning if you’re doing something you care about, and that reflects your image of
yourself.
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Perhaps most importantly, don’t stress too much about it. Go and do something,
and don’t worry if something doesn’t appear until very late in the day, that’s fine –
it’s useful to remember that most companies don’t hire nine months in advance.
Whatever you do, you’re going to learn something, meet people, and open doors to
opportunities you had no idea existed. The perfect job doesn’t exist, so don’t look
for it. There is value to be had in stepping out on to the pond, following the lily pads
when they pop up, and not freaking out about falling in. After all, as we all know
about passion, getting wet is fun.

March 3, 2014
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