Passion: they say you need it, but how do you find it?

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Passion in your work

How do you find it?

Usually when people talk about being successful with a startup company, or loving your job, "passion" is listed as one of the key ingredients. While people like to talk about passion and how important it is, rarely does anybody discuss how to actually find it. 

I went through a time in my life where I was searching for that "passion". After graduating college, like most, I started working at a job that I wasn't passionate about. It was a great job, but I didn't have any drive or emotional connection to it. What I learned after jumping from one job to another in search of that "passion" is that passion comes from the inside, not out. No company, as cool as it might be, as great as the benefits are, or how high the pay is will bring you passion. 

Passion is usually a product of pain

While it doesn't sound fun, I've learned that we find passion through hardship. Whether it's losing a loved one, getting hurt or wronged in some way, those times that shatter our reality and drive us through emotional experiences are where passion is born. I found my passion through two experiences: the experience of losing my startup company and the experience losing my mother in the same year. Both instilled in me a different kind of passion, but it's clearly what drives me each day. I'll explain both:

Passion through personal loss

My mother was an inspiring woman. A driven leader and a phenomenal organizer who always put people first. She was a source of unconditional love in my life, and my motivation. She was taken from my father and I suddenly through a diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer. Nine months after we found out about her diagnosis, we lost her. I could have reacted two ways to this experience. I could have harbored anger, asking "why us?" and lost all hope in trying. But instead, I took that experience and the memory of my mother's strength to drive me to work harder, as she would have wanted me to. I'm now passionate and motivated by the memory of her fight - it reminds me every day of how precious life is, and gives me a greater appreciation for the people around me and the time I have with them. I have an ability to care about people and empathize in a way that I wouldn't have otherwise. That's powerful, if used for good. 

Passion through professional loss

Today, my life's work and my passion is helping startup founders and building a better startup community. Maybe it doesn't sound like much, but to me it's significant because of an experience I went through. A passion that came from being hurt, wronged, and in some ways, "screwed over" while I was with my own company. Had my startup been successful, and had myself and my co-founders not gone through the painful experiences we did, I never would have found this passion.  

I founded a startup company in college. I spent over 7 years with that company and fought tirelessly alongside my co-founders through patenting and licensing technology, dozens of fund raising attempts, hundreds of meetings, and countless hours building and testing prototypes. Just recently, myself and my co-founders gave our company away to the person that tore it apart, with nothing to take away aside from a very memorable experience and many lessons learned. 

My passion for building startup communities came through this experience. Neglecting the finer details, myself and my co-founders experienced damaging politics, promises unkept, ageism, sexism, ill intensions and ultimately the loss of the company we spent 7 years building, due to certain parts of the community that were supposed to be helping us. While there are plenty of people with good intensions in our community, I ran into enough that were motivated by money, empire-building, and personal gain to leave a bad taste in my mouth. And then I started to find other founders - lots of others - that were experiencing the same thing. So the day that I decided to leave my own company is also the day I decided I would spend the rest of my career fighting for founders. I was passionate about it, because I experienced it first hand.

This could have gone one of two ways - I could have walked away from my startup and decided to complain about the bad experiences we had and just move on. Or I could use that experience and emotion as a driving force to make positive change. When we go through a negative experience, it's often too easily to complain about it. But what if we used that passion for good?

Passion gives you power.

Today, l see the impact of being in a job you're passionate about. Day in and day out, I feel personally connected to my work.  I can relate to the people I'm serving in my job, so I like to think I'm also more effective at my job. Over the past few months, I've had a chance to sit down with founders and listen to their needs. Many vent about ways they've been let down. But I can look them in the eye and empathize in a way most couldn't - I tell them I understand, I've been there. Once they hear my story, they know I'm out there fighting for them, and that in itself can have an incredible impact. They know I'm not doing this for the paycheck, or the title, or the fame - I'm doing it because I care, and I am fiercely driven. I know that my passion drives me to work harder, and speak my mind to stand up for what's right. If I didn't have a personal connection to my work, I wouldn't be able to work the long hours and fight the way I'm driven to fight. The thing is, when you're driven by passion, your work doesn't feel like work. Like caring for a loved one, it's a passion project. 

Lessons learned?

If you don't feel you have a passion that drives your life, don't worry - you just might not have been through an experience that gives you passion yet. Passion isn't something you're born with - it's something you find through an experience. It might sounds crazy, but putting yourself in situations where you're vulnerable, hurt or uncomfortable can be a way to find that passion. Or take a look at the hardships of those close to you and see if you can find meaningful work around that area.  

The up side to all this is that day in and day out, I don't feel like my job is a "job". I love my work because I'm passionate about it. I hope you'll find ways to discover your passion and use it to create change for people in your life as well.