Editor's note: This article written by Amy Rees Anderson originally appeared on Forbes.com and is being reprinted with her permission.
Often times I am asked to speak on topics such as entrepreneurship, leadership, corporate culture, and so on. Whenever I speak at universities, one of my favorite questions to ask students is, "What career do you want to pursue," or, "What business do you plan to begin?" After I hear their initial response, I then like to ask, "Now, suppose I gave you a check for $10 million dollars today and told you that you could pursue any career path or start any business you wanted to, with no expectation that you would ever pay me back or generate a return on my investment — in fact, I could't care less if the business never makes a dime. Now tell me what career you would pursue or what business would you want to begin." It is amazing to hear how often their answers will change to something completely different. Why is that?
Further discussion typically leads them to share the same conclusion:they are pursuing the path they believe will be the safest bet to a steady income, and in most cases that path does not include pursuing the career of their dreams or the idea that they are most passionate about. So then one has to consider if they are making the right choice. Does being passionate about the work you do increase your chance of success?
I can't say that there is an exact right or wrong answer to that question, I can only share my own thoughts about it and then invite all of you to share your comments as well, respecting the fact that there are likely a wide range of opinions on this topic. Here are my thoughts:
I will start with a story about myself. I started working in healthcare at the age of 15. At the time, I can't say that I took a job in healthcare because I had a passion for it. Heck, I was only 15! All I was passionate about was being able to afford name brand jeans. As the years went by and my experience in healthcare deepened, it was the obvious choice for me to launch my first company in that industry. I understood the industry, I felt confident about it, and I had the contacts and the network in that space. Was I passionate about the industry? I suppose I never stopped to ask myself that question at the time. By then I was a mother with two small children I needed to support and my passion was being able to keep them fed and clothed with a roof over their heads.
As I became an entrepreneur running my own company, I quickly discovered that the things I was most passionate about were being able to see a problem and then figuring out a way to solve it by designing software that could simplify and streamline the problem. I also had a passion for wanting to become a good leader for my people. Note that neither of these passions required industry specificity. The truth is that I could have fulfilled them in any type of business, but with my past experience and knowledge, healthcare technology became the industry of choice to pursue my passion. And thank heavens I had that passion because when times got tough — which they always do in business — it was my passion that drove me and helped me persist through the worst of times. Had I not had the passion I honestly don't believe I could have led the growth of the company to the level that we achieved.
For some, their passion may be tied to a specific industry, like medicine, or law, or science, but I tend to believe that for most their passion is tied to a desire, such as to lead, or to teach, or to help others. And often times these passions can be pursued in myriad jobs or industries.
What is important is for each of us is to figure out what is the passion inside of you that will drive you to become the very best you can be. What is the passion that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning ready to take on the world? What is the passion that will help you keep going when everything around you appears to be falling apart? What is the passion that will make you want to give 110 percent of yourself, rather than putting in the minimum requirement to pick up a paycheck? What is that passion for you? Then, once you identify your passion you can really begin to figure out what roads lie ahead that will allow you to pursue it.
I find it interesting that when interviews have been conducted with some of the most financially successful people of our time they almost always contain a similar thread, which is that the key to their success involved following their passion.Warren Buffett, in giving secrets to success, expressed the importance of finding what brings meaning to your life and making it your focus each day. Steve Jobs of Apple Inc. expressed that people should do what they love doing, sharing that it was his passion for his work and a belief that "people with passion can change the world for the better" that drove him. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook told a crowd at BYU that people should find that thing they are most passionate about and pursue it. Zuckerberg said, "I think it's important if you're going to take on any big challenge, that you just love and really have faith in what you're doing. That I think is the most important advice I would say."
I do believe that if you are truly passionate about the work you are doing, you will have the greatest chance of achieving financial success. I believe that when we are passionate about something we have more energy, we work much harder, we get more creative, we search more diligently for solutions when difficult problems arise, and we inspire others who work alongside us. Each of those elements helps to increase our chances of success. But above all else, I believe we are the happiest when we are pursuing our passions in life, and that is the very best kind of success.