“Pursue your passion and you will never work a day in your life”
— Many people
For me, this was always a very vague notion, albeit one worth pursuing.
I’ve always had a restless spirit. I remember being in school when I was younger and throwing myself into doing well. Doing well and getting good grades was rewarding, but I never really had an answer to “What do you want to do when you grow up?” question.
That restless spirit stayed with me as I got older and transitioned into a productive, taxpaying adult. During my first corporate internship during college, I worked at a desk for 40 hours a week. I was dumbfounded by how little everyone really accomplished — It was incredibly frustrating. I wanted to get rid of that feeling.
I had a few more internships in other major companies and kept finding the same thing: Inefficiency and personal frustration. I was NOT finding what I wanted to do. This put me in a bit of a desperate state and I started looking everywhere for inspiration. I picked up Freakonomics one summer and could not put it down. It unlocked a period of creativity for me that hasn’t stopped ten years later.
Discovering my first passion was easy: A restless hunger for learning
With senior year looming, I sunk my energy into obsessively researching careers that might be a better fit for me than a corporate job. I came across strategy consulting and was immediately energized. Consulting firms were a place where you could work on some of the most challenging business problems and be surrounded by people who also crave learning at a incredibly fast pace. Why had nobody told me about consulting? This became my new goal.
With little preparation, I threw myself full-steam ahead into trying to get a full-time offer at a strategy consulting firm. I quickly built a massive spreadsheets of over 100 firms and tried to find every possible connection through family, friends or alumni that I could.
I ended up getting a number of phone interviews and four or five final round in-person interviews.
Bottom line: I got rejected from 100+ consulting firms
The following rejection is my favorite:
Thank you for your interest in McKinsey & Company and your patience in awaiting our reply.
Unfortunately, we regret that we are unable to extend an interview to you at this time. Our team’s decision was a difficult one given the strength of our applicant pool and the limited number of positions available. In the event that our hiring needs change, we will get in touch with you directly
On behalf of McKinsey & Company’s recruiting team, we wish you every success in your career.
All the best,
McKinsey & Company
In the moment, the rejection hurt. But I didn’t let it impact my confidence. I knew I was capable and I had committed to this goal. So I kept applying. Two years two years later, I was sitting at my desk, working at that same firm, one of the top consulting firms in the world, McKinsey & Company.
I had made it, right?
In a sense, yes. I was proud to have achieved my goaI. However, I still had a certain bit of restlessness — I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do. I still had more learning to do.
It took me a few years after leaving McKinsey to understand how much the culture in my office had resonated with me. My peers were brilliant, kind and enthusiastic about learning. Team leaders were 100% supportive and mostly hands-off, letting me achieve the already high expectations that I had for myself. It was incredible. The problem? This culture was not the norm in the business world. I wanted to help create these environments elsewhere.
My second passion: Being a part of and building amazing communities and company cultures
The discovery of a third passion solidified for me only recently, but was accelerated by an experience I had in 2009. After I finally “broke into” consulting, others from UConn reached out to me for advice on how to do the same. One persistent and enthusiastic student stood out. He was determined to work in consulting. He was a bit late on application deadlines, but seemed undeterred. I was not as confident.
It was 2009 and the economy was in absolute shambles. This kid was a rock star and had enormous potential, but the opportunities were slim and all the jobs were going to students at the most prestigious schools. There was no sugar coating it. This was going to be hard.
I was impressed with his determination — he wanted to pursue consulting, even if that meant graduating without a job. Fortunately, his hard work paid off. With weeks to go prior to graduation, he received an offer at a consulting firm. Not only that, but it led to an impressive career in consulting and strategy. I’d now consider him a peer, at an equal level to the success I’ve achieved in my career. He may not have known it at the time, but he was inspiring to me — and still is. It gave me tremendous joy to play a part in helping someone so impressive achieve their goals. I had to do more.
Passion #3: Helping inspirational people achieve great things
I’ve only recently gained clarity on this. This has taken years of reflection and soul-searching, but it adds a lot of clarity in my future career choices. If I use these as a lens for my career choices, a lot of the decisions I made seem to make a lot more sense. Everything I’ve pursued checked at least one of the three boxes. For now, I’ll use these as a guiding force, but have no idea where it will take me. Here’s hoping I find new inspiration and passions down the road….
To summarize, the key learnings for me were:
1. Finding my passion really meant getting to know myself better. I did this through a combination of putting myself in different jobs and environments and combining that with reflection on my experiences, especially the most frustrating and exciting emotions
2. Passion does not equal a job title or company. Instead of defining my success based on a role or company I was working with, I focused on the behaviors and environments
3. Listen to your frustration or angst. I took notice of what frustrated me and what energized me. I tried to do less of the things that frustrated me and more of the things that excited me. Simple, but powerful.
Just published! The Pathless Path is Paul's book about walking away from a "perfect" job with a promising future and starting over again. Through painstaking experiments, living in different countries, and a deep dive into the history of our work beliefs, Paul pieces together a set of ideas and principles that guide him from unfulfilled and burned out to what he calls "the pathless path" - a new story for thinking about work in our lives. Learn More & Buy The Book Here