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BK Blog Post
Posted by Ryan Quinn, Associate Professor of Management, University of Louisville.
Ryan is an Associate Professor of Management in the College of Business at the University of Louisville. He researches, teaches, trains, and consults on topics related to leadership and change management.
By Robert E. Quinn
During the graduation season, National Public Radio aired a highly provocative broadcast. It began with short clips from three graduation speeches in which well-known speakers told students the key to their future success was for them to go forward doing what they loved. Then the narrator pointed out that most students have no idea what they love. The show then featured a segment in which three economists tried to help a student determine what he might love to do. The process failed. Being unable to discover what you “love to do” was apparently a barrier to success.
I believe the process failed because the economists did not understand love. Love does not come from rational analysis. It comes from the evolution of the self. Here I examine a case in which a woman experienced such an evolution and was then able to design a life doing what she loved.
Finding the Next Career Path
Seven years earlier, she had been part of an executive group that invited me to speak. I taught them how to enter the fundamental state of leadership. She was struck by the four questions I presented: What result do I want to create? Am I internally directed? Am I other-focused? Am I externally open? A few weeks after the course, she was offered a position in China—something she never would have considered. Recalling my talk, however, she asked herself the four questions, and then decided to take the job She set a goal of making the China adventure a positive learning experience. While she was at it, she also decided to lose weight.
The China experience served to catapult her to a leading position in a company that was committed to growth in Asia. Her career took a new trajectory. In the seven years since I had seen her, she had held positions she had never dreamed she could hold. In the meantime, she lost a massive amount of weight. This altered her perception of herself. As she caught me up, she talked a lot about discovering her own potential and therefore learning to see the potential in others.
She told me she was now ready to leave the company and start her own executive coaching enterprise. She wondered if I could help her think about it. I asked her to tell me, in one sentence, her greatest strength. She went quiet for a long time. Then she said, “My greatest strength is seeing the potential in other people and helping them identify three things they can do to tap into and realize that potential.”
She spoke that sentence with certainty and passion. Because of that clarity, I suspected we had found what she would love to do with her life. With her sentence as a focus, we spent the rest of the time conceptualizing how she could build a business around her strength. The strategy was demanding because it required her to go outside of her comfort zone and run new experiments. Given her past experience, however, this did not scare her. She was willing to learn her way into a more meaningful life. I have little doubt that she will face opposition and I have little doubt that she will succeed.
How to Discover What You Love to Do
So what does this story suggest about finding out what you love to do? A number of things come to mind. First, you actually do know what you love to do; but you may not have bothered to ask yourself yet. Second, those four questions are powerful at any phase in life–right now and then two hours from now, or right now and two years from now. And third, using the fuel of loving what you do to take on new challenges creates still more vitality.
See for yourself:
-Start wherever you are and ask the four questions that put you into the fundamental state of leadership:
(1) What result do I want to create?
(2) Am I internally directed?
(3) Am I other-focused?
(4) Am I externally open?
-Move forward in every new situation repeating the four questions. This will constantly turn your trajectory upward and put you into a state of learning.
-Constantly pay attention to what you are learning. As you do, you will discover much about your own potential. You will see strengths you did not know you had. In the process, you will become clear about your greatest strengths and most motivating passions.
-Once you know your greatest strength, create your life path around it and continually repeat the above steps.