A few weeks ago, I attended a leadership seminar with 8 other people at the age of 25 to 35. What surprised me was the diversity of their careers.

There was a CEO, a painter, a business development executive, an architect, a software engineer, a piano teacher, a history teacher and a photographer.

I have never met people from so many unconventional careers in one room. When I talked to them, they were all very proud about their work, knowing that it’s what they love doing.

It proves to me that today’s young leaders are less interested in a conventional corporate job that just pays the bills (even if it pays big bills).


We Are Not Born for a Paper-Shuffling Job

Sitting in corporate meetings all day long, dealing with bureaucracy & corporate politics, and screening through 300 emails a day is not what we are born for.

We receive true fulfillment from solving interesting problems and overcoming challenges that have an impact. Working on a project for 3 months that goes to waste because “the client has changed his mind” is frustrating. Debating about corporate politics just to start from zero again tomorrow is no fun.

I remember the days very well back in my corporate career where I had 12 hour days, filled with meetings and emailing. When I finally got home exhausted and asked myself what I had achieved that day, I honestly did not know.

We all have experienced these days and they will probably never completely go away. However, I don’t see a point in having these days every day.


Working for Big Corp vs. A Career on Your Terms

It used to be cool to work for the Big Corp. That was before mass layoffs and the death of loyalty.

We were told that this is the best path to get on. However, we also used to think the world was flat.

Things change. The world has changed. It’s less flat today than ever before. More and more people realize that it’s ok to actually be fulfilled in their career and do meaningful work.

More and more organizations realize that if they hire leaders for their personality instead of their skills, these leaders invest their heart and sweat instead of just showing up for the paycheck. The age where you were paid to merely show up is over.

It’s ok to follow a path you are passionate about, one that you believe in. Actually, it’s not just ok but it’s essential if you want to thrive in your career.

The thriving leaders of today and tomorrow do work they love with inspiring people and organizations they believe in.


Following Your Passion vs. Making a Great Living

When I talk to executives about a fulfilling career and their passion, I get mixed feedbacks. Some immediately understand that it’s essential to have your values aligned with what you do to be successful. Others tell me they love painting or being a football coach for kids and argue that there is no potential for such a career that provides for their desired lifestyle.

I get it. I love money. Money is an important ingredient for the lifestyle I want to have.

However, I don’t see why the idea of painting or helping kids play better football should limit the amount of income potential. Just because you love painting does not mean you have to be a painter. It’s something you should explore a little bit further. Painting may simply evoke a feeling you get or give you a spiritual benefit. There are many other things you can do that evoke the same feelings and are highly profitable.

Let’s stay with the painting example. What if you could use your passion for art to help the national museum of art expand its audience. That’s actually what one of the executives does that I have met at TEDxZurich last year. Besides being a coach for startups and an investor, he is also the director of an art foundation in Zurich. We spent most time talking about his passion for art because that’s what truly fired him up.

It’s about attaching a profitable business model (or career model) to your passion and get creative to find ways to make it work.

That is scary. It awakens the resistance in your head. When it wakes up, it asks you “Why would you risk a comfortable life to follow your passion if there is no guarantee that it works?”

This voice always reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Seth Godin.

“The very fact that it might not work is precisely why you should and must do this. What a gift that there isn’t a sure thing, a guarantee and a net. It’s entirely possible that there won’t be a standing ovation at the end of your journey. That’s ok, at least you lived.”

There is always a way. The question is, what are you going to do about it?


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