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“Education is not a specific body of knowledge but rather it is a taste for knowledge, a capacity to explore, question and perceive,” adapted from A. Whitney Griswold.

This post is based on my comments at our 2011 Master of Engineering Management (MEM) Graduation Hooding ceremony. It is always great fun to see our students so excited to receive their degrees and to be able to meet the many family members who have been so supportive of the students. The theme for my 2011 Graduation Speech was:

Take risks, find your passion

Of course this is one of those things that is a lot easier said than done! But my main reason to focus on it is very practical. Over the years we’ve observed there is a direct link between your enthusiasm for your job and your performance. So this is not a theoretical or nice-to-have aspect of your job, it is imperative. If you are not enthusiastic about getting up every day and going to your job, your performance will suffer.

And the reason I say take risks is that it is necessary to find your passion. I do not mean taking risks in the traditional sense; i.e., high risk-high payoff, which is fine but not the point. Rather, the point is if you find yourself in a position that is not exciting for you then you should take some calculated risk and make a change. Of course, the management bell curve applies here as usual https://jtglass.wordpress.com/2010/06/15/the-management-bell-curve/ – for some fraction of you being passionate about your job regardless of the situation will be easy. For others, you might think you will never find your passion. But for the vast majority of us, it will take effort, it will take time, it will take planning, it will take commitment, but we will find our passion and we will generally do that by taking some calculated risks.

I am rather risk averse; thus, being a tenured faculty is quite an appropriate position for me (tenure generally means that your job is extremely secure). Yet I made a decision at one point in my career to give up a tenured position and go into industry, presumably much less stable – my colleagues though I was crazy. But I was just taking a calculated risk to ensure I maintained the greatest enthusiasm possible for my work. I bring this up to illustrate that calculated risk can be taken even by those who are risk averse.

Risk means going after the new job or new responsibilities to ignite your passion even when you are comfortable where you are. Be careful not to misinterpret my meaning here. There will certainly be periods of time you are not passionate about your work and there will certainly be aspects of any job that you do not like. But sustained or pervasive lack of passion for your work needs to be rectified. And if at all possible, it needs to be rectified without burning a bridge AND while continuing to add value to your organization. Also remember, passion is not just about what you are doing.  It involves the people you working with, the mission of your organization, the culture of your organization and anything else that is an important part of your DNA.

A word of caution. I fully understand that you might not find what you perceive to be the perfect job when you first graduate. That is to be expected! In fact, you probably are not sure what the perfect job is.  Rather, I am recommending a process of constantly moving towards that ideal job, the one that excites you. And this is actually a moving target; it can change as your experiences change and you go through different periods of your life. Thus, you should not think of this as a short term decision or a specific point in time. It is a methodical, thoughtful, continuous process – it can take years to find your passion! But don’t give up! It will be worth it in the long run.

In summary, don’t be afraid to take calculated risks to insure you find something you are passionate about. It might not happen right away but it will happen.

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