What if you just asked for what you wanted? What if you pursued what it is that you are really passionate about? You might answer, “it’s not that simple.” Perhaps you are right – life isn’t simple. And, chances are, if you haven’t chased after this passion, there are likely a number of rational reasons why. I recently had one of my past students on my radio show who discussed her journey with this very battle with pursuing one’s passion versus the conventional expectations we place on ourselves.
When I first met Bri Smith, she was pursuing a degree in business with an emphasis in marketing. I was one of her professors and while she was an excellent student, I always got a sense that there was something else she wanted to explore and chase after. That was indeed true. At one point, Bri shared with me that she actually wanted to become an actress and get involved with production in television and movies. So, why hadn’t she begun her college experience seeking after those goals? “I thought [business] was the most tangible option. I did not think at the time, in high school when you’re deciding what major you’re going to pursue in college or what you’re going to do with your life,” said Bri. “I did not think pursuing acting or any job in television and film was even attainable. I thought the smartest and safest choice was to choose business.”
How often do we choose the safest, most practical choice as we begin our climb up the career mountain? Many of us do. Just as one begins to ascend up a mountain, there’s comfort in following a clear-cut path – in knowing that, if I follow this specific trail, it will get me from Point A to Point B. In the process of following the path of least resistance however, you might find that you want a different route. There may be an entirely different mountain you want to scale.
For Bri, she chose to follow her heart and pivot the direction of her journey. She headed to California, took a number of industry-related classes and began working on set for a number of different shows to get experience and involved in that world. And while she was following a personal passion – something she truly wanted to learn and do – it wasn’t always easy. In fact, while making her way to an industry-related networking event that would present excellent opportunities to meet important and connected individuals, she was hit by a car.
In an instant, her reality changed and what was once the main priority, took a backseat to her physical and emotional recovery – but only temporarily. Interestingly enough, this life-changing accident didn’t dissuade her from continuing her pursual of a career in the television and film interest, quite the opposite. “I knew I was meant to be in L.A. and I understanding that reason more now. I have been able to let go more, say yes more, and I ask for what I want,” says Bri.
Bri’s accident created a re-thinking, an opportunity to look at life differently with a refocused lens directed toward what she really wanted. She had a renewed sense of confidence and determination to chase after what she wanted. She continued to work hard, but she also decided to just start asking specifically for what she wanted. Afterall, “if you ask for what you want, the answer might be ‘yes,’” Bri reflects as she asked to act on the set of Curb Your Enthusiasm and was told, “yes.”
I’m reminded of a speech given at Barnard College in 2011 by Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg. Her speech provides an incredible case study for anyone looking to deliver a poignant and effective message; I’ve included a breakdown of a portion of this speech in my book, A Climb to the Top. What I want to highlight in the context of my discussion with Bri is Sheryl’s closing plea to those graduates: “I hope you find true meaning, contentment, passion.” She then let the audience consider the weight of her message by encouraging them to “Go home tonight and ask yourselves, ‘What would I do if I weren’t afraid?’ And then go do it!”
What would you do if you stripped away your fears? What would you pursue or how would you change course if you didn’t fear failure or the disappointment of others? We all have reasons for what we are doing today – consider what those reasons are and whether they are valid in the grand scheme of your life. I can distinctly remember the moment I changed course in the path I was taking. It was a personal moment while descending one of the I had ever climbed. It was on Mount Bona in Alaska that I knew I wanted to help people reach greater heights and achieve success in their lives. While it may have seemed like a departure to some around me, it was anything but. It was simply an evolution of who I wanted to be and ultimately who I was meant to be – just like Bri.
As we closed out our interview, which you can hear here in its entirety, Bri had the following message to share: “It’s ok to listen to what your heart is saying and what your passions are. It’s ok to start over. That is really tough for a lot of people, especially students in college who are already pursing a major. It’s hard and it’s a difficult decision, but if your passion lies elsewhere and you know you would do that with all of your heart for the rest of your life – it’s worth it.”
I challenge you to take Sheryl’s call to action and ask yourself what you would do if you weren’t afraid. Truly ask yourself and be willing answer it honestly. Then, do as Bri has learned and applied: let go, say yes to opportunities that may scare you and go ask for what you want. After all, you might just get “yes” as an answer.