What it takes to follow your dreams
Many years ago, I attended a seminar in Seattle called Source. It was taught by Mike McManus, a colourful personality. He had been a bartender, a jazz pianist, a school teacher, a men’s suit sales- man, a corporate executive, a Washington state senator, and was now a seminar teacher. In Source, Mike taught people how to find and follow their passion. His dictum was that most career analyses are done on the basis of skills, rather than interests. It would be far more satisfying—and successful—to do what you love. The skills and rewards will follow.
Mike’s advice is equally useful for entrepreneurs, as the following stories will underline.
On a recent flight to India, I met a Dutch architect called Rein Jansma. He owns an architecture firm in the Netherlands and has been chartered to design a township near Pune. Jansma loves puzzles and the visual and 3-D medium. When he was 15, Prof. Moshe Zwarts, a renowned professor of architecture, visited his home. The two got into an argument about the number of possible variations a 3-D puzzle can have. Prof. Zwarts insisted that there were six variations; Jansma saw one more. Eventually Jansma ended up building a model to prove his answer. And there began a friendship that would last for many decades.
Jansma went on to join an architecture college, but became dissatisfied with its conventional pedagogy and dropped out after six months. However, he continued to experiment with different kinds of 3-D designs. When he was barely 30, he was invited by Zwarts to be an equal partner at a new architecture firm he was starting up. Their firm, Zwarts and Jansma Architects, has designed grand sports stadia, office buildings and major townships across the globe; it has an annual turnover of nearly Rs. 30 crore.
My friend Steffan Soule is another source of inspiration. Steffan is Seattle’s fore- most magician, performing for companies such as Boeing and Microsoft. He was also the creative director of Seattle’s longest running magic show at Illusions. Steffan has never done any other job in his life. He started performing magic when he was five, did his first paid performance at 14, and has never looked back since. He didn’t go to college, yet he makes more money in a year than most college graduates. But that is not the point. He loves seeing the wonder and excitement in his audience when he performs. He loves the idea of connecting people with a sense of mystery. It’s not all easy, though—performing magic to perfection takes hard work. He practices for hours a day so that the moves on stage would be smooth. But he would be doing the same thing even if no one paid him to do it—much like Bill Gates, who dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft and, incidentally, went to the same school in Seattle as Steffan did.
But this column is not about dropping out of college. It is about following your dream. A college student wrote to me recently about an entrepreneurial idea; I advised him to build on it while pursuing his college education, rather than drop- ping it. Develop the passion while you have a job or while at school. If you were ready to drop out, you wouldn’t need to ask. At some time, you will need to make the decision to go full-time. There is no simple answer for when to do that—except when you have mustered up enough self-belief and faith in the idea to take the leap.
Mike, in his Source seminar, also used to talk about the idea of ‘simultaneous activation’. We are often in the habit of postponing dreams: I will do it after I retire or after I have this much money, or after the children grow up, etc. Mike spoke about acting on all areas of one’s life simultaneously. It is a misplaced notion that we lack time. Instead, we lack energy, because we are not doing the things that give us back energy. We get stuck in unrewarding jobs and drop our childhood dreams—to be a singer, a drummer, a writer, even a good friend—and forget to nurture ourselves. I learnt from Mike that I could be an entrepreneur and, at the same time, take voice lessons in Hindustani classical music, practice my Aikido, do my Kriya Yoga every day, write a regular column, and take my children to watch live theatre. These activities increase rather than take away time, as they bring back manifold energy. In simultaneous activation, dreams are lived today.
You may end up making a lot of money as an entrepreneur. But if you count your rewards only by the amount of money you make, you will be poorer for it. Entrepreneurship is a journey of self-discovering, of learning, of stretching one’s limits. When you do it because it is what you want to do, and you follow your passion, the work becomes its own reward. Everything else is a bonus. And don’t forget to take that guitar for lunchtime at the office. As Mike would say, if you are passionate about it, you will learn to get good.
Originally published in Entrepreneur Magazine
© Sankrant Sanu 2009-2010, All rights reserved.