I am having lunch at The Vagabond in Miami when owner Avra Jain welcomes my small group and draws our attention to the details of the retro-inspired boutique hotel, including the stylish bar and mermaid fountain. She moves around us, gesturing; clearly she wants us to appreciate the gem she has created from a previously decrepit structure.
Jain saw potential in what others saw as distressed, she tells us. With investment from friends and family, she bought the 1953 motel, pressed for the area’s historic designation, deployed development rights to her advantage and pioneered the rebirth of the neighborhood now known as Miami’s MiMo district. While telling her story, Avra, 52, excitedly blurts out: “I love what I do!”
Of course, that already is apparent.
I can't even count how many times I have heard people say that “when you love your job, you never work a day.” But study after study shows most employees are disengaged or flat-out miserable at work. In fact, fewer than half of American workers are satisfied with their jobs, according to a 2014 survey from the Conference Board, a not-for-profit economic research institute. Most of us work out of necessity and don’t have the time or the opportunity to go chasing after “passion.” But that may change going forward as more and more workers seek to feel fulfilled.
In a recent TEDx talk, branding strategist Terri Trespicio spoke about the pressure for people to find their passions and the cottage industry that has sprung up to help them. But identifying a passion isn’t enough, she said. To be successful, people also need to execute on their interests. Solve your own biggest problems and your passion will emerge. “You don’t follow passion. Your passion follows you.”
The current generation enters the workforce struggling over whether to take a stable job that may or may not bring satisfaction, or craft a career around an interest that might not immediately be profitable. This dilemma is especially vexing for a generation that places high value on work with positive social impact.
While her millennial peers are figuring it out, Katlyn Grasso, 22, is pursuing her passion. Grasso is the founder and CEO of GenHERation, a female empowerment network for high school girls that includes a summer leadership series, webisodes, an online website and participation in an anti-bullying campaign.
Grasso launched her business with a $150,000 grant from University of Pennsylvania to develop innovative projects that have the potential to change the world. “I knew I had to live my passion every day and no matter what it took, I would find ways to fund it,” she said. “In the beginning it’s about building something great and figuring out how to make it sustainable. Then, whether you are making a million dollars or zero, passion is what carries you through day to day.”
Grasso says she often encounters millennials who hold jobs in which they are not fulfilled and offers this advice: “If you are not in a financial position where you can pursue your passion right away, find ways to incorporate it into your schedule — whether volunteering, working on a business idea on weekends, becoming an intern. You have to keep working at it.”
Passion can become particularly crucial as challenges arise. Maria Merce Martin, 50, confronts obstacles daily as she builds her 15-year-old Westin company, Optime, a marketing consultant specializing in loyalty programs, with 120 employees and more than $10 million in revenue. “The technology market is so competitive that we have to be innovative and deliver faster.” The energetic Martin said her company takes on projects and adds value to its customers while also being charitable and striving to be one of the best places to work. Like the others, she said, “I’m very passionate about what we are doing.”
Martin says leading a well-rounded life makes it easier to maintain a passion for her business. She is a mother of two daughters and an avid exerciser. “In order to get old with quality of life, you have to take care of yourself. When you are leading a company with passion, you have to be a role model, too.”
As people age, pursuing passion may look different than in earlier life. Joel Wilentz, a Hallandale Beach dermatologist who co-founded Skin and Cancer Associates more than 45 years ago, both practices and mentors medical students from nearby Nova Southeastern University and Barry University. Wilentz says he often bumps into his former physician assistants who elatedly tell him what they have gone on to accomplish. “What I’m passionate about now is being able to pass my medical skills on,” he said.
Sometimes, it takes multiple careers before finding your passion. Jain had worked as a bond trader on Wall Street before discovering her love of redevelopment. Now she is buying more Miami properties and transforming neighborhoods. There's no doubt when you love what you do, others can see it and as Jain has made obvious, that passion can take you far.
Cindy Krischer Goodman writes weekly on work life topics. Connect with her @balancegal, firstname.lastname@example.org or worklifebalancingact.com.