When I present my very #blessed dilemma (stay at a job I love, or attend a top business school for free), most people are quick to frame their advice in terms what they think I want:

“Free tuition?! Are you kidding? Obviously go!”

“I don’t think you need an MBA in advertising. You’ll go further in your career by staying put and working for two years.”

“Just go. Are you making 250K/year? Exactly.”

“Startups don’t care about MBAs. Honestly you won’t learn to be an entrepreneur in b-school. Stay in your job and start a side project.”

Others ask me what I want to do in my career, looking to see if its an MBA-friendly job (consulting, private equity, CEO) or a more ‘creative’ one (a la my current role in advertising). From there they determine if an MBA is the right next step on my path.

That’s all okay advice. I find that the good advice is not really advice at all. Instead, it comes in the form of a heavy dose of listening and asking me big questions about my passion and purpose:

What is it you really want to get out of life? Once you know your life’s purpose, you can dial back into which job or career move fits that purpose, and then determine if an MBA makes sense.”

That is the advice I would like to take. Except for the small fact that I don’t know my purpose.

I have taken to scribbling notes when I feel inspired, questioning who I admire, and analyzing what I love to do in hopes that my purpose will reveal itself. I will then have an epiphany about what I need to do next in my career. The MBA deposit deadline is next week, so any day now would be great.

I have yet to locate it.

But I did find this quote by Cal Newport:”You don’t find your passion. You cultivate it.

Whoa. That’s what I would call great advice.

Newport went on to state how we are encouraged to find our purpose in life as if it is a hidden artifact. In reality, we are building it all our lives. Take Steve Jobs, a man who was wandering through different interests when he started Apple. He did not discover a greater purpose toward design and computing (at least not at that point). Instead he created Apple computer as an opportunity to make a quick $1000. Only later in life, as Jobs worked on Apple, did he define his life’s purpose.

The Steve Jobs story is easy to rationalize in retrospect. But when I imagine my own life that way, it feels terrifying. My purpose is supposed to guide me through my decisions. Once I’ve found it I can just truck along, purpose in hand, determined to change the world.

Instead, I need to be continuously cultivating my purpose, and redefining where it is going. And I don’t even know where to begin!

Well that’s a lie. Sort of.

When I wrote my MBA essays, I went back through my history of jobs, projects and mentors to look for themes. In these themes I discovered threads of different passions I have been cultivating over the past few years – I just didn’t know it yet.

All of us, if we’ve been blessed with the autonomy to choose some of our own projects or aspects of them, have been cultivating passions.

Cultivating passion is not as simple as trying something new; you need to work on it and grow for at least some period of time. My passion for consumer behavior has been marked by quite a few ups and downs as I have pursued different projects related to consumer research and behavioral economics. But I have found myself getting more interested over time. I have also found myself branching into related aspects of consumer behavior as I have taken on different projects: organizational design, product innovation, behavioral economics.

As you begin to take stock of your choices to focus on certain types of work, you will start to see different passions coming to light.

I believe cultivating passion means doing this regular self analysis to identify where you are developing passions. And then, it means investing in them. Work harder to develop greater autonomy and greater impact with these passions. It’s scary, because this implies less planning for where you will end up and more building to an unknown destination over time. But if you study the career paths of people who end up loving their work, most of them did not plan out a straight line to their dream job. They went down different routes, invested in themselves, took on tough challenges, and built their dream careers.

Regarding my current dilemma, this leaves me with a choice of which option is more aligned with the passions I have cultivated thus far. But more than that, it leads me to ask: which will provide me with the challenges to grow them in ways I cannot foresee?

Like my purpose, this decision is TBD. For now…

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