5 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Discover What You’re Passionate About

Do you ever wonder why you’re doing what you’re doing? Do you wake up and hate the situation you’re in, and wonder what your end game is? If someone were to offer you a way out of your current work situation, would you take it?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you have a problem — no offense. You’re lacking something integral. That something is passion. Passion is a burning desire that you can’t get rid of even if you wanted to. Your life will not feel accomplished until you get on the path to pursuing your passion and doing work that excites and fulfills you.

Only you truly know what you’re passionate about. This may be a scary thought (you’ve been warned), but you hold the power of turning your dreams into a reality. It’s a scary thought because there’s no more relying on mommy and daddy to tell you what’s right. This is all you. You hold the power to control your destiny.

I’m going to share with you a few unconventional ways to go about discovering what you’re passionate about. These may seem simple, but it’s typically the simple things that escape us. We tend to over complicate things, and stress ourselves out when the answer is right under our noses.

I’ve personally pursued several ideas that I was not passionate about. I don’t consider them a waste of time, but a learning experience that I have the privilege of sharing with you in hopes of saving you time.

1. Don’t always look at the hard skills.
As human beings, we often feel as though we are not talented if we don’t have any hard skills such as the ability to dance, sing, write, cook or play sports really well. We tend to forget about our soft skills, such as being a good conversationalist, or extremely organized, which are just as important. Are you easy to talk to? Maybe you’re passionate about helping people solve their problems. That’s a skill. Dig a little deeper to find out what makes you, you. Your skill, no matter what it is, is an asset to someone else because everyone needs help in some area of his or her life.

2. It’s all about trial and error.
Finding what you’re passionate about is just trial and error. Remember the Super Mario video games? If you do, you’ll remember those green pipes that you would have Mario jump into without having any idea where it might take him. You just hope it’s the right place. Well, the quest to finding your passion is similar. You try one idea, and sometimes it doesn’t take you where you’re trying to go. However, if you keep trying, one will eventually get you where you need to be. There will be times when you may legitimately think what you’re doing is your passion, and then one day come to the realization that it’s not what you’re meant to do. You may feel like you wasted your time, but in reality you didn’t. You followed a feeling and it didn’t turn out to be right. That’s completely okay. The most important thing is that you learned, and the next step is to refocus, and refocus quickly.

3. Retrace your steps. What did you like to do as a child?
After spending some time thinking about it, I realized that I’ve had a knack for entrepreneurship ever since I was young. I’ve had lemonade stands and garage sales, and even though I may not have made a dime, it encouraged me to find new ways of generating revenue, and ignited my passion for entrepreneurship. Even at a young age, I could never imagine myself working for anyone. What are some traits or interests you had as a child? Perhaps those are indications to what you’re passionate about.

4. Pay attention to opportunities around you.
Look around to see what interests you. During my first couple of weeks in college I saw a flyer for a business plan competition, which instantly captured my attention. After getting my first taste of writing a business plan and coming up with an innovative idea, I discovered my passion. If you notice a job, internship, organization, etc., that captures your attention, listen to that. Go ahead a give it a shot. It may not be for you in the long run, but you will never know until you try.

5. Follow your gut instincts.
If you’re unsure about the passion you choose to pursue, don’t pursue it. Yes, I did say finding your passion is about trial and error, but that only applies to something you really have a genuine interest in. If it’s something you’re not sure about or that doesn’t really excite you, but could possibly be something you’re interested, I suggest not wasting your time. You need to have that burning desire or curiosity. If that burning desire isn’t behind you, then keep it moving.

Too often, people base their decisions on what they think they’re passionate about on what their friends or parents tell them. Don’t get me wrong, your parents and friends may genuinely think that since you love to shop, you should start a fashion blog. That sounds like a pretty spot on recommendation. Therefore, you might take it, but is that really you? Is that really your passion? Or is it what you think you should do because you can’t come up with anything else? Do not rush into something because it’s what you think you’re supposed do, because you will end up wasting your time.

You may not know what you should do, but follow your own path to discovering it, not someone else’s. I tell you this in hopes that you learn not to force what you “think” could possibly be a passion of yours. When you have a burning desire for something and catch yourself reading blogs about that topic just for fun, that’s how you know it’s your passion.

To recap:
Don’t always look at the hard skills.

It’s all about trial and error.

Retrace your steps. What did you like to do as a child?

Pay attention to opportunities around you.

Follow your gut instincts.

Too often, fear and social pressure keep us from pursuing greater things. Will you let that happen to you? There’s a reason you landed on this article. Perhaps you are an avid HuffPost reader, or maybe you just happened to stumble across this particular article. Whatever the case may be, you’re here. What are you going to do differently to put yourself on a path to a more fulfilled life?

Why I Would Choose Yelp Over Google

I had the experience of working at both of these awesome companies in their advertising department. Google has been consistently voted one of the top places to work. So, why would I choose Yelp over Google? Working at both companies gave me insight as to where the best opportunities lie. Personally, the most important factors when I was searching for a place to work were the amount of opportunity, brand recognition, and my ability to learn a lot in the role.

If anyone asks me, I always say my summer internship at Google was the best time of my life. I had a blast! I was located in the Google Ann Arbor office and I had never been to Michigan before then. It was a great place to be for a summer and a completely new experience. What made the internship amazing was that even though we were interns, we had the exact same responsibilities as full time Googlers and got to enjoy the same perks as well.

Why then would I choose Yelp over Google? First let’s do the ole pros vs cons list:

Google

Pros:
Recognizable brand
Unbeatable perks – full cafeteria with chef, and free massages wooo!
Making an impact – A chance to be a part of something that matters.
Google Alumni network – Once a Googler, always a Googler.
Great pay – $$$

Cons:
Not as much of a startup culture anymore.
Difficult to get promoted – Need MBA or some higher degree.

Yelp

Pros:
Growing exponentially – Always new product releases,  partnerships, and offices in new countries.
Making an impact – Be a part of something that matters.
Young culture.
Great perks.
They promote from within.
Easier to get promoted

Cons
Not as many perks as Google (couldn’t really think of anything here lol).

The thing I love about Google is that they make a huge effort to stay in touch with their alumni and reach out. I have been to a few Google alumni events. They even shared job openings for people that are interested in coming back. After accepting the offer to work at Yelp, I was tempted to go back to Google. The biggest factor was the pay (it’s rough out here in NYC lol). I was getting paid more as an intern at Google than as a full-time employee at Yelp, so the temptation was there. However, what I like about Yelp is that there is so much opportunity. Yelp is where Google was 10 years ago. If you had the opportunity to join Google 10 years ago, wouldn’t you? I definitely would!

Yelpers have been promoted within their first 6 months on the job. That would never happen at Google. My first manager at Yelp was 23 years old, that was mind blowing! People tend to associate age with wisdom, and the ability to handle responsibility. It’s refreshing to see a company that acknowledges that young people can handle responsibilities as well.

Yelp is also great because they promote mostly from within the company. Thats huge. There are workplaces that will bring in someone from another company that they consider the most “qualified” person based on their resume, instead of employees that have been there doing the job.

A lot of the time we tend to strive for what we consider to be the best of the best, whether it’s Google in the tech space, Goldman Sachs in finance, Sullivan & Cromwell for law, or Vogue in Fashion. We tend to overlook opportunities at other great companies. For me, Facebook, Twitter, and Google were IT for me. I am thankful that I opened myself up to other opportunities and that I decided to go with Yelp.

When it comes to picking a good job, do your research.Consider a company that has the most opportunity. Find out what their promotion process is like. Consider what is most important for you. What do you want your career to look like? Where do you want to be 3-5 years from now? Then look at companies that will help you achieve that. A major factor for me was that I wanted a position where I could learn real tangible skills.

My thought process was simple…what do I want to be?  My goal: To be an entrepreneur.
Positions that teach entrepreneurial skills: Sales

Therefore, I applied to several different entry level positions at companies, and decided to take the one that best suited my goals… sales.

What are your goals? Take positions that will bring you closer to that. Do not just take a position at the most prestigious and popular company, because that may not be where the most opportunities are.

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Why a Good Business Partner Can Be Bad

Too often we hear reasons as to why business partners can be bad. If you have an argument, then who gets the business? What if one partner doesn’t pull their weight? However, I’m coming from a different perspective. This is for those that have had an amazing business partner, so good that they allowed you to not have to focus at all on a certain aspect of the business. For those that have never been in that type of partnership, there are two ways you can relate:

Have you ever had a serious significant other or spouse?

Have you ever worked on a group project?

If so, did you and your significant other have specific roles or duties, e.g. it was someone’s responsibility to make dinner, take out the trash, walk the dog, etc.? You get accustomed to one person playing a certain role that you totally relinquish all the responsibility to them. The same goes for a group project. Have you ever worked on a project were someone was so good at their assigned task that you didn’t have to worry about it because you knew they had it covered? You trust your partner and know they will get it done.

Wait…so that’s a bad thing?

Yes, it can be, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because you never get the opportunity to branch outside your assigned duty. In regards to the group project analogy, you never get the opportunity to learn the other part of the project since your teammate had it covered. In a relationship, you may never learn how to cook because you’re accustomed to your significant other cooking, and when they’re not there you order take out or make the most basic of meals. As many say, business partnerships are like marriages; and just like marriages, it’s easy to get comfortable.

However, that can be detrimental. I know firsthand how it feels to get so comfortable with the skills your partner has that you totally relinquish a certain aspect of the business to them. I’ve talked to a lot of business owners, and you’ll be surprise how often I’ve heard some variation of this:

“I know nothing about that part of the business, I just build the product. Talk to Bob, he handles the marketing.”

What??? You should know about the marketing for YOUR business. That’s mind-boggling. Your business is your baby! God forbid Bob gets hit by a bus! What would you do then?

Another excuse that I’ve heard is:

“Bob is better at presenting than I am, so I just let him do all the talking.”

I have a confession to make. That was me! I had the biggest issue with public speaking. I would get super nervous and jumble my words, and I would feel extremely insecure about what I was saying like it wasn’t smart or impressive enough. Therefore, I would rely on my partner to do all of the talking.

We entered a lot of business plan competitions and I would have my partner do the majority of the pitch when presenting our idea. I was nervous and scared of having that much responsibility. What if I forget my lines? My words tend to get jumbled. I’m not the best at expressing my thoughts verbally. All these insecurities were swimming around in my head, and I never had the opportunity to confront them because my partner was, in a sense, an enabler. He enabled me to continually rely on him to do most of the speaking.

Have you ever thought that your partner may not be better in that aspect of the business than you, but perhaps just had more practice?

My partner had tons of practice with public speaking! He was on the speech and debate team in college, got mentored by one of the top public speakers in the world, and–guess what? –He eventually wanted to become a public speaker!

At the time I just thought he was amazing at speaking and I sucked! I didn’t view it as him having had more practice than me, and that I could eventually be that good If I only practiced more.

Check out this interview we did:

I was essentially a bump on a log. I actually cringed watching that again. Why didn’t I chime in?! Fear, that’s why. I was intimidated and thought my partner could say anything that I was going to say ten times better. My partner was my crutch and I allowed him to limit my chance to exercise my dormant public speaking skills.

I knew public speaking was a skill I needed to learn, thus I decided not to run from it. I just practiced, practiced and–you guessed it–practiced! I’m not a master at public speaking, but I am better than I was before. Face your fears head on, and believe it or not, you will get better.

Even if you don’t see the value of learning a certain aspect of the business your partner takes care of, you should. Maybe your partner handles the finance, and you handle the creative side….so! You still need to be able to speak intelligently and confidently on how the money is flowing in and out of your business.

As an entrepreneur, you signed up to be a life long learner. Don’t ever forget that. Your  business is your baby, and nobody should know your baby better than you.

How to Win and Leverage Business Plan Competitions

Before graduating college, I won over $20,000 from business competitions, pitched my idea to Mark Cuban, traveled for free, and rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. I often reminisce and wonder…how the heck did I do that?! Those accomplishments were the result of amazing opportunities I took advantage of, and you can too.

The common denominator was my participation in business competitions. Aside from the monetary aspect, competitions have afforded me surprisingly awesome opportunities, such as the ones mentioned above. Competitions are not for the faint of heart. Your ideas are often rejected and you’re left questioning their validity. The thought of entering can be scary. The most common fears include:

What if I lose?

I suck at public speaking.

I can’t write a business plan.

I don’t have a good enough idea.

Those are all just excuses. In order to succeed you need self-confidence. If you don’t have it yet, fake it until you make it. You need to be your biggest cheerleader and you cannot allow rejection to affect you negatively. Think about it this way, you only need a few big wins, and there are always tons of competitions. Focus on the opportunity, the people you’ll meet, and the skills you will develop.

I’m going to share reasons why you need to be competing and strategies on how you can win.

Craft a Good Business Plan.

Crafting a detailed business plan is essential.  An executive summary may only be required for some competitions, but it’s best to just bite the bullet and write a full plan. Your plan needs to be ready so you can be continuously applying.

My secret to crafting a good business plan is simple, but too often people overlook the simple things…be creative! This means not writing a generic or boring business plan. Make it stand out, perhaps do an interactive business plan where the judges can scan a QR code and be taken to a live demo or video of your product. Be innovative in all sections of the plan, like your marketing strategy, use other outlets besides the obvious social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. At the end of the day, just be authentic and let that shine through on your plan. It’s your first and potentially last impression.

Speaking of being creative, check out this video entry my previous business partner and I did for a college competition:

Do not be afraid to embarrass yourself or even be a little cheesy. YOLO right?

There are tons of resources available online that will guide you on your journey to writing a business plan. Start by checking out this website. You can also visit your local SBDC center, which offers free business plan advice.

Get a Quick and Dirty Mockup of Your Idea

KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). If you don’t already have an idea developed, do not kill yourself trying to get it created for the competition. Several competitions only require an idea and it does not necessarily have to be currently available to the public.

I suggest creating a Slideshare presentation of your concept, do a rough sketch, or get a quick mockup for five bucks from Fiverr

Time to Apply

Now that you have your plan and mockup done, the next phase is submitting! It’s time to get your inspector gadget on, and begin scouring the web for competitions. You can start with these sites:

http://bizplancompetitions.com/

http://studentcompetitions.com/

http://younoodle.com/

http://istart.org/

Try a combination of keywords when searching on Google for competitions, such as:

Pitch Competitions

Innovation competitions

Student competitions

Be sure to pay attention to the ads on Google, because some competitions pay for ads as well. Periodically check the blogs of big tech companies like Intel, Microsoft, or Dell. They often run competitions to fund innovative ideas. There are several types of competitions you can get involved in, ranging from public speaking to coding. They are a great way to build your brand. You’re seen as an authority in the field once you’ve won or were a finalist.

Another perk is that a lot of the time when you win money, it’s equity free! Therefore, you don’t have a bunch of investors breathing down your neck, and you can technically do whatever you want with the money (depending on the competition).

You’re in the Finals!

Now that you’ve made it to the finals, it’s time to leverage that opportunity. Be selfish. Think ME ME ME. Think about how you can use the opportunity to your advantage. Make the most out of the competition so much so that even if you don’t win, you’ve made several connections that it’s almost equivalent to winning first prize.

How to Leverage Competitions

 Free Training

Learning new skills can be costly, but when I was a finalist in a competition, I was assigned a personal coach in my city and received free training until presentation day. Be sure to participate in any pre-competition activities, because they often have optional training sessions or online seminars to better prepare you.

Competitions are also the best way to practice public speaking skills. You will always have an opportunity to be in front of a crowd. When you’re not presenting and there’s down time, you are constantly talking and meeting people, which forces you to condense your idea into a 30 second elevator pitch. You learn how to speak more confidently and concisely.

Check out a few presentations I’ve done:

I’ve had a lot of practice speaking in front of a crowd and camera. However, it still makes me nervous, but I know with every presentation I’m improving.

Besides the worst has already happened, I’m sure you noticed that in the first video I messed up; messing up is not the end of the world. If you ever mess up, just keep going. Moreover, public speaking isn’t the only skill you can acquire from competitions, there are several skills you can pickup such as business plan writing, PowerPoint design, etc.

Network

It’s crucial that you take advantage of every opportunity to network. I stress this because I competed in a competition a few years ago, and ended up winning 2nd place. I kept in touch with the winners, and a few years later when I reapplied, the judge was the guy that beat me in the competition a few years ago. I had no idea he was going to be a judge. Although we received a perfect for score from most of the judges, it was comforting to know that we had someone in our corner from the start.

This brings me to my next point. The most important people you need to meet are the judges. After the competition, go and talk to them and get their contact information. Learn more about them; they’re judges for a reason, right? These could be potential investors or mentors.

Alicia Ringing the New York Stock Exchange Bell

Idea Validation

Competitions are the best way to validate an idea. You receive immediate and honest feedback on your presentation and idea when you present in front of the judges. They bombard you with pressing questions and pick apart your presentation to the bone. Once it’s all said and done, you’re left with a bucket of feedback on your business. One time, the feedback I received completely changed my idea. I took the judges suggestion and shifted my idea from being web based to mobile based. Competitions also give you a platform to share your idea with hundreds of people. That’s free promotion! The people in the audience are your beta testers. Keep that in mind!

Apply as Many Times as You Can.

There’s no shame in my game…and there shouldn’t be in yours either. Being fearless and not caring about what people think is powerful. I applied to a competition for three years in a row until I won first place! I was a bit embarrassed hoping the competition organizers weren’t sick of me thinking,“ohh here she goes again!” I’m glad my pride didn’t stop me from continuously applying. Remember, a “no” only brings you closer to a “yes.” You will get a lot of “no’s,” but have the resilience to continue despite that until you get a yes.

First time I applied:

Alicia T Glenn Business Plan Competition

I received second place, walked away with $2000, and a free trip to Atlanta.

The final time I applied:

Alicia T Glenn business plan competition morehouse

Two years later I won first place, walked away with $10,000, and another free trip to Atlanta! Good luck on your journey to becoming a business plan champ! Keep in mind that persistence, resilience, and creativity will take you far!