Finding Your Passion

I graduated from college with a technical degree from one of the finest engineering schools in the world, I had helped to pay for college by writing code in a research lab, I had a strong academic record, and I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life.

Fortunately the Gotham Gal did and I followed her to NYC where she got busy with her career in fashion and retail. Meanwhile I took a job in an engineering firm where I used my coding skills to help design a new class of Navy ships. It was a good paying job, the kind that is in short supply for college grads these days, but it wasn’t anything I was passionate about.

We were visiting our families who lived in DC at the time and at the dinner table one night the Gotham Gal’s mom Judy who is no longer with us said to me “Get an MBA from one of the top schools. With an engineering degree from MIT and and MBA from a top school, you can write your ticket”. I liked the sound of that phrase “write your ticket” so I took her advice.

But the business school applications all asked the same thing, “what do you want to do in your career?” And I really had no good answer to that question. I knew that we were going to live in NYC because that’s where Gotham Gal’s career was flourishing. And I knew that I liked technology. But there wasn’t a tech sector in NYC at that time. All the good and high paying jobs were on Wall Street. And then it hit me. What was at the intersection of Wall Street and technology? Financing tech companies of course.

So I did some research and found out about this, at the time, sleepy little business called venture capital. This was the early 80s and the venture capital business was a much smaller and closer knit business than it is today. But I loved the sound of the word “venture”. It reminded me of adventure. I was smitten.

And so I wrote my business school applications about venture capital. I told all the schools (all three of them) that I wanted to be a VC. One of them, Wharton, accepted me and I went there, commuting back and forth to NYC for two years.

The Gotham Gal, who always pushes me and thank god she does, started asking me a few weeks into the fall semester of  business school what I was going to do the following summer. I said “get a job in venture capital”. That was my plan. Nothing more to it than that.

I wrote letters (yes letters) to all the Wharton alums in the VC business and got one reply (via letter) from Bliss McCrum. He said “please come in for lunch”. So I did that. And I got the summer job. That led to a full time job when I got out of school.

That lunch with Bliss happened 30 years ago. It was the key to finding my passion. And it led to a fantastic career that has taught me so much and connected me to so many amazing people.

Last week I got a voice mail message from Bliss. I called him back. He’s living on a ranch in Montana now. He invited me to come up and go fishing with him. We traded a bunch of stories about the venture business in the 80s. I told him that I still use all of his sayings and cliches. He loved hearing that. He and his partner Milton taught me a lot and gave me a place to find my passion. I owe them a lot for doing that. We pay that forward by doing the same thing at USV with young people who want to find their passion. And that feels good.

So where is this story going? Well it seems to me that finding your passion is critical to having a full and fulfilling life. And you have to put yourself in a place to do that. For me, it started with a woman who knew what she wanted to do long before I did and who pushed me to “figure it out” and it ended with a couple guys, Milton and Bliss, who passed their passion on to me.

I am sure there are many other ways to get there. But it won’t happen without help. So surround yourself with people who care about you and listen to them. And good things will come from that.