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The 'Do What You're Passionate About' Mantra Is Cheesey, But It Works

10/19/2010 03:28 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Career advice comes in lots of shapes and sizes. I find most of it to be fairly useless. At the end of undergrad, I went to the career services office one month before graduation to tell them that I had no job lined up and no life plan. Their answer? They handed me a copy of the Myers-Briggs personality test and told me that would have all the answers.

Turns out it didn't. While now I can announce with confidence that I'm an ENTJ, I have never received good career advice from people who were paid to provide such information. Instead, the best advice came from someone who had no incentive whatsoever to help me out -- and it was to do whatever I thought was interesting and ignore all of the more traditional assumptions about "career paths."

This sort of trial-and-error career search makes your resume look like splatter art, and often means you'll be pretty poor for a while. But once you hit on something you really love, you get hooked and don't want to do anything else.

At first I thought that the whole "do what you're passionate about" mantra was cheesey and trite, but thinking about how many of my friends were miserable made me realize how few people are actually happy with what they do. It's easy to spend endless hours stressing over career decisions and money-making schemes. What's difficult is identifying what's actually going to be interesting to you.

So I took a more impulsive approach. When I was interested in China, I moved there almost immediately. When I wanted to start a web business, I taught myself how to build websites and built an e-commerce business.

After arriving at MIT in the fall of 2008, I was determined to get involved in Cleantech. I went to every speaker that came to campus, and visited labs working on wind and solar innovation. I lined up the perfect internship for the month of January in China to work with an emissions reduction startup in Beijing.

But after 4 weeks of meeting with energy companies and power plants, I realized that I only liked this industry in theory. Sure, there was money to be made and clean energy had the potential to change our day-to-day existence, but I just couldn't get excited about it.

I was happiest analyzing web and mobile technology. I would pick apart new products and share them with friends, and read articles for hours about social technology on Friday nights. I was completely hooked.

Although it took some time, I have found this sort of passion is necessary for anyone looking to start a company. Because startups take up so much of your time, you have to have an underlying interest in what you're building, otherwise it's easy to get frustrated and quit.

While working on something interesting can often involve personal sacrifice (giving up a regular paycheck and a stable work environment, for example), I've found the upside to be well worth it.