Jessica Semaan knows a thing or two about passion: The Stanford Business School grad interviewed 100 people for Passion Stories, a blog she created to help people learn from those who’ve followed their passions, so more people could follow their own. Semaan’s blog (not to mention her own personal passion: writing) led to her developing The Passion Co., an organization dedicated to producing five-week passion-finding programs to help people lead more fulfilling lives. This year, Scribd is partnering with The Passion Co. for their inaugural Start Conference, designed to inspire and encourage attendees to pursue their dreams. Writing has been reported to be the top passion among current registrants, and the conference delivers with several related workshops, including “How to Write Your First Book.”
Whether your passions include writing, reading—or even gardening, figure skating, or drumming—according to Semaan, pursuing what moves you ensures a happier life. So, are you ready to be happier? Here, Semaan gives us the inside scoop on how she came to follow her dreams, and how you can, too.
Scribd: You created the Start Conference to help people jumpstart their passions. How did you get started with The Passion Co.?
Jessica Semaan: It happened slowly over the past three years. To be honest, it started with connecting with myself. When it comes to doing what you love, one of the most critical things is knowing who you are.
At the time, I was running operations at Airbnb. It was such a great experience to work for a company that’s changing the world. On the surface, though, while I was very successful, on the inside I wasn’t feeling completely fulfilled. I used to love writing and hadn’t done it for a while. I decided then, that I was going to learn to love myself, and in doing so, I should write more.
I began blogging on the weekends, and started to get really inspired—and that inspiration fueled me. I interviewed people about their passions, and started seeing how most of them started their passions on the side, too. I started teaching what I’d learned to friends, and my workshops grew by word of mouth into what’s now a five-week program, as well as the Start Conference.
Scribd: Writing is important for you, and it’s the top passion cited by Start Conference registrants. Why do you think this is so?
JS: Writing is a way for people to express themselves. It’s approachable, and can be easier than other mediums, like painting for example, where you need more supplies. Reading of course is important, too. It can help you find your passion, and allows you to take time to clear your mind, and connect with what matters.
Scribd: Speaking of reading, you’ve recommended Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl as a must-read for everyone. Why?
JS: It answers life’s most important questions, like, “Why am I here?” It’s written by a holocaust survivor, yet it’s still relevant to what people encounter today. It takes you out of the small picture, and encourages you to ask bigger-picture questions, like: “How can I live my life, so I can make a difference in the world?” And I love that. It’s not recent and trending, or born out of modern issues. It’s a classic, and goes down to the deepest roots of what it means to be human.
Scribd: What have you learned in your Passion Development research, and what do people need to know?
JS: One of the biggest things I’ve found, is how so many people don’t do what they want because they’re afraid. Fear can easily tell you, “You don’t have money, you don’t have time…” Your mind tries to justify the fear, and turn it into something that makes sense. But it’s just fear; it’s not true.
There are also several common myths about finding and following passions. One is that you only have one passion. But you can have many! Some passions can just be for fun, and even change over time.
The second myth, is that you won’t be able to find your passion. For starters, you won’t know unless you try new things. But in general, it’s not hard to find what you care about. You just have to check in with yourself.
The third myth, is that your passion must become your job. It doesn’t have to be either/or. In fact, you do need your job. If you’re worried about eating, for example, that’s not good for anyone. Having a job can free you to pursue what matters to you.
Scribd: Why should we all, no matter what—start following our passions this very instant?
JS: If you’re not in touch with why you’re alive—it’s a waste of life. You’re denying yourself, and robbing the world of your gifts. One of the most important investments you can make in life is in yourself. If all you do is what others tell you to do, you’re not following your heart. And you’re forgoing magic by not following your heart. Following your passions opens you to the magic of life!