I speak at many women’s leadership sessions and the question of “luck” generally rears its head. Some women truly believe that others are luckier than they are and are always in the right place at the right time. I wrote a piece on luck a few years ago and I always respond that there is more to success than luck.
Invariably, the conversation then goes to passion. Women (and men) who are passionate succeed. Others will disagree and say hard work and planning are much more critical than passion.
So which is most important – to have passion or a plan?
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I’ll bet many people will have an initial reaction to this question, and everyone will have well-thought out reasons as to why their choice trumps the other. Personally, when I first pondered this question many years ago, I was instinctively drawn towards passion as the most important trait. Without passion, there’s no commitment and without commitment, there’s no perseverance. And with no perseverance, most people fall at the first hurdle in pursuit of their goals and ambitions.
But passion without a plan can be aimless. It can also become an obsession and, like a raging fire, if there is no careful direction, it can get out of control and consume us. Of course, on the other hand, a plan without passion can be a laborious and cumbersome process – I’ve yet to hear of any success story that was built solely on a plan without an intense passion driving the overall vision.
Stepping outside the box
In business, as with life, we can get caught up in dualistic thinking. The “this or that” approach is more often a hindrance than a help, and yet it’s one we see embraced all the time. How many career choices are weighed by this measure? You could try to become an artist, but you probably won’t make any money. Better to become a banker; that way, you’ll have a solid career and income. Here we see “this or that” in full flow: you can either be creative or sensible, but you can’t be both. . . Why not?
This modern-day conventional wisdom directs us to be boxed in, to compact the complexity and range of who we are into a single space. Passion is for the few who are creative enough to put it to good use. And yet, when we think of great minds of the past – those who weren’t born great – we see this dichotomy smashed into pieces.
Albert Einstein was told at school he’d never amount to much. The renowned and revered physicist was a genius. . . and one who credited his success to his ability to play the violin. Einstein once said of playing this instrument that the “most joy in my life has come to me from my violin,” and he would often play classical music as a brainstorming technique.
Another giant of history, Leonardo da Vinci, had a whole range of talents. Many people associate the Italian icon with his famous paintings. And yet, he was also a musician, cartographer, mathematician, sculptor, engineer and geologist, among other things. And don’t get me started on my all-time favourite – Benjamin Franklin – who did literally everything and did it well. Also, let us not forget Helen Keller.
Potential beyond boundaries
Whenever I advise young students and professionals, I try to remind them to delve into as much of the human experience as possible, just as any great mind of the past and present has done.
It’s by immersing ourselves in the world that we come alive to the possibilities that we can create through the passions that we discover. We all see things through different perspectives, and so our potential to contribute to the world is absolutely unique.
The flip-side to this, of course, is the requirement for a plan of action. To briefly counter the “luck” objection I mentioned at the start of this piece, yes, there are people who successfully “wing” their way to success thanks to an unyielding dedication to their passion. But these truly are the lucky few who are able to make use of their circumstances, timing, opportunities and other factors that happen to come together at the right moment.
We risk falling into the trap of believing that passion and success are reserved for the few and not the many when we look to exceptional examples of those who both work hard and find Lady Fortune on their side.
But success and deep satisfaction is available to anyone who takes the time to discover and evolve their passion, while at the same time making sure they have a plan in place, an idea of where they want to go and how to get there. Within that plan, there needs to be room for flexibility to allow for unexpected circumstances and challenges that might arise. If we are able to have a framework within which our passion can thrive, it’s in that space that we can truly maximise our potential to achieve great things.
It’s by dropping clichéd conventional wisdom that this process can flourish. There’s a reason why we’re often advised to “think outside the box” – because inside is where well-worn ideas are kept.
If we want to make changes for ourselves, we can’t make those changes by repeating the same thoughts, words and actions. By marrying our passion and a solid plan, rather than seeing the two as mutually exclusive, we can reach amazing heights. As the saying goes, electric light didn’t come about by constantly improving candles.
Women and leadership
As I interact and observe the best women leaders in the world, from PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi to our top Malaysian women leaders like Anne Abraham, Fatimah Merican, Vimala Menon and Chin Suit Fang, to name a few, they impress me with both their vision and relentlessness in achieving their laid-out plans. Their passion stems from their deep desire to make a difference in this world and not from the pursuit of monetary gains.
And I think for women the world over to succeed, the combination of hard work, clarity of vision and focus coupled with a deep passion to make a difference and leave a legacy will surely yield success.
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In conjunction with International Women’s Day this week, I would like to wish every girl and woman my deepest and sincerest blessings that you will work hard and push relentlessly and that you may be filled with a deep reservoir of belief, passion and conviction to make your dreams come true. Have a blessed Women’s Day!