Myanmar. Sitting cross-legged on a dirt floor. Sweat trickling down my back in the stifling heat. I listened in silence as a young man recounted his story through a translator of being trafficked onto a shipping vessel. Trapped for years at sea with no hope of escape.
I was humbled that he shared his experience. Overwhelmed by the implications of everything I heard. My eyes were opened to the broken systems enabling forced labor in supply chains—exploitation that taints the food we buy and the clothes we wear.
Fire to take action consumed me. That drove about eight years of intense effort to build a global anti-human trafficking fund. From the early days of drafting strategy in the CEO’s basement to meetings at the White House, from finding partners in Liechtenstein to India, it was relentless and evolving.
And in that years-long effort, the initial fire was sustaining. I woke up every day believing I was expending myself for something worth attempting.
Creating a Non-Linear Path
My path has been anything but conventional. I tried to choose a logical career and so started in molecular genetics (Yes, as in studying telomeres at the ends of chromosomes). I loved science as a discipline but felt something calling me out of the lab, out of a research track, out of the safety of a defined career path.
That spark kicked off a journey that spanned the humanities, public policy, and the MBA program at Fuqua. Doors opened. Because I pivoted from genetics, I had opportunities at the White House and State Department. And because I leaned into policy at the University of Chicago, I consulted in Kosovo, worked with startups, jumped in early with the founding CEO of the Global Fund, and traveled to places I had only ever dreamed of. Because of the Executive MBA program at Fuqua, I have envisioned new business ventures and met future teammates and colleagues. I wouldn’t trade any of it—the wins and losses, the lessons learned, or perspective gained—for the certainty of my initial plan.
Passion as a Signal and a Driver
Life is always easier to synthesize in retrospect and can sound like a seamless narrative in hindsight. I’m not going to pretend it was all perfectly orchestrated or offer some cliché about following your heart and throwing caution to the wind. Preparation, planning, and persistence are all required.
But I do think passion can serve as an internal compass. It signals something that matters to us, points to curiosity, a problem we want to solve, an endeavor we believe is worthwhile. It can both spur action and fuel our ability to persevere.
There’s a time and a place to just do the logical thing, but we should also pay attention to what lights us up. The passion signal can be a gift on our career journeys.