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← 2 questions to uncover your passion -- and turn it into a career

What's your passion? Social entrepreneur Noeline Kirabo reflects on her work helping out-of-school young people in Uganda turn their passions into profitable businesses -- and shares the two questions you can ask yourself to begin doing the same.

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Showing Revision 12 created 03/26/2020 by Oliver Friedman.

  1. When you have a job that pays you enough
    to cover your basic needs,
  2. your bills and even some more to spend,
  3. the assumption is that you'd be happy,
  4. or, even better, fulfilled.
  5. And it seems unthinkable
    when you wake up and say
  6. you're going to leave a job like that
    to pursue a passion.
  7. And that was my dilemma six years ago.
  8. I had a comfortable job,
    I lived a comfortable life,
  9. and people expected me to be fulfilled,
  10. but I wasn't.
  11. There was something
    in me that wanted more.
  12. There was a misalignment
    between the things I did on a daily basis
  13. and the things that I deeply cared about.
  14. And so I decided to quit

  15. and explore the possibility of bringing
    this passion into my daily routine.
  16. And the thing about finding your passion
  17. is that it's not straightforward.
  18. Even for people with money and degrees,
  19. they still struggle
    to identify their passion.
  20. And here I was as a 30-year-old,
  21. talking about finding my passion
  22. and turning it into a career.
  23. Literally, people told me,
  24. "You don't talk about passion
    until you've made enough money --
  25. (Laughter)

  26. or at least until
    you're ready to retire."

  27. Because there's a notion
    that looking inward
  28. and finding the things that give us
    pleasure and fulfillment
  29. is a luxury that only the rich can enjoy,
  30. or a pleasure that only
    the retired can indulge in.
  31. Which made me wonder:
  32. Is passion only for the rich,
  33. or an experience
    only the retired can enjoy?
  34. For many of us, we've been led to believe

  35. that life is a race of survival.
  36. We've been conditioned
    to see ourselves as survivors
  37. that must do everything
    in our power to survive.
  38. In Africa, we're nurtured to go
    through school, cram and pass,
  39. in the hope that you get a job after.
  40. And if you do, stick at it
    no matter how much it sucks.
  41. (Laughter)

  42. Until you get a better offer
    or you're asked to retire.

  43. And as a dropout,
  44. I knew that I was
    not entitled to anything.
  45. Every opportunity was a privilege.
  46. And so when I thought about quitting,
  47. it was a huge risk.
  48. I was given two alternatives,

  49. which are the most popular in Africa.
  50. The first one is sign up for any course
    at a vocational institution and do it.
  51. My second option,
    settle for any job offer you can get,
  52. no matter the working conditions,
  53. and do it.
  54. That probably explains why we have
    so many of our young people
  55. being trafficked
    in search of greener pastures.
  56. I opted for the first option.

  57. I did look at a couple
    vocational institutions
  58. in the hope that I would find a course
    that resonated with my persona,
  59. my dream and my aspiration.
  60. I was disappointed to learn that there
    was no room for misfits like me
  61. in these institutions.
  62. The education system
    in many parts of the world
  63. has been designed
    around preselected options
  64. that young people are expected
    to fit in or risk becoming misfits.
  65. And so going through school,
    I was nurtured and conditioned
  66. to think in the straight line
    and stay within the straight line.
  67. But when I dropped out,
    I discovered a world of possibilities.

  68. I knew I could be anything,
    I could study anything,
  69. and so I leveraged free online courses.
  70. That's how I built my CV,
    got into employment
  71. and worked for eight years.
  72. And after eight years,
  73. I told myself there must be more to life
  74. than just going through
    the routines of life.
  75. So in 2014, I started
    an organization called Kyusa

  76. where we are working
    with out-of-school youth
  77. and empowering them to turn their passions
  78. into profitable, scalable
    and sustainable businesses.
  79. Now, when we talk about passion,

  80. one of the most common questions
    that people ask is, "What is passion?
  81. How do I even find it?"
  82. And in the simplest definition,
  83. passion is a collection
    of your life experiences
  84. that give you the deepest
    sense of fulfillment.
  85. And to identify your passion,
    you need to look inward.
  86. So we use two reflective questions.
  87. The first question we ask is,
  88. "If you had all the time
    and the money in the world,
  89. what would you spend your time doing?"
  90. It sounds like a very simple question,
  91. but many people struggle
    to answer this question
  92. because they've just
    never thought about it.
  93. The second question we ask

  94. is, "What makes you happy
  95. or gives you the deepest
    sense of fulfillment?"
  96. Now, you would assume that we all
    know what makes us happy,
  97. but it's also interesting to note
    that so many people have no idea
  98. what makes them happy,
  99. because they are so busy
    going through the routines of life,
  100. they've never stopped to look inward.
  101. And so identifying the things
    that give us a deep sense of fulfillment
  102. and the things that give us deep joy
  103. are thoughts that begin to direct us
    in the direction of our passion.
  104. And just in case you're wondering
  105. what your answers are
    to those two questions,
  106. I invite you to sit with these questions
    later and just reflect about it.
  107. However, I am also aware

  108. that passion alone
    cannot guarantee success in life.
  109. And I should note
  110. that not every passion
    can become a career.
  111. For passion to become a career,
  112. it must be coupled with the right set
    of skills, conditioning and positioning.
  113. So when we get our young people
    to look inward,
  114. we also ask them what skills do you have,
  115. what talents do you have,
    what experience do you have
  116. that you can use to build
    a niche in the marketplace.
  117. But more than that,
    we also look at the market trends,
  118. because it doesn't matter
    how much you love and enjoy it.
  119. If nobody wants it
    or is willing to pay for it,
  120. it can't be a career.
  121. It's just a hobby.
  122. And the third thing we look at
    is how do you position yourself?

  123. Who are you targeting?
    Who do you want to sell to?
  124. Why would they want to buy from you?
  125. And so the combination of the three
    is what enables you to move
  126. from just a passion to a business.
  127. And many of our young people
    have been able to turn their ideas
  128. and burning desires
    into profitable businesses
  129. or social enterprises,
  130. and they're not just creating jobs,
  131. but they are solving societal challenges.
  132. I'll share with you two examples.

  133. One of them is Esther.
  134. I met Esther two years ago.
  135. She had been out of school for two years,
  136. and she had been deeply affected
    by her dropping out.
  137. As a result, she had experienced
    severe depression
  138. to a point where she attempted
    to take her own life several times.
  139. Her friends and family
    didn't know what to do for her.
  140. They simply prayed for her.
  141. When I met Esther
    and I started to converse with her,
  142. I asked her a simple question.
  143. I said, "If you had all the time
    and the money in the world,
  144. what would you do?"
  145. Without thinking or hesitation,
  146. her eyes lit up and she began to tell me
  147. how she wanted to change
    the lives of young people.
  148. She wanted to restore
    hope and dignity to other teenagers
  149. by helping them make
    informed decisions about life.
  150. I was certain of the fact
    that this burning desire in her

  151. was unquenchable.
  152. And so we worked with Esther
    to put a framework around this desire.
  153. Today, she runs a social
    enterprise in her village,
  154. raising awareness about substance abuse,
    mental health, sexual reproductive health
  155. and is helping other school dropouts
    acquire vocational skills,
  156. so they can make a living for themselves.
  157. Esther turned 20 this year,
  158. and for the last two years,
    she has organized an annual teen fest
  159. that brings together over 500 teenagers.
  160. (Applause)

  161. Young people that are able
    to network and collaborate

  162. on different projects,
  163. but more importantly to meet professionals
    they would otherwise never have met.
  164. This is all engineered by a girl that
    believed the world had no room for her,

  165. that without education
    she would never amount to anything.
  166. But by looking inward
    and tapping into a burning desire,
  167. putting structure around it,
  168. it has become a model
    that not only changed her life
  169. but is transforming the lives
    of hundreds of young people every year.
  170. My other example is Musa.

  171. Musa is a natural artistic guy.
  172. He's the kind that would look
    at any design and replicate it with ease.
  173. And so he seeks to recognize
    that ability in him.
  174. When I met Musa,
    he was doing all kinds of crafts --
  175. bags, belts, wallets --
  176. but it was more of a part-time thing.
  177. Or sometimes, if he was really broke
    and needed to make quick money,
  178. then he would come up
    with a design and sell it.
  179. But he had never thought
    of it as a business.
  180. We started working with Musa,

  181. helping him shift his mindset
    from a hobby to a business
  182. and beginning to rethink how he can
    make products that he could sell
  183. and even be able to scale.
  184. Musa makes some of
    the most amazing bags I've ever seen,
  185. and over the last one year,
    Musa's business has grown.
  186. He has been recognized
    in different places.
  187. Currently, he's talking about
    exporting to developed countries.
  188. Musa, like any other dropout,

  189. believed that without
    academic credentials,
  190. he wouldn't amount to anything.
  191. He thought the talent he had was nothing
  192. simply because he did not have
    an academic paper to define him.
  193. But by looking inward and finding
    that what he had was the greatest asset
  194. and supporting him
    to turn it into a business,
  195. he's not just living -- he's thriving.
  196. The thing about looking inward
    is that it can be scary,

  197. especially if you're doing it
    for the first time.
  198. But the truth is
    you never truly start living
  199. until you learn to live
    from the inside out.
  200. And in unlocking potential,
    we need to look inward to identify
  201. the things that give us
    a deep sense of fulfillment,
  202. the things that give us the deepest joy,
  203. and then weave them
    into the patterns of our daily routines.
  204. In so doing, we cease to work
    and we start to live.
  205. And the thing about living is that
    you never have to retire or to resign.
  206. (Laughter)

  207. (Applause)

  208. And so as you think about
    unlocking potential for ourselves,

  209. for our young people, for our children,
  210. let's not condition them to look outward
  211. but condition them to look inward
  212. to tap into who they are and bring
    that self into what they do every day.
  213. When you cease to work and you live,

  214. when passion becomes a career,
  215. you don't just excel,
  216. you become unstoppable.
  217. Thank you.

  218. (Applause)