Epiphany: Following Your Passion (Great One for Students and Recent Graduates)

“If you have a passion for something and do it with excellence, you will prosper. Money and career will follow.”
– John Lehman

John Lehman was 19 years old when he had his epiphany about what he was passionate about and what he wanted to do with his life. He was in college and at a family picnic when his father asked him what he was going to major in. When he replied he was pretty much decided on international relations, his father asked him the classic fatherly question, “How are you going to make a living at that? At that moment he had his epiphany.

“It was this moment, right then, that I found clarity on what it was I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to help make policy. My dad went on, “Well, that’s great. You should follow what you are interested in, but also think about how you’re going to make a living. Are you going to be a career civil servant?” I said, “Absolutely not. I want to change the government. You can’t do that from inside the bureaucracy.” So I wasn’t sure how, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I never wavered. I never had any doubts.”

John went on to design his life to study international relations and economics and got his masters and doctorate in those areas. He also joined the Navy Reserves and flew for 25 years with them. He met Henry Kissinger through a professor of his while studying at the University of Pennsylvania and Dick Allen while studying at Cambridge. He ended up working for them in the White House and eventually became Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan from 1981-1987. John Lehman was integral to the team that helped end the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

“It was a great honor and satisfaction to be a part of that team…My epiphany and the trajectory it set me on let me play a role when President Reagan was making a huge change in the world by winning the Cold War. It was great to fulfill my ambitions and realize my convictions by being a part of that.

From all these experiences, I learned that it’s extremely important to follow our instincts—assuming we’ve thought about it and learned enough to understand what we’re deciding about. If you know in your heart that’s what you want to do, you should do it. Whatever your passion is, even if you don’t know how you’re going to make a living at it, you should still pursue it. If you have a passion for something and do it with excellence, you will prosper. Money and career will follow. If you have an insight that you are going to be happy doing something, and you don’t do that because you think people will think less of you because of it or won’t approve, then you’re making a mistake. Happiness doesn’t come from what other people think, but what you have a passion for, from what’s in your heart that you know to be true for you. As Shakespeare wrote, “This above all, to thine own self be true.”

Adapted from Epiphany: True Stories of Sudden Insight to Inspire, Encourage and Transform, the Callings section.


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