HAVE YOU EVER DREAMT OF FINDING AND FOLLOWING YOUR PASSION?

Innovation is the lifeline of San Francisco and the Bay area. The energy and drive to create something is palpable. The desire to discover, push boundaries and progress in is in the DNA of city and the Valley. It’s hard not to get swept up by the energy and emotion of it all.

But sometimes we get so busy doing that we drift further and further way from our truths and dreams. We become conditioned to seek validation from the external trappings of success and in doing so we fail to make room or time for the things in life that bring us the most joy – we lose our why.

This story is about Jessica Semaan and her company The Passion Co.

I first met Jessica when she spoke at the Women Catalyst networking event in San Francisco. Her story is remarkable. Jessica didn’t set out to create a business – in fact she had a great career heading up Customer Operations for the hugely successful Airbnb. Her journey to getting ‘airborne’ was one devoted entirely to personal growth and fulfillment. The Passion Co. was born out of just that – a passion.

Born and raised in Lebanon, Jessica moved to California in her early 20’s to study at Stanford Business School. Like any big transitions in life – and I can say this wholeheartedly from my own experience – the change is catalyst for enormous personal reflection and challenging to the core. It’s a big old lesson from the university of life.

The loneliness and isolation in a new city is difficult for anyone. When you move, the things you‘ve taken for granted like; family, friendship circles, the familiarity and comfort of knowing a city or a certain way of life disappear. Being thrown into a new culture and being alone you learn a lot about yourself – the good, the bad and the ugly.

For Jessica, this period of her life culminated in a breakdown and ultimately the beginning of her journey of self-discovery and self-love.

“The backstory is that I struggled with a lack of ‘self –love’- as I like to say – for a long time. I spent a lot of my energy running away from myself, trying to work hard, getting the best job. I was addicted to the external validation that comes with it, but obviously it’s never enough. So when I came to Stanford Business School I was forced to be alone. I didn’t have all my friends, and I could never ever be alone before. I had a breakdown because I had to face myself and realize that I actually still thought that I was a failure”

This was the tipping point for Jessica. From then on she committed to strengthening her relationship with herself. Her therapist first introduced her to the concept of self-love and it has resonated ever since. Having read the book ‘The Seven Secrets to a Successful Marriage’ – Jessica realized that self-love is akin to being happily married. It means knowing your love map, not letting internal conflicts escalate and keeping your promises – she wasn’t doing any of these things.

The best ideas start on paper and in an effort to get to know herself better Jessica set about writing a list of 20 things she was really passionate about. Here she re-discovered her love for writing. Rather than face the daunting task of writing a book, she settled on a blog as her medium. Her idea was simple – find local people who are passionate about what they do – and share their story.

When we are doing the things that we love, we feel energized, and it brings us joy – making the other sacrifices all the more worthwhile. Despite a demanding career, Jessica dedicated every spare moment to perusing her passion and keeping her promise to write one passion story each week. She interviewed people on her lunch breaks, worked late nights and weekends to write. For the first time in her life, Jessica had found a way to do something she really loved and it brought her more joy than anything had before. The seeds for the Passion Co. were planted.

“After wrapping up at business school I started at AirBnB and I started doing these interviews. I would run away at lunch and I even recruited one of my colleagues do the photography for the blog. And just like that I was going and interviewing amazing local heroes – that’s what I like to call them. They weren’t the most famous people but people who were content with their work. So for me getting that passion project going became a source of joy”

The irony of what Jessica discovered through the interviews is that those who were passionate about what they did also had self-love. These people were forgiving of their own mistakes, aware of their shortcomings and celebrated their strengths. When you what you love it creates a positive cycle; and Jessica was now in this positive cycle.

She wanted to share her experience with others. She wanted to teach them about finding their passion. The first few workshops were held in Jessica’s apartment. She enlisted the help of a coach to teach the sessions and, along with her blog, it started to gain traction – she had a following.

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The best business ideas are built on a truth.

There is no single way to build a brand or business. Jessica and the Passion Co. is a great example of this. It doesn’t have to be the next biggest innovation, but it does have to be based on an enduring insight or cultural truth. Why? Because they are real and relevant and people connect to what is real.

Insight or ‘a-ha moments’ come when you least expect them. For Jessica, it came in the form of question at the end of a workshop she was forced to teach.

“I thought at that point people were coming because everyone wants to find their passion. Until one evening the coach didn’t show up and I had to teach the class. And it was very terrifying for me to teach for the first time and what made it more terrifying was this very young successful girl who was 24 who had just sold her app said she said she wanted to help me clean. And I was really worried that she would say in the really Californian way – that that sucked and that she wanted her money back. Instead she said, I want to share something with you that has been on my mind. It’s basically a simple question – do you ever feel like a complete failure even when you have just had the biggest success?”

Jessica then realized that people weren’t coming to find their passion; they were struggling with loving themselves. This was a seismic shift and lead to the realization that this was no longer just her passion project and journey to self-love but about helping others to find theirs.

“And it was at that moment that I realized this wasn’t about me. This was about people here and around the world in every country that were struggling with loving themselves. They were addicted to success – because we are taught that success is what is going to bring us satisfaction – but it is not about being successful it’s about being enough”

“And many of us don’t feel enough and if this 24 year old didn’t feel enough – she was me a couple of years ago. And then it dawned on me that all of these people were coming to my workshops or reading my blog because they lacked self-love. Because when you start having self-love, I realized it wasn’t hard to find your passion”

But the disparity between her day job and her passion was growing. Jessica was no longer satisfied maintaining the status quo. A year and a half of blogging, interviews and workshops on the side, meant that Jessica knew there was a viable business model. It was time to quit her job.

“I didn’t have to take 20 tests or read 20 books – I just made that list and started doing it on the side and I was feeling more satisfied than I had ever done in my life before. I needed to leave my job. And my mission at that point became about spreading self-love and getting people to start doing things they love and create that cycle.”

 

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Do you have an idea that can help people?

We’ve entered into a new age of commerce. The most interesting start-ups are creating a movement not just a brand.  They are helping people better themselves and augment their lives. The Passion Co. is another example. Its mission is simple and powerful yet humble – helping people honor their dreams.

By leveraging her ‘design thinking’ experience at Stanford Jessica has created a series of stand-alone workshops and 5-week Passion Project courses that focus on helping people discover self-love, uncover their passion and take action on a project. Jessica mocks herself ‘no-one should pay $200k for a MBA to discover their passion’. Each course ends with its own graduation event called ‘Shine’ where friends and family are invited to celebrate their newfound passions. Jessica has big hopes for the Passion Co. – she and her team are working towards their first ever conference in October this year, and she remains committed to making her mission global.

Despite all her success, like anyone in a new or nascent business Jessica still faces challenges. There are days when self-doubt creeps in or the fear of rejection when pursuing a new partnership. In truth it’s a work in progress. And like many, she credits her practice of meditation as a source of help and inspiration.

On getting airborne – Jessica says there have been a few little moments, like seeing classes fill up, or speaking to hundreds of people at TedX but, actually, she doesn’t think she’s there yet. Perhaps launching the Passion Co. conference in October will change that.

“I am not probably aiming to be the next billion dollar company nor should I care. I am really doing what I love everyday. Some people call it a lifestyle business. I like to call it life… I’m living”

So go on… get living.

Images courtesy of The Passion.Co

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Comments: (23)

  1. Love this, Funny how its so obvious but something we all forget about!

  2. Such an inspiring story! And viviennes writing did it justicE.

    • It’s a wonderful story and a great reminder that the impetus to getting ‘airborne’ can come from anywhere. Thanks Caroline x