In the spring of 2013 I shook Biddy’s hand and received my diploma and cane. I had graduated in four years, I had made lifelong friends and I would join an investment bank later that summer. I was “Amherst College Average.”
Clearly being average at Amherst is not remotely a bad position to be in. If you’re an Amherst College student, you are almost certainly talented, creative and intelligent. You’ve forged meaningful friendships and you’ll have no trouble securing a lucrative and/or fulfilling job. But I believe all Amherst College students have the capacity to achieve more.
Whether your focus is social, environmental or economic, your Amherst education gives you the tools to make a dramatic, disruptive impact on people’s lives. While at Amherst, you’re consistently pressed to think critically, to solve problems and to absorb new concepts and ideas. You’ve cultivated the ability to synthesize concepts and ideas into creative and innovative solutions. You have the perfect skillset to affect change and to break free from average.
Passion and Entrepreneurial Pursuit
The word “passion” comes from the Latin word “pati,” which means to suffer or endure. We have all experienced passion. It is irresistible, forcing us to look, to do, to create and to focus. Passion can become an all-consuming, driving action that we may not otherwise have considered.
An entrepreneur is one who organizes and manages an enterprise, often with considerable risk, with the goal of creating something new. Ask any entrepreneur why they chose their path and they’ll tell you the same thing: they had no choice. An entrepreneurial pursuit is one that starts as an idea and evolves into an obsession. Sound familiar?
Entrepreneurialism and passion are categorically linked. If you have a passion, whether it is to promote social change, to save the environment or to ease an economic burden, you should entertain the prospect that you may be an entrepreneur at heart. By embracing your passion and entrepreneurial spirit, you’re taking the first step toward making a meaningful impact. You’ll eventually find that the straight and narrow career path you had envisioned will grow stale, and you’ll have no choice but to diverge to something new.
The Road Ahead
You’ve embraced your passion and entrepreneurial spirit — now all you need is an idea. Don’t panic if a furious brainstorming session yields nothing but a couple of broken pencils and some scribbles on a page. Ideas aren’t born overnight and even the best ones evolve before they are ever implemented. Your brilliant, transformative idea is on its way. You just have to be prepared when it arrives.
Make a point to learn all aspects of the solution you are trying to solve. Think and dream about the problem in your spare time. You’ll evaluate and discard countless concepts and solutions before stumbling across an idea that could work. Put your fledgling idea to the test. Ask your friends to poke holes in it. Understand it from all angles and obsess over why it might not work. If your idea holds up against the pressures applied, then congratulations are in order. You’ve successfully combined your passion with an idea, and you’re ready to make it happen.
Once you have an idea, it’s time to take the entrepreneurial leap. It’s a difficult road ahead, filled with equal parts optimism, hope, risk and uncertainty. But you’re prepared. You have the education, drive, determination and passion to succeed, along with a secret weapon: the alumni network. A quick search in the alumni database returns nearly 350 people, who identify themselves as entrepreneurs. I can tell you from firsthand experience that the vast majority of these alums are willing to help you in your pursuit in any way they can. Take your shot, use your resources and lean on your skillset, and I am confident you have what it takes to succeed.
My Escape from Average Story
After accepting my diploma three years ago with a degree in economics and environmental studies, I was well on my way to safe and lucrative career. But when I couldn’t silence the entrepreneurial call any longer. My career was put on hold and I made the decision to follow a passion. Two months ago, after turning down a promotion and a handful of post-banking job offers, I quit my job and founded a start-up.
I’ll happily admit that being an entrepreneur is not the easiest path to take. It is filled with risk and can be lonely at times. When asked what I do, I typically tell people that I’m somewhere between a CEO and unemployed. Between us, given that 8 out of 10 start-ups fail, I am far closer to unemployed than a chief executive of anything. But despite all the odds and the adversity, I could not be happier with my choice. Life is too short to be boring, and I’m following my passion in an effort to make an impact.