When Is The Right Time To Pursue Your Passion?

One winter morning in December, a teacher stood up in front of her fourth grade class. “Today’s assignment is to create a mask out of paper mache,” she announced. “The goal is to make the scariest mask you can. Ok? GO!”

A boy with big, brown eyes crumpled some newspaper, dipped it in paste, and constructed a gargoyle, equipped with fangs, antlers, and a big, hairy nose. The figure dried and the boy splattered paint — all the colors of the rainbow — to soften the beast’s stare.

Later that afternoon, the boy’s teacher approached him. “Jamie, why did you paint the mask yellow? And pink? Green? And blue?”

He stood up and peered around the room. All of the other masks were dripping with red blood, covered in shiny armor, and soaked in dark, ominous shades of black and midnight blue.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I thought it looked cool.”

That spring, a local museum visited in search of students with hidden talents. After examining some of the artwork students had produced, they pointed at Jamie’s mask.

“What’s that?” the museum director asked.

“Oh, that’s a mask one of our students designed,” the teacher replied. “The assignment was to make a scary mask. As you can see, this student didn’t want to play by the rules.”

“We love it,” they replied. “That’s the piece we want.”

The next summer, Jamie’s mask traveled around New Jersey through the Morris Museum’s traveling art exhibition. Along with dozens of other pieces, Jamie’s mask stood out from the rest — it was fun, bright, bold, and unique.

If you look closely, most overnight successes took a really long time – Steve Jobs

I was born and raised in Madison, New Jersey, a small, suburban town twenty-five miles outside of New York City. Both of my parents quit their corporate jobs in the eighties to launch their own businesses. My father was an accountant and my mother an artist — it’s in my DNA to be passionate, determined, and inspired — it’s in my blood to be grounded yet unique, to look at the world a bit differently than the rest.

In high school, I developed the ability to lead by example — to show others a way to view their lives through their own, unique lens. I was elected president of the student council, appointed captain of the soccer team, and led my school to the state finals in the Physics Olympiad. When it came time to choose a college, I selected Loyola University Maryland because of its its community and embodiment of cura personalis — the education of the whole person.

I entered Loyola in 2007, when the nation was on the brink of a major financial crisis. As the great recession tore through our country, I watched friends and family members lose job, homes, and life savings. To say the nation was infuriated by the greed, abuse of power, and lack of responsibility exhibited by big banks would be an understatement. In my junior year, I decided to switch majors, to finance, in order to dedicate my career to restoring faith to our financial system.

I know this sounds crazy, but as a 21 year old I thought that even if I could make a small impact, I might be able to drive a major change in the financial services industry. I thought that if I could bring a fun, bright, bold, and unique style of problem solving, I may be able to help move the needle.

Upon graduating, I secured a job at Cambridge Associates, a financial consultancy that helps non-profits allocate their investment dollars and make better financial decisions. At the time, I was in search of a role as far away from Wall Street as I could possibly find — and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the decision that I made.

At Cambridge Associates, I discovered through experimentation that you can restore faith in the financial system by applying an acute focus on improving the customer experience. Through research, interviews, and data analysis, it became clear that we could deliver solutions customers loved by making things faster, simpler, cheaper, safer, more transparent, and more conscious.

As a product manager, my teams built technology to help non-profits grow their endowments and mitigate risk. By accomplishing our objectives, we helped our clients fulfill their missions to drive social, economic, environmental, and educational change in the world.

Today, I continue to lead product development teams at Cambridge Associates by day. By night, I am an MBA candidate at Georgetown University, where I co-founded Georgetown FinTech, a student organization that fosters a community passionate about innovation, careers, and opportunities that intersect finance and technology.

In my free time, I enjoy giving back to my community through BUILD and Startup Hoyas, two organizations that help high school and college students launch their own businesses. Through these organizations, I have helped over 100 entrepreneurs build lean startups, secure funding, and scale their businesses.

There has never been a better time in history to start a business than right now – Gary Vaynerchuk

How do you know when to start something new and pursue your passion?! The answer is THERE IS NO RIGHT TIME. You just have to get off your ass and do it!

Many of you are going to think, ‘Well how on earth am I supposed to know where I start?’ Here are some quick lessons that have helped me find my north star…

1) Find your passion

For me it’s somewhere at the intersection of startups, fintech and social imact. What is it for you?

2) Launch a blog

Your blog will be your home base and the central location of your brand. After all, you are your business. Everything you do will be linked back to your blog. Make this your world — whatever your passionate about — and make your blog the best place on the internet to learn more about it.

3) Create awesome content

If you want to be taken seriously in the world, you’re going to want to create the best content on the internet about the subject your passionate about. Create blog posts, vlogs, podcasts, and other content that will draw your community to you! Let your passion shine!! Be fun, bright, bold, unique, but most importantly be authentically you!

4) Market that crap out of yourself

Post your content on facebook, twitter, instagram, or anywhere that might help you get your word out. Market your content in facebook groups, subreddits, linkedin forums, and any other places where you might find people in your community with shared passions. For me, it’s communities passionate about startups, fintech, and social impact.

5) Make money

At first, you won’t have any leverage to earn dough, but once you’ve established yourself as a thought leader in your space, monetize your passions through advertising, speaking gigs, retail swag, consulting… the sky’s the limit. It might take months, even years, before you’re able to earn a single dollar for your hard work, but don’t lose sight of the long game.

Remember, you’re doing this because you love it. If you love it, you won’t mind working 12..14…16 hours days to make it happen. If you’re feeling burned out, maybe it’s because you haven’t found your true passion — if you are working on something you’re passionate about, 9 times out of 10 you’re going to be happy busting ass to turn your dreams into reality.

I want to hear more about what you’re passionate about. Drop a line in the comments section below to let me know what you’re working on!!

As always, keep rockin!

Author: James Russo

James Russo is a digital product manager with a passion for social entrepreneurship and transforming the financial services industry through design and technology.

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