Leading with Passion and Purpose

by Alison Krupnick

The news is filled with stories about The Great Resignation – the personal reckoning many are undertaking as they evaluate job satisfaction, work-life balance and more. But what if those questions were at the forefront of making a career plan?

What if, instead of following an expected, traditional pathway, you had the opportunity to think out of the box from the beginning?

Designing a Life

As part of our ongoing career and leadership development training, we’re encouraging our scholars to think about personal goals before they even have their first job.

In December, we held a Career and Leadership weekend for high school scholars to engage in this exploration. Scholars participated in eight different interactive workshops taught by career professionals. They learned how to leverage design thinking, how to build a career in gaming, how to build communication and networking skills and more.

 The results were illuminating. 

Hsiao-Ching Chou volunteered to lead a workshop called Career Intersections: Harmonizing Your Passions and What’s Practical. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, this topic resonates with her.

Chou has had a successful career as an award-winning journalist, communications director at a biotech organization and now works in tech as an editorial lead at Salesforce. But the work she may be most known for is also her passion. She is the author of two critically acclaimed cookbooks, Chinese Soul Food and Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food. They showcase the home cooking-inspired recipes from her family’s Chinese restaurant.

The dedication in her first book is an appropriate frame of reference for the message she wants to convey to young people.

It reads, “For my parents, who abandoned their success stories in order to feed ours.”

Managing Expectations, While Exploring Options

“The theme of immigrant parents wanting their kids to do something great is not new,” she explains. “I wanted to be able to say to these kids, ‘Yes, you have to deal with expectations and also, yes there are options.’

“Nobody ever asked me about my passion,” she remembers. “My parents wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer.

“Sometimes in immigrant cultures, parents don’t necessarily know what’s available for their kids and what they deem a respectable role is bounded by that.

“Times have changed. Think about how many more types of jobs there are now — high-paying jobs that you never would have thought possible. And technology changes the landscape.”

Chou encouraged her students to share their stories and passions, with the goal of identifying themes and skills that transcend a specific type of job. She also stressed the need to be practical.

Build Applicable Skills

“I’ve hopped around, but in very intentional ways, and developed a core set of skills that I could apply to different fields. You may need to do something that doesn’t align 100 percent with your passions to start out, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t direct your work more towards them over time. Ultimately, my message was that it’s okay to have a lot of interests and you should dedicate time to them, even though it may not be immediately clear how this will help you in a given role.

“I feel really good about being able to balance my passions and career and this makes me more comfortable with my career choice,” wrote one student after the workshop. Another now understands that a career path is not necessarily linear.

“It’ll take time and process to figure out what jobs and careers will be a fit for me and it’s okay to go around and try different fields of interest.”

But perhaps the biggest takeaway was the one Chou most wanted her students to realize:

“There is always an opportunity to do something you are passionate about.”  

Self-Care is an Important Component of Leadership

Mt. Rainier High School junior Harlen Mitchell (Cohort 15) was up early on Sunday morning.

The workshop, Keep it Cool: Self-Care and Counseling Careers, grabbed her attention, though not necessarily from a career perspective.

She’s not interested in a career in mental health; she aspires to major in political science in college and then attend NYU or Columbia Law School.

But as a student advisor to fifth-grade girls in Rainier Scholars’ Academic Enrichment phase, and with the looming pressures of college applications, she chose that workshop to learn the life skill of managing emotions.

“We learned how to take stressful situations and grow from them, instead of letting them cripple or hurt us,” she says. “We also learned that it’s important to express, validate and sit with negative emotions, rather than trying to squelch them or power through. I found that really useful.”

Along with the content of the presentation, Mitchell says presenter Dalisha Phillips’ inclusive approach to her audience was refreshing.

“She was attentive to the needs of everyone in the room and open about her own experiences using these skills.  She also adapted the material to be relevant to people of color.”

The Importance of Role Models

Harlen and her advisory co-leader Sydney

As a student advisor, Mitchell is already on a leadership path, a responsibility she takes seriously and one that has already led to self-awareness. Participation in this workshop has given her concrete skills she can use.

“I manage an advisory of 12 girls and, I admit sometimes I find my attention waning. I realize that if I found it so amazing that someone was paying attention to me, I can only imagine what that would do for my girls.  

“The girls I advise know that I’ve been through the program. They are having the exact same struggles as me and they don’t know how to get through them, so they are looking to me as someone to lean on and help find solutions to their problems. They also rely on me as someone to listen to them express themselves.”

The girls I advise look up to me. I am exactly what they are going to be and what they want to be.

Harlen mitchell

Can I Be a Leader Here?

A member of her school’s Black Student Union and Key Club, Mitchell has a changemaker mindset. “Rainier Scholars has shaped me,” she says. “I want to be a leader first. Now, when I’m joining a community or looking at an opportunity, I ask myself first, ‘Can I be a leader here?

“Rainier Scholars has empowered me to find my voice and put words to the things I am feeling and the things I want to change.”

She wants others to be aware of the challenges faced by young people of color who aspire to be leaders.

 “It’s important to know that we are under immense pressure and expectation.

“When one of us becomes a leader, take into account how hard we worked to get there.

“Give credit where credit is due.”