In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Jim Braun about pursuing what you are passionate about. Jim Braun shares the story of how he left his stable corporate job and 2 degrees to do what he loves the most. He also gives advice to young people still figuring out what they want to do for the rest of their professional lives.
Jim Braun’s career as an aerospace engineer and how he found out it wasn’t for him
Why Jim Braun pursued his MBA
How reading books helped Jim realize what he is truly passionate about
Jim Braun on giving up his 2 degrees to pursue his passion
Why following your passion doesn’t necessarily mean the riches will follow, and why it’s still worth it in the end
Advice to young people about pursuing their passion
What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles
Do what You Love, the Money Will Follow by Marsha Sinetar
Marianne Williamson, author
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More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website:
Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I am so excited and so honored to have so many of you joining me in these conversations. Where on Tuesdays, I speak with magnificent changemakers from the greater Washington DC region, and then on Thursdays, with brilliant thought leaders from around the globe, primarily leadership book authors, whose insights I believe can be significant as we look to become more impactful leaders ourselves.
Now the first Thursday of every month, I do an episode that's slightly different, either a solo episode or highlight something that I think is important for us to consider as we work to become more purpose driven ourselves. And this month, I wanted to talk a little bit about pursuing your passion. This is the time of year where you invariably have one rich person or another standing in front of a group of young graduates and telling them that if they pursue their passion, that will also lead to business success and definitely to riches.
One of the things that is important is, I wholeheartedly believe it's important for us to pursue our passion. And the reason for that is because it can lead to a richer and more fulfilling life, not richer in terms of monetary terms. We have one life to live, so we should pursue our passion with this one life to live, and not kid ourselves in thinking that by pursuing our passion, we are going to necessarily become rich or famous.
So that's why I chose this month to have a conversation with a great friend of mine, Jim Braun, who actually graduated from business school along with me, and he eventually discovered that he would lead a richer life by pursuing his passion. I am sure you will enjoy this conversation as much as I did, learning a little bit about Jim and the decisions that he made all along the way that led him to pursuing a richer and more fulfilling life by pursuing his passion.
I love hearing from you, firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep your comments coming. There's a microphone icon on PartneringLeadership.com. Don't forget to follow the podcast, and finally, those of you that hear these on Apple, when you get a chance, leave a rating and review. Now, here is my conversation with Jim Braun.
Jim Braun, my friend, welcome to Partnering Leadership. I am thrilled to have you on this conversation with me.
Thanks, Mahan. I appreciate you having me.
Jim, your story of actually following your passion is a great one for us to share with the community. But first things first, would love to know whereabouts you grew up and how that upbringing impacted who you became?
So I grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana, and you know, heart of the Midwest. I think that those good Midwestern values, yeah, I had a good family, a pretty large extended family, so there was a lot of events, parties, birthday parties, you know, Christmas, all those things with the family. So family was really important growing up. So I think that it gave me some, it gave me a good sense of community and family values growing up.
So growing up in that environment, what made you decide that you wanted to become an aerospace engineer?
Yeah, that's an interesting question. You know, this was in the early eighties, I was in high school. And at that time, you know, the model of your education was, you know, you'd go to graduate high school, you'd go to college, get into a good college, you graduate, you work for a big company. You know, at that time, people were working for their whole career, 40 years plus at a company and retiring at the same company. So that was sort of the mindset I was in.
And really, I kind of fell into engineering in a way. I was always good at math and science in high school and, you know, 18 years old, you're supposed to know exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life, right? And what you want to study and what job you want to get.
So I was good at math and science and engineering seemed like a logical choice. And then I don't know, aerospace engineering just seemed really cool. So that's what, that's what I, that's what I did. So I kind of sort of fell into it without really thinking 'cause that's sort of way it went back then.
And with that aerospace engineering, you ended up getting a job at Boeing. You could have stayed at Boeing, but you chose after a few years that wasn't the place for you.
Yeah. So, yeah, that's actually pretty exciting. I got my first job right out of college at Boeing in Seattle. Moved cross country at 22 years old. It was an exciting time. And yeah, I spent about five years there, but I was looking around and looking at these engineers who were, you know, in their fifties and sixties and in the next cubicle, and I just could not see myself doing that for the rest of my life. So I was, yeah, I was looking for something, something different at that time.
And that's what brought you to Georgetown Business School, where I'm proud to say we are classmates, Jim. Why did you decide to study business?
Well, again, it was that whole mindset of you've got to continue in that career path at a big company, you know, a good company. And so when I was looking at doing something different, kind of getting a master's degree, getting, you know, furthering my education was sort of, that's the path that everybody else was taking.
So that's what I did, you know. And at the time, you know, engineering degree and an MBA, that combination was really the hot thing, this, you know, the early nineties. So that's what I did. I applied to business schools and went to Georgetown.
So you had the hot thing, which was an engineering degree and an MBA from Georgetown. You ended up doing a few things and a few years later, you decided to leave all of this and pursue what you had interest in and your passion.
Right. Yeah, that was a, that was a very difficult, at sometimes, process. So I think my last semester at Georgetown was when I started thinking that this whole idea of going into business, the corporate path, was really not going to be fulfilling for me. Yeah, I was looking around at all of my classmates at Georgetown, you and all the others, and everyone was interviewing with the, you know, big companies or they were making plans to start their own business, and I just couldn't see myself going down that corporate path. So that's when I first realized that.
So after Georgetown, for those few years there, I was really kind of floundering around. Started working for smaller companies. I knew I wanted more freedom. I didn't like that office cubicle environment. That was just not what appealed to me at all. So I was looking for something that was going to give me a little more flexibility, more freedom. So working for a small company, I tried that.
I tried, actually my brother and I started a business that really didn't work out because I thought, "Oh, start your own business. You can have more freedom." And so yeah, I was really struggling during that time to figure out what was I going to do with the rest of my life.
So yeah, that's when I started really thinking about it. I started reading books. There is, you know, books out there, What Color Is Your Parachute? was one. There's another book, Do what You Love, the Money Will Follow. So I was trying to figure out, you know, what is it that I love to do? And can I make money at it? Can I, you know, be fulfilled? So that's kind of the journey I was on during that time, just a lot of, a lot of inner turmoil and trying to figure things out.
So from there, what did you settle on choosing to do for the rest of at least your professional life up to this point, Jim?
Right, so I kept going back to, you know, "What am I passionate about? What am I passionate about?" And it always kept coming back to the same thing, it was travel. I love to travel. I've always loved to travel.
Yeah, there's a funny story. When I was about six years old, my mom, I was so curious about other places in the world, and I was asking so many questions, and my mom and dad ended up buying an entire set of encyclopedias for me at six years old.
And I remember as a kid going through and, you know, finding different countries and wondering what was it, what would it be like to live in that other country? What would it be, you know, I was so curious. And so that's always been a part of me.
But then you think about, well, how can you make money traveling? Right? Traveling is...you're paying money to travel, right? And I had an acquaintance at the time who had started as a flight attendant at American Airlines. And so he just raved about the job and said "You should do it. You should do it."
But in my head, I'm thinking, "Okay, flight attendant, it sounds great. It sounds like a lot of fun. I could travel a lot", but I'm thinking, "I have two degrees. What am I, am I going to give that up to become a flight attendant?" Like that, it just wasn't, it just wasn't making sense or it wasn't something that I was, I could seriously consider because I had to go work for a big company, I had to be successful and, you know, financially successful as well.
So, but it took me a while. It took me about two years, I think, to hear about the idea first, think about it, think about it, think about it, and then decide that you know what, I'm going to go for it. And so that's what I did. I went, applied for a couple of different airlines, got hired by United, and started, and I've been doing that now 21 years, so.
Traveling the world, which is a big part of your passion. Now, Jim, there is everything from follow your passion to people that speak at college graduations and say "Just follow your passion and the riches will follow." You actually quoted the title of a book I had not heard of.
Pursue passion and you'll become rich or something?
Do what You Love, the Money Will Follow.
Do what You Love, the Money Will Follow. One of the wonderful things about your story is that you did do what you love and you are happier for it. Now, if you do what you love, does the money and do the riches follow for you to become a billionaire to stand in front of a graduating class?
Absolutely not. Now, you could, you can live a comfortable life for sure. But, you know, as a, especially the first maybe five years as a flight attendant, you really don't make a lot of money. So I knew that it was going to be a struggle financially for a while. In the long run, it's fine, it works out fine, but at the beginning it really is a struggle.
But I went in with, you know, eyes wide open knowing what I was going to get into, but making, making sure that, you know, this is a long-term plan. This is what I want to do because it's going to allow me to travel so much more and do what I actually love. So, yeah. But it is a struggle and you know, it's not all rainbows all the time. But yes, in the long run, I'm extremely happy with where I'm at right now.
Now as you went into this, Jim, I wonder if you ever thought, "Oh boy, I made a mistake." And at what point were you confident in the decision that you had made for your own self to pursue your passion, to be able to broadcast it to the world and to others?
Yeah so, like I said, it took about two years, even for myself to, you know, really think about it. And I was struggling, you know, "What am I doing? Am I... I'm kind of with my coat throwing away this education that I've had, and that I spent a lot of money on." So it took me a while to come to terms with it myself.
Once I made the decision though, that was, that was it. I decided this is what I want to do and I didn't care what my, you know, immediately- immediate family and friends thought but you know, over the years, it's taken a while to become even more comfortable.
And I think I've told you this story before that with my Georgetown classmates, a lot of them, including yourself, were, you know, doing great things, wonderful things, and, you know, being successful in business, financially successful. And it took me a while to come, you know, we have reunions every five years, I think, and say like a 10-year, the 10-year reunion came up and I was still a little bit, I don't know if embarrassed is the right word, but a little hesitant to go. So I didn't go to that reunion.
And the first reunion that I went to from my Georgetown classmates was our 25th reunion which was where I, where we met and connected again. And at that point, I was like, "Heck with it, I'm just going to go for it and I don't care what people think. This is my life and I'm happy and I'm not going to worry about what other people think."
And I absolutely loved that exchange we had, Jim, which is where I fell in love with your story, because you are an example of a person that pursued his passion. You are confident in it. You are better for it. You have a glow of pride in what you do, which is magnificent. And it is a story that is closer to the truth, where you can be a happier person pursuing your passion.
However, it doesn't necessarily bring riches with it. As you say, it can be a comfortable life, but pursuing your passion doesn't necessarily mean you're going to make lots of money.
Exactly. Exactly. And that's not what I was thinking about when I did this. You know, and part of the struggle of getting to this point, you know, I was reading books and trying to get advice, and I don't know who this quote is from, but one thing that really struck with me was maybe you've heard it as "Life is not a dress rehearsal." So that really resonated with me. You don't get another chance. This is it, right? This is your life. So why waste it doing something that you don't like, don't love to do? You know.
The other story I heard that really resonated with me was, you know, if you're on your deathbed and you're thinking back on your life, nobody says "I wish I had worked more. I wish I had done more of my job." Right? Everybody would say they wish they had done more of the things that they loved to do. So that's another story that resonated with me too. So yeah, all of these things were going around in my head at the time. And luckily, those were the stories that won out in the, in the end.
That's wonderful and I know you were going through this entire journey of self-discovery even beforehand. So if you were to recommend some leadership resources or books for people, as they are looking to connect with their passion in their lives and pursuing their careers, what books or resources would you recommend, Jim?
Well, I would say that probably not the actual business books. I know there are a lot of business books out there that talk about the nuts and bolts. And I would say, look at more of the life skills books, one author we've talked about before, Marianne Williamson, one of my favorite authors. And, but hers is more from a macro life level, you know, learning what you love. And those are the kinds of things that I would look at.
What's most important to you in your life? And how can you do more of that and less of the things you don't like to do? So yeah, those are the, those are the books that have the most impact. The business books, you know, they're good if in their own way, but I would focus more on the, the life skill, the life, the life books.
And that's fantastic, Jim. In addition to that, if now with the experience that you've had, having gone to become an engineer undergrad to business school graduate, and then eventually finding what you are so passionate about. If you were to give a younger Jim advice with respect to finding his passion, what advice would you give your younger self?
I would have told him, "Don't waste your time doing things you don't love." And, you know, start, if I had started in my, you know, looking at that in my twenties, I probably would have had a very different path in life.
So, and that's what I tell, you know, I have some young people in my life and I'm telling them, "Don't waste your time going that corporate route, what everybody is telling you you should be doing. Figure out what you want to do. And yeah, maybe money will come. Maybe it won't, but that's not the most important thing in life. You know, like I said, life is not a dress rehearsal. You get one shot at this, so don't waste your time and get right to what you love."
You have set a great example in doing what you love, Jim. And fulfillment is not the same thing as business success and riches. What you've done is you have tapped into your passion, which is wonderful. It does, as you say, pay the bills, which is necessary, but it is how you choose to lead your life. Not necessarily looking at the measures of financial wealth, but measures of reward and satisfaction as you are living this one life.
So I truly appreciate you, my friend, sharing some of your experience, your wisdom and insights with the Partnering Leadership community.
Well, thanks Mahan. I really appreciate it. And I love everything you're doing as well. And yeah, just wanted, I hope that maybe this inspires people to just maybe even think just a little bit more about what they love and what they want to do. So, so thank you for giving me the opportunity.
Thank you, Jim.
You've been listening to Partnering Leadership with your host Mahan Tavakoli. For additional leadership insights and bonus content, visit us at PartneringLeadership.com.