My friend gave me this idea for this blog post. Which may or may not also be the talk I’m giving tomorrow to those college kids. But this was the thing that I wish I knew before, that I wish someone had told me about so I wouldn’t have felt like such a fraud all these years.
Back in college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. If you asked me Freshman year, I would have said…I want to be a great engineer. If you asked me sophomore year, I would have said…I want to do something really useful for the world. If you asked me junior year, I would have said….I want to do…something. And if you asked me senior year, I would have said..I WILL TAKE ANY JOB SOMEONE WANTS TO GIVE ME PLEASE GOD HIRE ME. (Turns out, nobody really wanted to). If you read articles about NextDrop, you’ll never really hear anything about some great epiphany I had, my come to Jesus moment where I figured out that this was the problem I have been so incredibly passionate about and this is how we are going to solve it and this is what I want to do for the rest of my entire life. I know the reporters REALLY wanted that story, because lets face it, that’s a really great story. But that would be a lie. The truth is, NextDrop fell into my lap by accident. It wasn’t even my idea. My friend, Emily, was in this class in grad school and they came up with this idea to send people a text message an hour before water would come so people don’t have to wait for water. And they had some money to do a pilot and they all had jobs that summer (read: I was the only loser kid who was not hired). So I said…cool. That sounds interesting. And I went and ran the pilot. And it seemed ok. And then I realized I didn’t want to be in school anymore so I graduated early and got a job with literally the only person who would give me a job (my dad’s sisters, friend’s cousins best friend- something like that). He was running a startup and he needed someone to do lots of odds and end things. Like make sure buttons work on the analytics, and go make runs to buy pencils and staplers. It was a job, and I was getting paid, so I said..hell yeah. I’m making money finally! Someone wants to hire me! Hurrah! And then very quickly, I realized I was terrible at this job. And I was probably going to be fired anyway. Around the same time, it was also becoming clear that the pilot I ran, called NextDrop, had some potential but would die if I didn’t take it over. So due to the fact that I was probably going to be fired anyway, and it seemed like a cool thing to do, I decided to quit my job and move to India to try and make this thing work. I had no grand master plans or anything. I didn’t even know what a P&L statement was for the longest time (I had to frantically Google the shit out of all those business terms). And somehow, we didn’t die.
But all the while, people seemed to think that I was a person with a mission- I was driven to make this change in the world and I would stop at nothing to make this happen. And I saw all these other people around me and they seemed to be knowing what they were doing- they were on a mission damnit! But if I was honest with myself, I knew that if this water thing hadn’t come around and my friend gave me the same opportunity with…helping teach kids English. Or Coaching basketball. Or maybe something about reducing incidence of Diabetes, I would have taken it. It didn’t have to do with water at all. It just had to do with the fact that I felt useful. I was doing something useful in the world.
But I felt like such a fraud. When Forbes put me on some social entrepreneur list, I felt even worse. Here I was, knowing that deep down, I would pretty much do anything that was useful, it just so happened I was in this water space and we hadn’t died (yet). I constantly questioned myself. Am I really cut out for this? I’m not like all those other people who have so much direction and confidence. I FEEL LIKE SUCH A FAKE ALL THE TIME WTF LIFE. But I kept going, despite my brain telling me all these things about how I did not belong here. I wasn’t truly passionate like those other people who make a difference in the world. It was only a matter of time before the world called me out on my bullshit.
And then one day, I realized that NextDrop really did have to die. NextDrop as we knew it at least. It was one of the most painful realizations of my life. After 5 years, we had to put this chapter to an end. This realization came about a year ago. And it shook me to the core. This is when I had to start asking the really tough questions to myself. Ok Anu, NOW what do you want to do with your life.
I will be super honest, this is what I was thinking. I gave it a shot. But now it’s time to do what all normal people do and get a steady job and get married and have a couple kids. That actually sounds really really nice right now. My parents would LOVE that. My family would finally be happy. I can stop fighting this thing called societal expectations. That takes a ton of effort, AND FOR WHAT. I’m almost 30, broke, and have been doing something in this random space for the last 5 years. And then I’m thinking- see. Maybe I’m not cut out for this. If I was truly passionate about what I was doing, I wouldn’t even CONSIDER these options. Maybe that’s a sign that I shouldn’t be doing this at all. I NEED TO STOP BEING A FRAUD GOSH ANU.
I can’t explain what exactly happened, but during this process in which I was trying to just be super real with myself and who I am, I started listening to podcasts and interviews with people that I really admired. Tons and tons of them- as many as I could get my hands on. And I suddenly realized something: THEY FELT JUST THE SAME AS I DO! The interview that really changed my life was one with Cal Newport, and his theory that follow your passion is the worst advice to give anyone. He said that once you start getting good at something, it automatically becomes your passion. And it started to make a lot of sense.
And that’s when I looked at my life trajectory in a new way. What if passion isn’t something that I’m born with, but through random events, I happen to get really good at? Why is that such a bad thing? It doesn’t make for sexy headlines, but at the end of the day, it still makes me happy. I know more about the water sector than most people do at this point, and I actually enjoy learning more about it. I can tell you stories about how government contracts are done, how the water mafia works, and how India gets water. I find most things in this world fascinating, but what if passion is just the decision to focus your attention on mastering one topic? I’ve been running a company in India for the past 5 years and I’ve made every mistake in the book. If I try it again, how can I not be better at it? And if I’m very honest with myself, I enjoy so many things about running my own company. I love the freedom it gives me. I love the fact that no two days are the same. And I love the fact that I have control over my own destiny. It’s scary when you realize that sometimes it doesn’t work out. History is never written by the losers- nobody talks about that bit. And hey, if you lose, why would you want to advertise that? There’s a very very real chance that I will try again, and it will still not work out. But that’s the chance and risk I”m willing to take.
So I’m here today, as one of those losers who usually don’t get to write history or talk about the losses, who still choses to try again. I am convinced that you aren’t born with passion necessarily, but after you keep working at something that you find brings value to the world, you learn to love it. And you learn to be passionate about it.
We are actually in the process of shutting down our first company, NextDrop. And starting a new one. Called NextDrop. It’s still in the water space, and my business partner and I are taking all the learnings from our first company together and applying it to this new one. We’re now trying to focus on water data. We want to monitor the worlds water data to prevent a global water crisis. The way we want to do that is through the internet of things revolution. Using connected sensor devices to reduce the amount of water we use in commercial, industrial and residential complexes. Our goal is to cut consumption by 20%.
Do I have any idea if we will succeed? Absolutely no clue. But sometimes that isn’t the point. Do I want to get paid to continue the thing that I find interesting and useful to the world now? Hell yeah I do. And maybe, just maybe that’s enough. Enough for me to get up in the morning with a smile on my face saying yes. I can do this. I want to do this. This is so awesome. Not every day, of course. But as long as the good days outweigh the bad ones, I think I’m still winning.
Thanks so much.
6 thoughts on “Debunking Myths About Passion- By An Accidental Entrepreneur #startup”
What a nice story. Please tell all the kids you meet .
Thank you! I will 🙂 I will also try to respond to people in a timely manner which, for me, I guess is a very ver low bar (less than 4 years?)
A great essay. Wish you the best of everything and good luck on NextDrop too…….Sridhar uncle
Thank you! As you can see I think I forgot to check comments and now I’m looking at comments from years and years ago!
I love reading this Anu! It helps me feel more sane haha. I think you are killing it and am so impressed with what you are doing! and have been mildly stalking you over the past few years b/c of that haha. Hope round 2 gives you what you’re looking for and….yeah!!! Hope all’s well 🙂
– ❤ Emma
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😀 Thank you so much for the kind words Emma! I really appreciate it 🙂 I hope all is well with you too!