Passion or a Paycheck? Get Both

4 ways to follow your dreams without sacrificing the bottom line.

Dean Ku gives concrete tips on how to follow your dreams without sacrificing the bottom line.

As a career counselor at Santa Clara University, I meet with students everyday who face the challenge of finding the right path in pursuing their careers. The question I’m often asked is  whether they should pursue what they’re really passionate about or whether they should take a more “secure” or “safe” path that ensures a stable income.

You can do both but you have to make it happen.

Case in point, Rico Mok. I met Rico Mok when he was a senior. He walked into my office with a serious job offer in hand from a big-name Silicon Valley tech firm. The position he was offered wasn’t easy to come by and paid well. Dream scenario for most people, but for Mok  it was a dilemma. He was already heavily involved in his real passion of entrepreneurship and wanted to continue his work at the startup he’d cofounded, The question was: should he take the safe route and accept the well-paid tech job or take a chance and follow his dream of being an entrepreneur?

Here’s some advice I gave Rico and that I tell all my students:

Don’t ignore your instincts.
Don’t shut out the internal chaos that a big decision can create. Sit with the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing the right path and talk to people. Be honest with how you’re feeling and seek advice from people you trust. Mok had a week to decide and his deep reservations about taking the job just wouldn’t go away. Choosing not to ignore his gut, he came and talked it out with me and gained some self-clarity.

Be bold, talk about your vision and idea.
Talking out your ideas can help bring clarity and help clear your path to take the next step. Mok explained to me what he and the cofounders of had created and he lit up right away as if a lightbulb had come on. He was no longer the confused senior unsure of what he wanted to do and left my office with a charge to move forward.

Use the campus resources around you (they may be human) If no one knows about your goals, they can’t help you achieve it. After hearing Mok’s idea, I was impressed by his passion and the traction that his company was already delivering and introduced him to a friend that was an angel investor. Within a month, had a term sheet and ultimately raised a $1.4M seed investment and then a Series A investment of $4M earlier this year. Remember, everyone knows someone that may be able to help you get from point A to point B.

Persistence pays off
Keep persisting with your passion projects even if you don’t see a clear pathway. Don’t give up. While serendipity and luck played a role in this outcome, Mok and his co-founders invested a lot of time and hard work in pursuing their startup idea and actually built a working product that helped students find off-campus housing. Ultimately their initiative, passion, and the rapid adoption of the platform convinced investors to sign up.

Dean Ku is the Assistant Director at Santa Clara University’s Career Center with over a decade of business experience in the U.S. and China and 7 years as an executive with a successful Silicon Valley Startup. Despite all of his success in business, his greatest source of joy has come from the opportunities to coach and mentor others.


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