When Google CEO Sundar Pichai arrived in the United States 27 years ago, he could never have imagined that he'd be leading one of the most valuable companies in the world. Looking back, Pichai credits "a deep passion and an open mind" for his success. It's a two-step plan that will put you on a path to success, whether your goal is to find a dream job, build a satisfying career, or start a company.
Pichai told his story in a recent YouTube commencement video for the class of 2020. His family didn't have a telephone until he was 10 years old. He hadn't flown on a plane until he left India to attend graduate school at Stanford University. When he arrived, Pichai soon learned the cost of a backpack ($60) was the equivalent of a month's salary for his dad back home. "A bright spot for me during this time was computing. For the first time in my life I could use a computer whenever I wanted to. It completely blew my mind," he said. Pichai had found his passion--step one to building a successful career.
Step 1. Find your passion.
"Take the time to find the thing that excites you more than anything else in the world," Pichai recommended.
Passion takes courage, he added. Finding what you love to do is not always the same thing as what your parents, peers, or society say you should do. "Had I stayed the course in graduate school, I'd probably have a PhD today, which would have made my parents really proud," he said. "But I might have missed the opportunity to bring the benefits of technology to so many others. And I certainly wouldn't be standing here speaking to you as Google CEO."
For Pichai, a passion goes well beyond a passing interest in a topic or field. A passion is all consuming. It's a strongly held belief that pursuing the subject will serve people and make the world a better place than how you found it.
Step 2. Pursue your passion with an open mind.
The second step to building a successful career is pursuing your passion with an "open mind."
Pichai knew that he wanted to pursue his passion--technology--but he kept his mind open about where that passion might lead him.
When he graduated from Stanford, Pichai went to work for semiconductor companies, believing that would be the best way to satisfy his passion. But he changed course. "It took me a while to realize that the internet would be the single best way to make technology accessible to more people," he said.
Once he changed his mind about the best way to make a difference in his field, Pichai joined Google, where he went on to help develop the Chrome browser.
I've often said that passion is everything. You cannot inspire others unless you're inspired yourself. But while it's easy to say "Find your passion," it's harder to describe what it means or what to look for.
After writing 10 books on leadership and communication--and meeting many of the world's most famous entrepreneurs--I've reached a better understanding of what passion is and how to pursue it.
Pichai nails it. A passion is a deep sense of excitement, a mission. But turning that passion into a reality requires keeping an open mind.
In college, I had a passion for a subject--leadership and communication. I didn't know how to make money from it or how to build a career from it, but I kept an open mind on where the journey might lead.
I studied pre-law before changing course to major in journalism. I believed a career in broadcasting would fulfill my passion. It did for a while, but I kept an open mind to other possibilities. I later became a writer, an author, a coach, and a speaker. None of these titles were in my original vision, but my passion kept me moving.
My passion for communication is the through-line in my career, but an open mind presented new opportunities.
"You will make the world better in your way, even if you don't know exactly how," Pichai told 2020 graduates. "The important thing is to be open-minded so that you can find what you love."