MLT Blog

Career-Changing Questions that Inspire True Passion

By Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith, Foster 20’, thought he knew exactly what he wanted out of his career—until the day a classmate challenged him. Smith writes about the moment that made him pause and reevaluate his goals, and how MLT and Foster School of Business at the University of Washington helped him identify and pursue the right career for him.

MLT coaches and mentors always ask: What motivates you? The question is asked in various ways; What fuels you? What energizes you? What are your goals? Regardless of how the question is asked, it can be very intimidating. But deep reflection and consideration on this question is very important.

Not only will you need to answer this question for your MLT coaches, but also throughout the graduate school recruitment and admissions process. My responses have not only taught me more about the choices I’ve made, they’ve helped me clarify my goals and aspirations.

Prior to graduate school, my entire career focused on sports. Growing up, I enjoyed being a competitive athlete, and I’m still an avid sports fan. I knew from an early age that I wanted to work for one of the major sports leagues, and it seemed easy for me to pinpoint my motivation. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work for both the NFL and the PGA TOUR. I was living my dream—or so I thought. I even felt special every time someone asked me if I had met Tiger Woods. (By the way, I haven’t). The thought of leaving the sports industry never crossed my mind. However, I began to consider opportunities beyond sports when I was forced to reflect further on my true motivation.

At my very first MLT seminar, Coach Krista put me on the spot! I was the only Fellow from Jacksonville, FL, and Coach Krista used that as a reason to ask me to share my story in front of the entire cohort. Initially, I didn’t hesitate to present my accomplishments, in fact, I felt quite proud. But, my perspective began to change after one of my peers asked what I would do if I couldn’t work in sports for some reason.

That question stuck with me throughout the entire program. I simply did not have a good answer. Even more concerning was that, beyond being a fan, I couldn’t actually articulate my true motivation for pursuing a career in sports. This was a moment of real awakening for me.

However, I began to consider opportunities beyond sports when I was forced to reflect further on what truly motivated me.

During my very first week at Foster Business School, the MBA career management office already had us presenting to different companies. My group went to Nordstrom and gave a presentation on the future of retail before we learned more about their core business. In my second quarter, I also served as an MBA consultant for Starbucks, which is the highlight of my MBA experience, to date. These interactions, along with the other company visits prepared by Foster’s student groups, are what strengthen the program here. Without this access to a variety of companies, I would have struggled to identify companies or functions that inspire me.

Bryan (second from left) with his first quarter core team after they placed first in the class case competition.

Fortunately, with the guidance of my Foster and MLT communities, I’ve been able to identify some of my passions. Here are a few tips I think will help anyone who is navigating the path to discovering their own inspiration.

  1. Question yourself – Be sure to ask yourself, why. It is such a simple question, but the answers that you come up with can be very powerful. At Foster, we participate in a one-month leadership development series to identify our skills and areas of improvement.
  2. Remain curious – MLT programs and business school are perfect times to explore different industries and research jobs that fall outside your expertise. Commit to attending a variety of events and company informational sessions.
  3. Leverage others’ experiences – You won’t have time to try out every job, but you certainly will have the chance to discuss them with your b-school community. Schedule coffee chats with professors, classmates, and local professionals to help you identify areas of interest. Foster’s active alumni base is always willing to engage with current students and can be a major resource during the recruiting process.
  4. Expect the unexpected – During your MBA program, you can meet hundreds of people in class, at events, during travel, etc. All these interactions can lead to some unexpected sharing of knowledge or experiences. There can be some great lessons in these moments.

After taking these steps, I realized  my passion for working in sports stemmed from a lot more than just being a fan. After numerous conversations and a lot of time reflecting, I began to understand what truly excites me. I wanted to work in an industry that dealt directly with consumers, focused on the experience and interaction with their brand, and their desire to connect people globally. I realized the sports industry is not the only one in which I can get those experiences. It was not until an Alaska Airlines executive came and spoke to my micro-economics class that I realized working in the airline industry could be a great fit!

From that point on, I targeted the airline industry and successfully secured a summer internship with United Airlines. I didn’t know it at the time, MLT’s questions about what motivates me helped clarified my goals and put me on the path for success. Equally important, Foster created an environment in which I could be curious and explore a variety of careers.

Take advantage of this time to think deeply about what inspires you, and why. You might surprise yourself and pursue a career you had not previously considered.