Henrietta McNeill: Passion and Success

Do what you’re passionate about and you will succeed.

I had a friend the other day ask me: “How do I find my niche to make the world a better place?”. While this is somewhat of an existential question, it got me thinking to how to I got where I am, and I found the simple answer - I do what I love.

Sometimes if you follow the direction that you are “supposed” to go in, you can end up unhappy because you didn’t follow your dreams. I’ve always lived by the concept that you do what you’re passionate about – and if your passion is in it, you’re likely to be pretty good at it – people will see your passion, energy and talent for something and doors will open for you.

It takes a lot of effort, and sometimes you don’t always get what you want right at the beginning – you do have to work for it. I dropped out of secondary school because I knew I wanted to go to uni, and study international relations. Because I dropped out, I didn’t get the scholarships and end of year awards that my friends did – but I was happy at university, using my time to do the things that really interested me. I was passionate about it and so when I saw that opportunities were available and asked about them (yes, you have to talk to people rather than just hoping opportunities will bump into you in a doorway somewhere!), people were willing to make the effort and send me to conferences overseas, and on prestigious internships. These then were fantastic experiences I could talk about, when applying for even more selective opportunities.

With passion comes enthusiasm. When you’re really passionate about something, it radiates out of you like sunlight. Talk to the people you are working with, and that can mentor you. Find out how they got to where they are. Ask about their successes, and their mistakes (we all make them, so let’s learn from them!). These people are not just people you can learn from, but future references for jobs and opportunities, they are the people that come across things and think “oh, I know just the person who would be good for that!”. If you’ve been passionate about something, nine times out of ten, people will be more likely to want to help you out. If you’re bored and obviously couldn’t care less, why should they go the extra mile for you?

With passion comes enthusiasm and interesting discussions. These are the best. When you’re talking with people (whether online or in person) about the things you love, you come up with awesome ideas, you find gaps that you can fill – this becomes your niche. You can action these ideas, because it’s likely that other people will think they are great too – social entrepreneurship is all about following dreams and passions, and putting them into action where you can see a gap. From there, everything seems to fall into place as people recognise that you are doing something you’re passionate about and making a difference.

But never stop looking for opportunities, they are everywhere – from people you talk to, to Facebook, to the local newspaper – there is something for everyone. Networking is a great way to advance your cause, as is getting involved with a broader organisation like Aotearoa Youth Leadership Institute, which can not only provide opportunities such as overseas travel, but great networks, guidance, and open your eyes to new ideas and ways of thinking about your passion. It was looking for crazy opportunities on Facebook that I found an application form to go to a UN conference in Azerbaijan – why not apply, it’s other people and networks that are interested in the same things as me!

Your rewards for your passion are in the successes that you find in things, not necessarily the certificates that go on the wall. When I was named semi-finalist for Young New Zealander of the Year, the thing I was most proud of was actually nothing to do with the award – it was the expression on my grandfather’s face when he found out. To me, that made everything worth it.

In 2014, Henrietta McNeill led the Aotearoa Youth Leadership Institute's delegation to the UN Small Island Developing States Conferencejoined our International Programme Team, and was short-listed as Young New Zealander of the Year.  Following her experiences at SIDS Henrietta will be moving to Samoa in March this year through VSA, developing and implementing the country's export policies.