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Follow Your Competence To Discover Your Passions

By Mike Sievert, CEO of T-Mobile

Follow Your Competence To Discover Your Passions

By Mike Sievert, CEO of T-Mobile

Published 06-21-23

Submitted by T-Mobile

commencement audience and stage

I recently delivered the commencement speech for the 2023 undergraduates of the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. What an honor to speak to this incredible group of resilient students!

As a Gen Xer with years of tech and marketing experience, I aimed to impart a new spin on the real-world advice to follow your passion that most of us probably grew up hearing by suggesting that while that advice isn’t entirely bad, it’s just one part of the story. I suggested this addition: follow your competence.

Here’s what I mean. Even though something like a first job out of college (or beyond!) may not seem like it speaks exactly to your passions, you may be pleasantly surprised when you find out you’re really good at it. When we become aware of what we’re good at, we will begin to exercise our strengths, people will recognize us for them, and we will feel accomplished. This creates a cycle of satisfaction... and THIS is where we thrive. That’s the time to double down. When you find something you’re good at and follow your competence it becomes a passion!

Coincidentally, right before I gave my address, researchers at the University of Washington shared results of a study they did on this very topic that adds another interesting element into this conversation. They found that when undergrads were first selecting a major or career path and were encouraged to follow their passions, they unintentionally made choices that pigeonholed them into pre-prescribed societal norms around gender.

For example, men disproportionately choose fields like computer science and engineering. Broadly speaking, the research found that following your passions can be unintentionally limiting – exactly opposite of what follow your passions is intended to inspire! Dr. Sapna Cheryan and student Therese Anne Mortejo summed it up in a New York Times essay titled “The Most Common Graduation Advice Tends to Backfire”: “Sure, you can follow your passions. But also keep an open mind and try things you may have ruled out without even realizing why. There may be more to be passionate about than you realize.

This aligns so closely with what I spoke about when I shared a bit of my personal story. I started my career marketing toothpaste. Toothpaste was never a passion of mine. But I recognized something in those early career days in that role. I thought I might be good at marketing. I found my strengths in storytelling, shaping product strategy, and connecting to what customers want and need. And those are the strengths I doubled down on – and still lean into in my role at T-Mobile. These have become my passions as I progressed through my career and now lead the team at T-Mobile!

Of course, while following our competence may come naturally, that doesn’t mean we should shy away from things outside of our comfort zones. It’s still important to take risks and try new things. To follow our curiosity. It’s something we do again and again here at T-Mobile. It's about asking, “What if?” and “Why not?”, all along the way, continuing to pay attention to what you’re good at. My advice is to ask these questions and double down where you thrive, not just because it might bring you success, but because it might bring you joy.

As I shared with the UW grads, trying to right-fit your passions to the perfect job in a competitive market is a long shot but starting with your strengths can create space for you to show value. So many people I know have found true career satisfaction by discovering something they’re good at and doing more of it - making that a centerpiece of their work. They found their competence, followed it, and it became a passion. This is how they have been able to thrive – an aspiration I have for this year’s new graduates today and beyond.

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T-Mobile US Inc. (NASDAQ: TMUS) is America’s supercharged Un-carrier, delivering an advanced 4G LTE and transformative nationwide 5G network that will offer reliable connectivity for all. T-Mobile’s customers benefit from its unmatched combination of value and quality, unwavering obsession with offering them the best possible service experience and undisputable drive for disruption that creates competition and innovation in wireless and beyond. Based in Bellevue, Wash., T-Mobile provides services through its subsidiaries and operates its flagship brands, T-Mobile, Metro by T-Mobile and Sprint. For more information please visit:

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