Yan Li distinctly remembers the first time he saw his beloved American football team, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, play a home game. In 2004, Yan was attending Notre Dame University in the U.S. for his MBA. The Fighting Irish were suffering a tough season. Their opponents, the Michigan Wolverines, were riding high as the 2nd ranked team in the country. The two teams had a historic rivalry with each other. The atmosphere was electric and extremely patriotic in the aftermath of 9/11.
严立和其他五名中国学生坐在一起，见证了近8万名学生、校友和粉丝在一位圣母大学2001届非洲裔美籍女性毕业生的带领下，一起唱国歌的狂热气氛。911事件后不久，她加入了美国军队，并被派往伊拉克。在一次公路爆炸袭击中，她失去了右臂。在她的带领下，人们大声地唱着国歌，此情此景，严立和他的五位中国同学饱含热泪。 “大家对圣母大学和爱尔兰斗士有着强烈的归属感，”他说。“这个时刻、这场比赛超出了球队、战争和民族。相反，它代表了一种自豪感，属于更伟大的人道主义精神。当严立回忆起那场比赛时，情绪非常激动。 “在我内心深处，我知道总有一天我要别人分享这种感觉。”
Yan and five Chinese students sat together among the madness, witnessing nearly 80,000 students, alumni and fans singing the national anthem led by an African-American woman and a Notre Dame graduate from 2001. Soon after 9/11, she enrolled in the U.S. army and was sent to Iraq. She lost her right arm in a road bomb attack. As the crowd roared out the anthem led by this woman, Yan remembers how he and the five other Chinese students were all in tears. “There was a huge sense of belonging to the crowd, to Notre Dame and the Fighting Irish,” he says. “The moment and the game transcended the teams, the war, and nationalities. Instead, it represented a sense of pride and belonging to something bigger, the human spirit.” Yan’s emotion is evident as he recalls that game. “Inside my heart, I knew I wanted to share this feeling with others someday.”
Today, Yan, delivers management and leadership development workshops based on the game of American football. He is living proof that it’s possible to turn your passion into a successful, thriving business. Yan left the corporate world and his role as Country Marketing Manager at a global logistics company in 2015. With only an intense self-belief in the value he could deliver, an incredible enthusiasm for the game of American football, and a two year time limit from his wife, Yan found a way to combine what he loves with his skills as a trainer to develop a winning training course that teaches corporate leaders how to play like a champion.
However, creating a business out of nothing, based on a sport that 99% of Chinese people have never even heard of, seemed crazy and unrealistic. So, how did he turn his passion for something into a successful career and a livelihood? Yan highlights three key things.
Do what you love
More than anything, Yan says that you must have an insane amount of love for the thing that you do. And even more importantly, a burning desire to share it with others. Football “makes me a bit crazy,” admits Yan. “Nothing else like football can get me to spend night after night studying it. I talk about football with everyone.”
His love of football developed almost unintentionally. He first heard of the sport from his father, a state-sponsored scholar who completed an exchange at UC Berkeley in 1981. His dad told him about how Americans were mad about this game called football. Then, Yan’s college professor in the early 1990s, Professor Johnson, would show videotapes of classic football games in his class to teach his students about theimportance of teamwork, trust and communication.
Then, when Yan received a scholarship for his MBA from Notre Dame, he had no idea it was such a big football school. Once he got there, however, he hardly ever missed a game. Since that time, Yan estimates that he’s dedicated over 8000 hours of his life to football, including blogging, watching, studying, training, and even doing live commentating on NFL games in China. With 200 workshops delivered, Yan says that each time he does his training, it still feels like the first time to him. He believes in the power of sharing the feeling he has for football with other people, and believes that “this feeling will make people better.” This has helped him to persist through very tough times and translate his love and passion into a successful business.
Believe in what you’re doing
Yan’s deep belief in what he could offer first came to him while in his last company, where he delivered a talk that combined corporate training and football. He received great feedback. That was especially encouraging since the audience was made up of about 75% women who were completely new to the sport. From this first experience, he knew he was onto something. So much so that when the company was acquired, Yan made the bold decision to pursue his dream. That required a huge amount of self-awareness and courage on his part.
Delivering something so unfamiliar to a Chinese audience may appear totally irrational at first. But over time, his novel approach has actually worked in Yan’s favour. His workshop does things differently and delivers something unique and valuable. So according to Yan, having real confidence in yourself and an unwavering belief in what you have to offer is essential for successfully turning your enthusiasm and obsession into a career.
Dedication and perseverance
Undeniably, transforming something you love into something you can make a living at also means fighting through setbacks and disappointments. You must keep going against the odds, even when success seems far away.
For example, when Yan first started out in 2015, he sold courses to study agencies for students going to the U.S. to help them understand American campus life. When his original plan wasn’t working, he didn’t give up. Instead, he decided to change directions and offer his workshop to leadership teams and companies. Still, his first two years were slow, with just 11 and then 15 workshop deliveries. At the end of year two, his wife very reasonably asked Yan for proof that what he was doing could pay off to give her confidence that he could succeed.
Yan says he just “had a feeling” that his workshop was starting to build momentum and a reputation in the market. And that it had the potential to be something bigger and better. Sure enough, in his third year, he saw a steep increase in interest and delivered 40 workshops. In 2019, Yan has surpassed that number of deliveries in the first half alone!
So, if you feel stuck doing a job that doesn’t spark passion, excitement and joy within you. If you dream of transforming your true interest into your career. Then, think of Yan and what he’s doing. He’s taken something completely unfamiliar to the market and turned it into something unique and attractive. He’s living proof that believing in your passion, believing in yourself, and persevering despite the odds can get you what you want.