Finding and Following Your Passion
By Adam Calder

I recently attended a luncheon hosted by the Young Professionals of Ames where Iowa State University Head Wrestling Coach Kevin Dresser gave a speech about finding and following your passions in life.

Dresser opened up his speech with a little humor about what inspired him to become a coach. “I didn’t want to ever have to dress up for work” Dresser said, “so I picked the right profession. I’m overdressed today, I’ve got blue jeans on. Usually I get to wear sweats to work.”

He then told an anecdote from his childhood that put him on a life long journey towards living his passion.

“I grew up in Humboldt, IA,” Dresser said.  “In 8th grade I got a chance to go to the Iowa High School State Championship and back then it was at Vet’s Auditorium.  It was a big deal to go to the state championships.  We walk in, and its 13,000 people and it’s the final start and they have one spotlight down on one mat and they turn the lights off and they start the music and two guys walk out and wrestle for a state championship that Saturday night in front of 13,000 people, and I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. As an 8th grader, all of the sudden I kind of felt my passion. I got really what I call laser-light focused. It’s amazing as an 8th grader what can motivate you.”

Dresser pursued a career in wrestling through high school and college.  Once he graduated college, he was confronted for the first time in many years with the prospect of not wrestling, and he didn’t know what else he wanted to do.

“Didn’t know what I wanted to do when I got done” Dresser said, “all I knew was that I wanted to be an athlete and now my athletic career was over with, and I had no clue what I wanted to do. So I figured I’d try coaching. I stuck around Iowa City for a couple years, I was a grad assistant there, still really didn’t know what I wanted to do.  I really didn’t have a passion.”

His prospects changed with one phone call from a high school.

“And then I got a call from a high school,” Dresser said “a real serious high school in Virginia in the late 80’s, 1989, to take over a high school program.”

While he grew to love his new responsibilities, initially he had a more pragmatic reason for taking the job.

“I took the job probably to be quite honest just for the money” Dresser said, “and what happened along the way is I fell in love with coaching. I had a lot of passion to help kids and to win and compete.”

He coached at this level for eight years, and grew restless in his position.

“We won eight state titles in eight years” Dresser said, “and then I thought I was ready to get out of coaching. I was actually kind of getting kind of bored. When you win eight out of eight you’re like ‘what else can I do?’”

From there Dresser moved into real estate.  He moved to Ankeny, got an office job and put on a suit and tie until he realized he had no passion for it.

“After five months of driving into that office” Dresser said, “I came home one day and told my new wife ‘this sucks. I don’t like putting this suit and tie on every day and I want to be a coach.’”

He went back to Virginia to be a wrestling coach for his passion, and a real estate broker for the practicality and the ability it afforded him to pay his bills.  His wresting job in Virginia led back to Iowa two years ago, and Dresser has been the head coach of the ISU wrestling team ever since.

Dresser has synthesized all of these life lessons and experience into five steps for finding and following your passion:

“When I go out to talk to groups,” Dresser said, “and when I talk to my team I’ll tell them that number one: you should want to be great, and it’s ok to want to be great. Here’s what you’ve got to do to be great.  Number one, you’ve got to figure out exactly what you want to be great at, I call it laser-light focus.  That’s the most important thing is find out is that what you’re really passionate about.”

“Step two is…you’ve got to have a plan to get there,” Dresser said, “and that’s usually where we come in, in our business, that’s called coaching. A plan involves instruction from somebody that’s been there. It’s hard to go the line with somebody to tell you to go somewhere when they’ve never been there. That’s where good coaching comes in, and good mentorship in business.”

“The third part of it is,” Dresser said, “… where you start to loose people is you’ve got to go to work.”

“And number four…” Dresser said, “You have to be tough in the toughest of circumstances. If you want to be a leader in your industry, you’ve got to know who you’re competing against.

“The fifth one” Dresser said, “is you’ve got to find something you really enjoy and is fun. If it’s truly your passion and you’re going to excel at it, it’s got to be fun.”