Emma Reynolds may not always have achieved what she set out to do, but it never stopped her from trying. When she set up her first business at the age of 23, there were many sceptics.

"There were some people who didn't think it was a good idea, or came up with reasons why I shouldn't do it," she explains.

By the time she moved on to her next venture, a financial crisis was looming. She lost everything. "When I moved to Hong Kong to start the third business, people told me to learn from the recent events in London and not to do it," she says. "Now I have proved them wrong."

The co-founder and chief executive of e3Reloaded, a consultancy that specialises in employer branding and employee communications, is one of many women choosing passion over procrastination, stepping out with firm intentions - often against the odds.

For many, this passion keeps them climbing the ladder to success. It may mean ruffling a few feathers or breaking the mould. "There are many reasons I shouldn't be where I am today. I am not degree-educated, I am only 28 years old, and yet I have lived in three countries, started three businesses and work with some of the world's largest organisations," Reynolds says. "I have developed a healthy disregard for the impossible."

Likewise, Vivian Lau has found that it often pays to defy authority to pursue a passion. The chief executive of charity Junior Achievement Hong Kong recalls working in Australia and being informed by a mentor that she was a "triple minority" in her chosen field - being a petite Asian female in the predominantly white, male IT industry.

Her response was to work even harder. "By working three times as hard to defy my 'triple minority', my work in the field was recognised and I was headhunted to return to Hong Kong to lead the Greater China IT department of a multinational advertising firm," she says.

Many credit education with laying the groundwork for pursuing a passion. For Tisa Ho, executive director at the Hong Kong Arts Festival, it gave her a pragmatic outlook on her career path. "Being in a girls' school meant you developed the habit of dealing with stuff and not asking or expecting boys to help, and your individual identity or personality was pretty much in place by the time you had to deal with the opposite sex," she explains.

She believes her success is in the future, another byproduct of her education. "Perhaps that's also partly shaped by my education in which there was always so much to pursue, and no resting on laurels."

For Lau, education played a key role in shaping her success. "The sweetest spot of education was when I found the joy of learning in the [penultimate] year of my undergraduate degree," she explains.

This included the "joy of asking questions, the challenge of finding answers and the fulfilment of gaining knowledge". Today, she lives by this process at work.

Sometimes, however, pursuing a passion can produce particular pressures for women. Lau, for example, recalls being the CEO of a petrochemical company for seven years.

"It was very important to establish credibility and trust with your male counterparts in the industry," she says.

"During this phase, the key is to stay focused on the business and, once the credibility and trust have been established, it becomes business as usual."

Her motivation is simple. "In the words of [the 13th-century Persian mystic] Rumi, 'let what you love be what you do'," she explains. "I absolutely love what I do - do I need any other motivation?" For Reynolds, motivation comes from a belief that she can make a difference.

She says: "I am not disabled by fear. I dive in, have a go, and constantly learn from those around me."

She stresses that she has "carpe diem" tattooed on her left foot and believes that "impossible is nothing".

Rainy Chan, general manager of The Peninsula hotel, gets her inspiration to pursue her passion from her peers.

"I am inspired by people who are passionate about life and about people who usually give to others without asking for a return. They inspire me to do the right thing and not just do things right."

A city such as Hong Kong can provide unique opportunities for someone looking to pursue a passion in their career.

As Ho points out, Hong Kong is a good place for a woman to nurture this passion.

"There is still a strong old boys' network and some very influential groups are still largely male, but there are strong women's networks too, and these are evolving," she notes. The availability of domestic help, multigeneration families providing support for women who work, and a well-established principle of equal opportunity are likewise strong plus points, she adds.

Reynolds says the city is flush with opportunity. "I arrived in Hong Kong with no money and no contacts and in two and a half years have built a business that is in a really strong position now … but it is not easy. It takes hard work, dedication, persistence, relentless optimism and a desire to learn."

This is echoed by Lau. "Hong Kong is a good place for women, yet there is no resting on any laurels as there is so much more that women can contribute."

Chan offers a cautionary note for women pursuing a passion in their field.

"I don't believe there is any differentiation between men and women when it comes to realising one's potential. Most of us don't think about our potential," she says.

"More often than not, you only realise your talents after you've come out of a major challenge, or a crisis, which in turn builds your confidence to pursue new heights and explore the best in you.

"I think if we can all realise our potential, the world would be a much happier place because we would be more focused on what we can do, rather than on what others can't do for us."