Editorial Note: A few weeks ago, over on Work Stew’s Facebook page, I posted the career advice that Dirty Jobs star Mike Rowe gave to a fan who wrote asking how to find his “dream job.” Rowe’s response went viral–and it was pretty great. But I wanted to hear how others might have responded, so I solicited entries from Work Stew’s readers. What struck me about Ken Gould’s submission, below, is that he manages to be both grounded and encouraging. I liked that.
By Ken Gould
Listen for the things that ‘float your boat.’ Hint: they are usually not the big things. Very few dreams thump you on the head and announce “I’m Here!” Most reveal themselves in small events that make you happy or in satisfying interactions with a person or group. Hints are not loud, nor clear. They’re subtle, but they’re there. Listen for which experiences make you smile. Listen for inner satisfaction. Maybe it’s a chance to build something and you realize you enjoyed the process, whether what you created turned out well or not. Hints are hard to recognize, because often dreams do not come dressed as you expect or at the time or place you think they will.
Be both humble and adventurous in talking to others about finding what interests you. It is surprising how many people pick jobs and careers without asking around, without taking a ‘sounding’ from those important to them or even from a few strangers. It takes a certain amount of humility and strength to do this, asking others for counsel—without then feeling compelled to take that advice if it doesn’t fit your dream.
Look for your people. There are others who have walked your general pathway before you. Who do you aspire to be like? Who do you feel comfortable around? Who is it, that you see yourself in their stories? Who would you want to eat a meal with? Who would you want in your community—in your dream? Who do you want to be like as a young person and as an older person—at the different stages of a full life? Go visit someone doing something you find interesting. Visit the laboratory or studio or worksite or restaurant of people you enjoy—check out what they are doing first hand.
You’re unlikely to hit the target on your first try—range in. Often it takes a series of jobs, events, or interactions to get closer to understanding what exactly floats your boat. Said another way: you don’t have to stay with the first major you pick in college or the first career you try or the job you are currently in or the first sport you’re good at. Keep fine-tuning your dream. Take some risks to do this fine-tuning.
Sometimes it’s about place, but usually it’s something else entirely and place is a distraction. Some of my family members are convinced that one’s life is shaped and made full because of living in the right place or environment. In my experience, place is not that important. More important is your dream, your attitude, work ethic, and community. You should be the same kind of person pursuing your dream, whatever place you find yourself in.
Pay your dues. Don’t skip any of the steps in learning your craft or calling. Prodigies are rare. When you talk to someone who seems to have made it overnight, you almost always find out that they have been at it for years and years. In one way or another, they have been working hard every day for a long time to get where they are.
Calling, visiting with, and talking to folks is always better than writing, emailing, and waiting. Have a bias for action in pursuing your dream. Don’t write someone and then sit and wait for something to happen. Pick up the phone. Get on the bus or in a car or plane and go and visit. Make contact. It’s amazing what you will learn and who you will meet. Go prepared with questions.
Don’t be afraid to recognize the things that interest you, despite the din of other voices telling you what you should do. We have all of these expectations in our heads: “This type of job is what dad did.” “Mom said I’m good at this.” “These are the things that came easy to me in school.” Often we listen to others and then set limits on ourselves that don’t necessarily have to exist. What is it that you want from this brief, intense life we get? What are your dreams? Work at recognizing what is satisfying and resonates as true for you.
Finally: take my advice with a grain of salt. Your inner voice is the one to listen to. Listen intently. Good luck.
Call for Q&A subjects: Would you be willing to tell me what you do for a living, how that came to be, and how you feel about it? If so, shoot me an email (subject line: Q&A) and I’ll be back in touch shortly: email@example.com. I want to run more pieces like this one and this one.