Is This the Time to Chase a Career Dream?
By PAMELA SLIM
FOR a long time, I thought it was totally normal to hear people’s deepest creative urges within five minutes of meeting them.
Returning from picking up a prescription at a local grocery store, I told my husband that our new pharmacist longed to be a poet.
“How in the world do you find these things out?” he asked.
“I don’t know; I just sense they have a story to tell.”
This interest in what makes people tick, and curiosity about what keeps them from realizing their dreams, drove me to become a business coach 13 years ago. I never tire of hearing people’s stories, or of learning ways to help the creatively oppressed come alive.
Crumbling markets, huge layoffs and widespread financial panic have unleashed a giant wave of creative yearnings. People from all walks of life are realizing that a time of economic turmoil offers a great opportunity to reinvent careers.
I asked a random sampling of my Twitter followers who are in “stable” work situations what they fantasized about doing for a living.
One of them said, “I’m an online education program administrator and I want to start a church.” Another said, “I’m an I.T. project manager and think about leading hiking trips, being a reporter, writing full time, to name a few!” And from yet another: “My husband is a surgeon and longs to be a musician.”
Perhaps my favorite was the successful entrepreneur who fantasized about being a United Parcel Service driver.
What else, besides the brown shorts, would make him want to pursue that? “Order, consistency, time to think, exercise, fresh air: basically everything I pine for as I sit in my agency mayhem each day.”
So why do so many of us perceive ourselves as being so terribly misaligned with our right work? Upbringing can have something to do with it. A client once confessed: “My father told me I had three career options. I could be a doctor, an engineer or a failure.”
I imagine that when the Grammy-winning singer John Legend broke the news that he wanted to quit his job as a management consultant at the Boston Consulting Group to pursue music full time, some of his relatives were concerned about his career stability.
Obviously, he made the right choice. Many stories don’t turn out that way.
I have received pained e-mail messages from grown offspring of aspiring entrepreneurs who chucked it all to follow one failed venture after another. A musician with a stable day job told me that after pursuing music seriously on the side, he wasn’t so sure that he could take the lifestyle full time.
What separates crazy dreams from viable business ideas? I don’t think that it has anything to do with the idea, or the profession, or the market itself. It has to do with the person.
Jonathan Fields, a high-powered Wall Street lawyer, quit that job more than a decade ago to do personal training sessions in Central Park for $15 an hour. But then he turned his passion into one of the most profitable fitness centers in New York. He went on to start a flourishing yoga studio, which he sold after getting a deal from a major publishing house to write a career guide.
Real creative urges, those we are meant to express, don’t go away. If ignored, they bother us, affect our health, fester and eventually turn us into the living dead.
The good news is that there are many ways to deal with our creative aspirations, as I learned from Anne Nelson, whom I met a month ago at Saguaro Lake Ranch, a rustic resort outside Phoenix. Ms. Nelson left a successful career as a pharmaceutical sales representative when, she said, she realized that her job selling animal antibiotics conflicted with her values. She started down a path of “self-accuratizing,” her term for finding a career that would make her happy.
Her first stop was a decorative wall-finishing business, a nod to her study of art in college. Three years later, after spending three days on top of a scaffolding painting a living room, she realized that she didn’t want to be doing that when she was 55, and she quit the business.
She spent time in Mexico, “learning through simple, conscious living, what joy really feels like.” She took up ballroom dancing. She completed an M.B.A. in sustainability. Now she uses visual mapping to help businesses with their conceptual planning; the work combines her interests and experience in art, business and using her hands.
“Some people may call me flaky, but I don’t really care. I have never been happier,” she said. “If a situation does not work for me anymore, I leave. My energy is high, I wake up with joy, and I feel alive.”
In this time of economic chaos, people may be inspired by Ms. Nelson’s story. They may realize that if they are going to live with uncertainty, and work like crazy to secure their livelihood, that they might as well pursue something they care about deeply.
We may start new businesses, create great art and find successful new careers. We will certainly have failed plans, disappointments and broken dreams. But mostly, we will all benefit from the huge blast of creative energy unleashed by people finally pursuing the work that is the best fit for them.