Woman playing violin

Are You Following Someone Else’s Dream?

Too many young people wind up in jobs they hate because they followed someone else’s advice about how to use their talents. You would think that after a certain age we would be capable of making major choices independent of the influence of family, friends, or career guides, but perhaps more often than we would care to admit, we allow someone else’s well-intentioned promptings to steer us in directions we would never have chosen for ourselves.

As a child my father thought I would make a good concert pianist. I love the piano and will one day master it, because it is equal parts challenging and relaxing, but playing the piano is fun for me so long as it remains a hobby.

That’s the first lesson: Learn to separate your passion from your leisure. Your passion will likely seek to be shared with others, whereas your leisure only has to satisfy you. I love to write, and one day I hope to publish books to inform and entertain you. Other people may enjoy writing but are content to preserve their thoughts in a journal. I also love music, but I would never want to join a band and tour the world.

Later in my young adult years my friends and teachers thought I would go into the legal profession. I went to a magnet high school for law enforcement and legal professions where I did well in mock trial tournaments. At my senior prom I was voted Most Likely to Become an Attorney, and in college I kept up the momentum by competing in speech and debate. I love the art of persuasion… I love to argue, but I confess to having felt intimidated by the sheer volume of candidates competing for attorney positions. This was 2008 at the height of the recession, and I could not justify the student debt.

You should not let something so fluid like the economy dominate your passion. Sometimes we can blame circumstances for taking the first offer that presents itself. A single parent, for example, would be less likely to quibble about job satisfaction when the survival of their family depends on a paycheck, but we should never stop setting goals. While today’s excuse for a mediocre job is putting a meal on the table, tomorrow’s excuse could be a fear of change. You cannot self-select out of potential opportunities. It’s one thing for someone else to reject you. It’s quite another to reject yourself.

You need to take a holistic view of the career you think you want to enter. My love of debate does not mean I would love a career in law. There are human beings behind every argument, and I was never capable of reconciling my feelings on guilt or innocence after reading Seymour Wishman’s Confessions of a Criminal Lawyer. Anything short of criminal litigation seemed dull to me, but it took many years for me to realize that the reason I still wanted to be a lawyer was to please everyone else’s idea of what I should become.

How many college graduates are you aware of who studied one field and are now working in another”? I know a lady who studied biology as an undergrad and is now a vocational rehabilitation counselor. I know a guy who studied music and is now working in the health industry. I myself studied public policy and spent several years working in nonprofit development. These inconsistencies speak to a larger question about how we invest our time and money, but for the purposes of the current discussion, did we stray away from our original college interests because those interests were uninformed or because they were never really our own?

Sometimes you can shove your passion into a career path and make it work. For several years grant writing satisfied my drive for persuasion. After all, grant writing is nothing more than a fierce competition for winning money for a cause, but I have long since given up plans to be someone else’s vice-president of development. The point is, managing a store is not the same as owning it. Playing a video game will not get you closer to designing one. Anything less than the job you dream is just a wish.

Malcolm Gladwell once wrote that it takes a combined 10,000 hours to master a task. If what he says is true, then it would take you 250 work weeks to master a task. Do you really want to spend almost five years practicing to become great at something you’re not emotionally invested in?

Learn to take command of your own future. Just because you enjoyed shooting hoops in high school does not mean you need to carry the game into professional sports. Just because a teacher complemented your drawing does not mean you have to be the next Picasso. You were born with a certain set of talents to help the world, but when you come home, you need something else to help recharge your spirit. Hobbies have a funny way of losing their luster when you start making demands of them.

Are you pursuing your own passion? If you caught yourself just in time, where were you previously using your energy, and what made you make the switch? Sound off in the comments. Whatever else you may take away from this post, remember life is too short and expensive to harvest someone else’s dream. It’s never too late to make a change.

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My blog is a collection of advice I wish someone had shared with me when I was young and targets subjects like personal finance, careers, and relationships. It publishes Mondays with the occasional bonus article. Sign up to have fresh content delivered straight to your inbox, no SPAM!


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