I’m in the business of stories. I work for an organization called the Underground. We believe that every person has a story, that their story matters, is worth telling, and is also part of a bigger story. We’re in the business of creating stories and telling stories. Because it’s only when you understand your story that you can truly find success and fulfillment in life.
So what’s my story? I grew up in an average home with my parents and brother. For the first thirteen years of my life my dad was a pastor. And he was a good one. Every church he went to doubled and sometimes tripled in size. When I hit middle school however, he left the ministry for the health and sanity of himself and our family. Through middle school and high school I don’t know how many different companies my dad worked for as he tried to find something he was equally passionate about as ministry. He understood the importance of a good career and also taught us how crucial that was to providing for our family. So it shouldn’t have surprised me when we went for a walk my senior year in high school to talk about what I would study in college.
We were walking down the road as we often did since we lived in the country and could do those things. High school was behind me and I had gone through quite of bit of career exploration. I was seriously looking at Physical Therapy, had entertained law, dentistry, and was currently registered as pre-optometry at Andrews University where I was headed. Walking with my dad I told him I wasn’t really interested in any of those options anymore. At 18 years old I had made up my mind and was going to be an archaeologist. Without stopping or missing a beat he answered “No you’re not. You just want to be Indiana Jones and I’m not buying you a leather jacket and fedora.” Unfortunately, that was exactly what I was thinking of doing so there was no arguing my dad’s point.
So I went to business school, because after all that’s the default degree for people who don’t know what they want to do when they grow up right? After college I spent 13 years working in Human Resources, specifically in recruitment. I thought I’d climb the ladder and retire an HR executive. I was working for a great organization with stability and upward mobility, not to mention I was good at my job. I thought I had found my career. And I did, but not the way most people would have thought. What I discovered in my first job was something I didn’t know when I took that walk with my dad all those years before or understood as I looked for jobs after college. It took me 13 years to figure out that in order to know your career must first have to know the definition of “Career”. And it’s not what you think it is.
According to Oxford’s English Dictionary, career is defined as a person’s course or progress through life. Think about that for a minute. “A person’s course or progress through life”. I like this definition a lot more than what we traditionally think of when we think of the word “career”. Typically we will think of career as it relates to our job. How to find the right job, the best job, the most successful job. We think our career is tied to our education, how our education applies to our job, and how our job creates personal wealth and success. But this definition puts the power of your career where it should be, in your hands. It translates into the story of your life. And only you can define your story – you are your career.
Your job is not your career. Your employer is not your career. Your degree is not your career. So when we talk about you finding your dream career, that all starts with you. It’s talking about finding out who you really are in your story. It starts and ends with you. You finding out who you are and exploring what makes you tick. It doesn’t matter what you do. What matters is who you are.
It took me a while to realize that so my own career could bring me to where I am. No college adviser, business mentor, or career coach ever told me that. I had to do it. As I discovered who I am I also found my story. So what can I tell you to help you find your story, your career?
Whether you’re Frodo, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen, or Ron Burgundy all stories have one thing in common, and that is the hero is on a journey. Those heroes are driven by their passion. Yes, it’s cliche but it’s the most important piece that I realized was missing from what I was doing. I will always remember the conversation I had with a CFO one day as we talked about careers. He said “Most of the time I can’t believe they pay me to do this. I would do it for free. I love doing this”. I was blown away. He operated on 4 hours of sleep and worked unceasingly to drive the business. But that didn’t matter because he was passionate about what he was doing. It brought him joy and contentment. It wasn’t a job. It was his career, his story.
What is your passion? Do you know yet? If you don’t it’s okay. That’s part of the journey. After college I found a job with a great organization with excellent job security. To many people they would consider that a good career and call it quits. I became an expert in my field. However, I never really reached that point of “I can’t believe they pay me”. Some find their passion when they’re elementary students and others find it in their forties. Looking back I didn’t understand my passion until the right moment. As that passion took hold of me I looked is when I looked outside of the career path I had been on and saw found my story.
Next, as you find your passion, don’t let obstacles knock you off your journey. You may have heard the statistic that 90 percent of business start ups fail in the first year correct? But did you know that of those who fail, 90% never try again? Yet of those who do, 80% have success the second time. Too many people quit at the first sign of trouble. They ignore their passion and redirect back to safety. They look for the easy path where all the doors are open. I can’t count how many jobs I have been rejected from. Every single one hurt. Every single rejection eroded my self esteem. You get to a place where you just don’t want to try anymore. However, every rejection made me rethink my purpose and my passion. It refined my resolve and clarified my journey. Eventually I reached far outside my comfort zone, testing the waters to what I formerly thought I was unqualified. While I didn’t get that first job either, I did get a call back. That told me I was onto something and led me to keep trying.
Finally, find your guide. We all need a Yoda, but more often than not the people who want to be our guide aren’t who we need to guide us. For most of my life I looked at people within my profession to guide me. I heard all the cliche’s “Bloom where you’re planted”, “Dress for the job you want”, you name it. However well intentioned those coaches and mentors were when they said those things, they didn’t have any interest in my passion. They were focused on their path and how you might follow or even aid them as they go by. Their definition of career and success didn’t match with mine. I chased someone elses definition of career for far too long. Whether it was my dad’s definition, what I perceived from others as career, what I saw from my peers, or advice I took from people I considered having successful careers. Your guide needs to know you. One of my guides (yes I have several and I encourage you to do the same) never looked at my resume or career. He knew me. He saw where I was engaged and listened to what I talked about outside of the office. He pushed me and encouraged me to follow my heart despite what my head said. Your guide should be part of YOUR journey, not the other way around.
Don’t be frustrated if you don’t know your career. Many of the greatest heroes didn’t know what career path they were on when they started. Luke Skywalker simply wanted to be a fighter pilot. Frodo just wanted to explore outside the shire. Derek Zoolander just wanted to be really really really ridiculously good looking. According to a Penn State study, 20-50% of students enter college undecided and 75% will change their major at least once. That’s huge. And how many of us can say we matured enough in 4 years of college to say that final degree we got should define us for the next 40 years? If it were that easy the Wall Street Journal wouldn’t have said in 2010 that the average person has 7 careers in their life. Thirteen years ago I would have never guessed I would be working for a teen center booking concerts and planning after-school enrichment programs with public schools, and helping teens create and tell stories.
So, what’s the best career for you? It might be the career you’re in right now. It might be a career three jobs from now. It might be a career you haven’t thought of yet. What matters right now is, are you going to redefine your career by taking control of your story. Once you find your story you can become passionate about it, overcome the obstacles that are in it, and find the guides that will help you find the career of your dreams.