To The Kids in Room 1554

A good friend of mine recently asked me to come speak to her class of college freshmen about, well, life. Specifically about how I chose my career, how I balance work and hobbies, and any advice I might give to a group of kids just trying to figure out what they want to do in life.

Like we all aren’t just one big group of kids trying to figure out what we want to do in life.


But, I’m always game to tell my stories, so here are the two big things we talked about:

1.) Why I choose not to “do the things I love” as my primary source of income.

I know, right?! Flies in the face of all the conventional wisdom about “doing what you love and the money will follow.” Which, actually, that requires some qualification. First, I do love a lot of things about my job. While I don’t talk about it much here, during the day I’m the Director of Operations for a business consulting firm. A pretty effing awesome firm full of awesome people I get to work with every day. But, also, let’s be honest, some days I spend a full nine hours looking at spreadsheets and writing emails that don’t contain any jokes about chickens, and I think my eyeballs might bleed by the end of it. It’s a part of the job.

I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of the work I do every day, but I also know, at the end of the day, my job isn’t to do everything the way I want to do it, and it’s not to take my own personal vision and make it a reality. It’s to support the goals of our company and all of the people in it. It’s not about me.

Do you know what is about me? This website. The projects I take on after work. The words I write, the things I build, the visions I have for my house and property that I get to bring to life. Talk to me about these things, any time day or night, and my face lights up. The thing I am most proud of is that there are people out there who have read about something I did on this website, and have found the courage to do something they didn’t think they could.

I probably have the skill and street-cred to blog full-time. I’m also a licensed builder, which means I could legally build houses full time. But I don’t. There was a point where I made a very conscious decision not to pursue those things, and here’s why: I like doing them, and I like doing them the way I want to do them.

That’s the key. Because when I thought through this scenario: Building houses for a living, having a slow month, and then someone comes along and asks me to build something that doesn’t meet my standards, and I have to make a decision between doing something I don’t believe in or not being able to pay my bills? Sucks all the joy out of it for me.

Or (and I know we’ve all seen this one happen) what if the difference between being able to pay my mortgage or not came down to being asked to write about some shitty product I didn’t believe in on this website? Hell no. Hell no. The last thing this world needs is one more person trying to sell more shit that no one needs to everybody else.

I think we like to romanticize “doing the things we love”, particularly when it comes to money. But I don’t think the grass is greener over there in the land of building or blogging all day. Because as soon as you put a price on your passions, well… they can be bought.

So I think there’s something to be said– a story we don’t hear very often– about finding satisfaction in the job you do. Even if it doesn’t perfectly align with your hobbies, or passions, or desire to wear steel-toed boots and yoga pants all day. And, also, for giving the things you love to do the freedom to be the things you love to do without having to compromise.


2.) Most of us will never know “what we want to do when we grow up”.

Maybe there are people out there who just know deep down in their soul that they are meant to do one specific thing in their life. And good for them. I just don’t personally know any of those people.

And that story? The one wher you have to pick a thing and be that thing for the rest of your life? Fuck that.

Here are some things I picked to be at various points in my life:

In high school, I decided I was going to be a pilot in the Navy. And I didn’t just “decide it” like that was a thing I told people I was going to do… I actively pursued it. I started taking classes for my pilots license when I was 16. I flew in laser-tag dogfights in old Mustang airplanes with my dad (who shot me down mercilessly, I might add), and I was nominated for the US Naval Academy by Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur.

That’s not what I decided to do with my life, obviously, and I don’t even really like flying in any kind of plane these days.

In college I swore two things… that I would never own a house (too much work and money) and that I would never work a corporate job (too boring.) In fact, after college I decided I was going to build and refinish furniture for a living. My grandparents set up a workshop for me in their garage, and I lived in a spare bedroom in their house. I spent months researching setting up my own business, wrote a business plan, registered a name… the whole nine, you guys.

I also worked during the day to pay for this future furniture-building venture of mine, and somewhere along the way realized I actually like the business of businesses. And then I bought a house and ten years later… oh, hey, look who is in the the middle of house number three (which damn well is a lot of work and money) and also drives an hour in to work at her corporate job every day? This girl. And I am damn grateful for both of those things.

I also, at one point, decided I was going to be a girl who built a house with a boy and lived in it for the rest of her life. And then I decided not to, because it didn’t make me happy.

(Also, seriously ironic side note: I just re-read that post about the big break-up with MysteryMan– which I rarely do– and apparently I made a joke about buying a 100 year old farm house at the end of it. Except all of my plans after that were to either flip a house, or build this cottage on some property. And then I actually ended up in a 100+ year old farm house. What the shit? I actually foreshadowed my own future there without even knowing it.)

Oh, and hey, do you want to know one thing I never picked to be in my life? A farmer. But dammed if I don’t love driving my tractor around, hugging chickens, and growing things.


Anyway, here’s my point. I’m not telling these stories because I think you’re interested in the fact that one time when I was eighteen I did barrel rolls in an airplane while wearing a parachute (I didn’t know how to operate), and then had to figure out how to vomit in a fucking sandwich bag while also flying a plane because my body isn’t wired to handle that kind of shit. True story.

The point is that people take these weird twisted paths to things that make them happy. There are real things they worked hard towards doing that ended up making them vomit in a sandwich bag, and they sometimes end up happy doing the exact things they once thought would make them miserable. And I think the biggest way to fuck up your chances for happiness is to constantly play those old-tapes over and over in your head about things you told yourself you were going to be, or things you told yourself you were never going to do.

Yeah, guys, we’ve all got to make some decisions with an eye toward the future. But that doesn’t mean our futures are set. No matter where you’re at in life. No matter who has expectations of you.

I don’t know that I’m really fit to be a role model– I mean, I use power tools while drinking alcohol a lot–or talk to a room full of college kids about life. But I do know this… even on the hardest days, I enjoy the hell out of mine. So maybe that story is important to tell, with all of its twists and turns.

And maybe your own, real story is important to tell too. I bet it would be for those kids in room 1554…

37 Responses

  1. I’ve been told for years that I should have been an interior designer. But doing it as a job would totally take all of the fun out of it. I retired from the US Forest Service and loved my job (most of the time). But if I hadn’t shown up on Monday morning with paint in my hair my co-workers would have started worrying.

    And sometimes you just don’t see the twists and turns and opportunities ahead. But I have learned the hard way you can’t really plan everything out even though that would be my preference. I am not good with spontaneity and need to have a list and plan. But that isn’t how life really works. Ever.

    I am mentoring a 20-year-old through college… He doesn’t know what he wants to do… I just keep telling him not to worry about it, it will present itself. Meanwhile… I work his butt off here around my little farm as often as I can and try to teach him some practical stuff he’ll appreciate knowing later in life. Like how to paint a fence, plant tees, and feed donkeys!!

  2. Nice little glimpse into the real world there. It’s totally romantic to think you can do what makes you happy and makes buckets of (or enough) money to do the other stuff you want/need to do. But it’s not very likely.

  3. I am always inspired by your posts. Learn more, do more, grow more. It’s a good habit…

  4. I am 38. I have a degree in Construction Management. I manage an auto parts store. And I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.

  5. Very well said – you have very entertainingly captured two of life’s essential truths.

    I admire and look up to you (from a more advanced age, though, lol) for your ability to live your life on your terms – and damn if you don’t have cool toys!

    I spend my days as a software engineer … but since being inspired by your blog, I have remodeled my kitchen (took it down to the studs and put it back together with new everything), rebuilt the carburetor on my weed eater, fixed a variety of plumbing issues in our home, built some furniture (and 2 kickass work benches), and took apart my Sony laptop to replace the thermal paste on the cpu. I loved doing everyone of those things (especially the $$ I saved not paying someone else to do them), but don’t want to do them for a living. By the same token, I don’t

    Thank you (a million times thank you!!) for being an authentic, kickass role model for many of us out here !

  6. Kit, you are wonderful. I have followed you for a long time now, and I always look forward to what you have to share. You make me brave and one day I will try my hand at some of the things you have taught us to do (if we were paying a bit of attention). I am a guidance counselor and you are so right. When my kids worry because they don’t know what they want to do yet, I say a lot of the same things, but then I ask them if they plan to be hungry or live in a car. If so, I can help them get there, but if not, I can also help. It is all in their hands at this point.
    Thank you for everything. Have a blast doing what you do best and don’t ever stop talking to us! oxox!

  7. I love the way you look at things and your honesty in sharing those things! I also do one thing for a living and super passionate about another. I’ve made money doing my passions on small levels before, and it takes it from being fun to being a job. Sucks the joy right out of it. Keep doing your thing and keep telling us about it!

  8. Perfectly said!
    Maybe you should travel to high schools for a living and give this speech 😉
    My son is graduating this year & is so worried about not “knowing what to do with his life”. I just keep telling him the light bulb will turn on! Don’t worry, be happy 🙂

  9. So full of wisdom. Love this line: “for giving the things you love to do the freedom to be the things you love to do without having to compromise”. So important to understand and live that!

  10. I’ve always envied those people who just seem to know without a shadow of a doubt what they want to do with their life, and then go do it. Growing up, I had more than one interest/dream growing up, with varied talents (good at a few things, just not great at any one). Woodworking was not one of them. My 18-year-old self would be shocked that I own a table saw, drill press, etc., and make things for a hobby. (But he would not be so shocked that my copyediting pays the bills.)

  11. Your most inspirational post! At 60 still trying to figure out what to be when I grow up! Though I haven’t figured it out, the journey to get there is awesome!

  12. Really, really love this post. So real and inspiring at the same time. Reminds me of Barbara Sher’s book, Refuse to Choose. I will forever be discovering “what I want to be when I grow up”!

  13. This is SO perfect and well-said. Sometimes I feel two-faced or like I have different, very dissimilar sides to my personality. There’s my “work-face” versus my hobbies and home life. I see it as working hard so I can play hard, and like you said, continue to really LOVE the things I do in my off-time instead of making them a chore. I have a lot of friends who pursued their passions as careers, and it has definitely yielded mixed results. I really feel like I need to bookmark this post and share it with my son when he gets older, ha ha.

  14. “Because as soon as you put a price on your passions, well… they can be bought.”

    Doing what you want to do on your own terms is a wonderful luxury that I’m so glad I have. “Doing what you love” as a job is overrated in most cases.

    I’ve been asked why I’m not a photographer, and the fact is, I don’t want to take or crappy assignments or photograph weddings. And I my main job as an COO of a company pays for my camera habit. And I love my job too. My hobbies (photography, home design, gardening) refresh and recharge me when life drives me nuts!

    Awesome post. Well said Kit.

  15. Great post!!! I have a full time job that I love (Executive Assistant to President) and still have time to pursue my loves like interior decorating, party planning, etc.

  16. #1 – yep. My job is my job – it’s not ME, and it’s not my life.

    #2 – yep. In HS, I hated math and physics. Was going to be an actress, I think. Now I’m an engineer. Oops.

    There is a caveat here – you spend a lot of time at your job, and it’s important to not hate it. It doesn’t need to be your passion/love, but spending 40+ hours/week doing something you hate is a quick way to a grumpy life.

  17. “There are real things they worked hard towards doing that ended up making them vomit in a sandwich bag, and they sometimes end up happy doing the exact things they once thought would make them miserable.” <- You should put that on a T-Shirt. Or maybe a motivational poster, with a pic of a donkey.

  18. When I was working in a pastry kitchen, I wanted to do something more intellectually challenging. Now that I’m working in technical software design, I want to do something more artistic and creative. I realized I need to have both in my life. I CAN have both in my life. But one direction provides a better and more stable life for my family. So, the other just has to be on the side. I’m good with that.

  19. Great post, Kit. You really hit the nail on the head with this one. (I couldn’t resist!)

  20. I am literally procrastinating writing a keynote speech for me to present to a group of HS Students tomorrow afternoon. I actually do make a living “doing what I love”. Sure, there have been slight deviations, but this is pretty much what I planned for my whole life. (I am not boring- well, maybe I am to some people. But I don’t care, I am happy.). I am supposed to inspire the kids. This is a lot of pressure.

  21. The old saying goes, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. I say, if I do that then what will I do on the weekends.

  22. I am so happy to hear someone squash the “do what you love and the money with follow” theory, It is so much BS.. I did what I loved for a number of years and was a smashing failure. And I did have to take jobs to pay the bills I would never have done otherwise. And I did work for people who didn’t pay their bills. And I was miserable a lot of the time because I ended up falling out of love with the “thing I loved” because of all the sacrifices and hopes unfulfilled and things I couldn’t do for my children.

  23. Good post. I, too, couldn’t do what I love for a living because to me it would begin to feel forced and then I personally would tire of it. I used to love, love, love to draw and as a teenager would spend hours in my room doing just that and always took art classes in high school. I took several art classes in college, however this one course required 100 sketches for the semester. I got sick of it that quickly and I’ve never done a complete drawing again. Extreme, but that’s how my brain works.

  24. I love this post! It was something I had to learn a little later in life and I am glad I did. It taught me to enjoy my job, but also have a life! I wish more young people would look at things this way. Your site is great, BTW. I found it because we have a 100+ farmhouse as well (mostly renovated by the previous owner). However, they left some seriously ugly brick fireplaces untouched. So I am thinking I can tile over with stone. Your advice is very straight forward and honest. Thank you!!!

  25. I am now completely convinced we are long lost sisters.

    You have so perfectly articulated my thoughts on “knowing what you want to do” that. it. is. scary. So many things are INTERESTING. Why pick just one? That’s so very limiting. EXPLORE, learn. And show up with paint in your hair and grease stains on your hands for the thing that funds your true love. (But I HAVE always been a little jealous of those who just *know*. Hypocritical? Yes.) Monetizing your passion always has a price. And I’m not willing to pay it. Compromise is not really my strong suit.

    And seriously, who actually MAJORS in something b/c someone tells them they can’t to it? Yeah, thisgirl. (Nevermind that my major and minor degrees are in the only two things I didn’t do well in in high school. Straight A’s in everything else.) I’m not kidding about that long lost sister thing. My family says stubborn are my first, middle and last names–and that whole asking for help thing? Would rather have a root canal without anesthesia.

    And those things I always said I’d never do? Doing every damn one of them. Right. Now. All the things I knew I’d be doing? Yeah, they weren’t for me after all. Life is funny–but we should definitely enjoy the ride. Unexpected twists and turns and all.

    I found you last week (the not-a-stalker-mom who wrote to you about the brooms on Facebook) and have been reading everything from the beginning. Still not a stalker–but your authenticity, humor, and spirit are so compelling I can’t seem to do ANYTHING ELSE.

    Once I finish catching up, I *hope* to get mud on drywall repairs in 3 rooms from a burst pipe back in FEBRUARY. So I hear you, DIY isn’t a quick process (especially with kids). 🙂 Ironically, I was googling professional drywall tips when I found your site. And haven’t actually done anything to the walls since then. I’ve been too caught up in your story.

    I’ve always been a DIYer (even before it was cool–not that I REALLY knew what I was doing, but figured I could screw it up for free but would take the time to do it right–bad professional jobs just piss me off). You have taken it a new level and are a huge inspiration. Thank you for sharing the good, the bad, and ugly. And the donkey hugs. Especially, the donkey hugs.

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I'm not interested in a mediocre life. I'm here to kick ass or die.