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…