What do a law student, an uber driver, and an author all have in common?
Not a damn thing, except I received an omen from each of them during an 8-hour period of time that led to a life-changing epiphany on an airplane.
I call them “omens” instead of “signs” because of my favorite book, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coehlo. If you haven’t read it, I highly suggest you do.
It’s a fiction book about a shepherd boy on a journey to find his “Personal Legend” by listening to the omens. Along the way, he meets several strangers who teach him lessons and help guide him in following his heart and discovering his purpose in life.
Recently, I had a similar experience towards finding my own Personal Legend from three unexpected sources.The Law Student For 4 weeks, I lived with three awesome housemates on the Gold Coast of Queensland, Australia. One of them was (you guessed it) a law student. She was one final exam away from finishing her law degree and had just started a new job at a law firm. It was around 10pm on my last night in the Gold Coast, and I had to leave for the airport at 4am so we were saying our goodbyes.
I was wishing her luck in finishing her degree and becoming a lawyer. That’s when she told me that she wasn’t really convinced she even liked law and didn’t particularly want to become a lawyer, so she was considering going back to school to become a teacher now.
I just stared at her blankly in shock because it blew my mind that after all of that time and effort to get a law degree, she didn’t even want to put it to use.
With the best intentions, I explained to her all the downsides of being a teacher (speaking from the experience of being in a long term relationship with a teacher for 5 years). I didn’t realize at the time that I was basically telling her (or at least hinting strongly at) what she should do regardless of what her heart was telling her to do (which is like, my biggest pet peeve in the world, so I’m kicking myself for it now.)
Regardless, I wished her well in whatever direction her life took, and went to bed.The Uber Driver Fast forward 6 hours later. The Uber driver pulled up in front of the house at 4 am to take me to the airport. We made friendly conversation about traveling around Australia, and he told me that he traveled all around the world as a circus performer for 24 years.
Then he went on a short, inspirational rant, that I immediately started writing down as he was still talking because I loved where it was going, from a perspective I would never have thought of on my own.
In a thick Russian accent, he said:
“Life is like the circus. Full of twists and turns, flipping you through the air. Sometimes you will mess up, sometimes you will fall, but the show must go on. You have to try again, and again and again. The show doesn’t stop, and you can’t either. Every time you risk falling but you have to keep moving forward. You have to try new things, take chances, and push your limits to reach new heights. Other people may be watching you, but you only need to impress yourself.”
I asked him if he missed being in the circus. He said no; he loved it, but it was time to move on to something new. He preferred this new form of ‘flexibility’ (nice play on words, Slava), which gave him a much-needed break from the life he had devoted all of his time and energy to for so long. It also gave him the extra time and disposable income he needed to be able to start his own production company.
My initial reaction was that it made sense, he stuck to what he knows – show business – he just switched roles. But he pointed out that although it’s the same industry, it’s a very different and challenging job to be a business owner than it is to be a performer, but he enjoyed the learning process and change of pace.
As we pulled up to the airport curb, I thanked him for the lift and wished him luck in his business.The Author About an hour later I boarded my plane to Cairns. I pulled out my Kindle and picked up where I left off in reading Chris Guillebeau’s new book, “Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do.” In a way, this book is similar to The Alchemist, except that it’s non-fiction and filled with actionable advice on how to go about finding your “Personal Legend” from a successful entrepreneur.
I got completely sucked into the chapter, not even realizing the plane had taken off until a flight attendant asked, “Would you like a beverage?”
The chapter I was reading was about not getting stuck by thinking you have to do what you’ve always done, what you earned a degree in, or the experience listed on your resume.
He tells the story of a man who finds happiness in switching careers every few years, not just companies or industries, but full-on careers. He’s owned an antique store, worked in the film industry, went into real estate, been a professional poker player, started a travel blog, and is now an editorial director.
That man described his journey as a “spiritual path as much as a career one,” where he “adopted a view of accepting life in its present state, always seeking to improve but refusing to get hung up on the pursuit of money or status.”
This was when I had the wake-up call about the hard time I had just given my law student housemate 8 hours earlier, and when my Uber driver’s insight hit me like a ton of bricks.
Personally, I have been experiencing an internal struggle and major roadblock in my career. I spent 6 years in university to get a masters degree in digital media, and digital marketing is the only experience I’ve cumulated in my professional adult life.
I frequently change my mind about how I can best use my degree, but the thought of doing something else – outside of the digital media field – had literally never even occurred to me.
I thought back to how I responded the night before when my law student housemate told me of her sudden desire to switch careers, but this time I felt envious.
Then I thought about the Uber driver who could have still been wowing audiences on stage with his incredible talent but chose to enrich his life by taking on new experiences and challenges.
One of them switched careers before her career even began, the other switched careers after a quarter-of-a-century. And here I am in my late twenties, already feeling “stuck”.WD-40 When things seem stuck, rusty, or otherwise annoying, it’s time to bust out the WD-40…on life. As I stared out the airplane window at the Coral Sea processing this new epiphany, I made a mental note to let myself off the hook. To let go of expectations, and “shoulds”, and that twinge of guilt I was feeling for considering changing careers after all of my hard work.
I started mentally brainstorming what else I could do with my career. Then I made another important realization.
It isn’t that I dislike digital media and don’t want to build a career around it. In fact, I love digital media. The moments I feel most energized, motivated, and excited about life are when I’m working on my own digital media projects, such as this site.
Where I lose my passion for digital media is when my job is to spend all day trying to decipher someone else’s vision for a product or service that gives me absolutely no sense of purpose or fulfillment.
I needed to find a balance. One where I can focus on something that I feel a sense of purpose in, can contribute way more than what is expected of me, and that gives me an active way to release pent up energy.
There are no rules against balancing more than one career at a time. There are no rules against following your heart and making a major change when you realize your heart isn’t in it. And there are no rules against designing a work life that works for you.
Imagine you could go back to freshman year at college. Knowing what you know now, would you choose a different path? Would you take different electives, put in more effort, or change your major completely?
With that answer in mind, know that it’s still possible. Well, ok, it’s not possible to go back to freshman year without a time machine – which I’m sure Elon Musk is actively working on – but it’s not too late to change paths.
Maybe you’re like me and love the field you’re in, but haven’t found the right combination of passion, purpose, and benefits yet. Or “joy-money-flow” as Chris Guillebeau calls it. So start researching and experimenting with different skills or niches.
On the other hand, perhaps you’re totally miserable at your career and want to change it completely. That’s ok too. It’s easier than ever with all of the opportunities of the digital world, freelancing, and online resources and training programs available on virtually every topic imaginable.
- Make a list of all of the things you enjoy.
- Make a second list of the things you are skilled or knowledgeable about.
- Do some online research to brainstorm possible careers that combine items from both lists.
- Write a “mock” job description of what your dream job would entail.
- Start looking for actual jobs that closely resemble that job description, or companies whose mission and values reflect yours, and who you feel would benefit from bringing someone onto the team in your “insert dream job” role. Doesn’t hurt to ask!
What other advice do you have for people looking to make a career change? Leave it in the comments below.
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