As a kid I was told, as I believe many folks my age were, that you went through school, studied hard to get into a great high school, then studied harder to get into a great college. That would lead you to a great job, and if you worked hard, you would get promoted, and if you continued to work hard, you would have a great career. With all that experience, you would be able to make a good living and be happy. Well, while I wouldn’t say that advice is wrong, I also wouldn’t say it’s the only way to think.
Society has beaten this concept into the brains of our grandparents, who have instilled it into our parents, who have passed it on to us. And for 40 years or so, I pretty much bought into it. But the reality is, that is only one way to potentially be successful and make a good living – one of a number of ways to achieve your ultimate goal. The problem with that one way is that after 25 years of a career, there’s a good chance you still may not be happy. The preferred route to success may lead you toward a good career, but that doesn’t mean it will lead you to happiness.
They only way to know what will make you happy in your career is to experience many different occupations. If you have never laid bricks before, how do you know it is not for you? Now, I know it’s impossible to try every job out there to determine the perfect fit for you, but if you only have done one or two different jobs, how do you know there is not something better suited for your skills? I didn’t realize this until just recently, and it wasn’t part of my plan, it just kind of happened (like many things in life), but I was fortunate to have experienced a number of jobs prior to embarking on my career. I believe that truly led me down the path to the career and the happiness I am experiencing today.
I began working when I was 12 years old. My cousin, Louis, owned a White Hen Pantry, and on Sunday mornings I worked putting together the newspapers, stocking shelves, and bagging groceries. Once in a while, I would get to run the cash register. I hated putting together the newspapers, but I loved running the cash register. As I got older, I worked in a larger grocery store; I started as a cashier, then moved all the way up to manager – a position I liked better than being a cashier. Then in college, I worked as a bus boy, and a security guard. I also loaded trucks, drove a forklift, typed out paperwork for a freight forwarding company, and was a lifeguard at a beach.
These are all very different jobs which required different skill sets. Some I enjoyed; some I strongly disliked. But because of this variety, I knew that once I got my foot in the door of my first “real job” in radio, that I was going to explore every possible position. I was hired as a producer (which was a glorified gopher), but when my shift was over, I would ask other department heads if they needed help. So as time went on, I helped out in promotions, sales, marketing, traffic & continuity, and in engineering. The more I helped in all of these different departments, the more I learned about the radio business, and the more valuable I became.
So many folks focus on the notion of “it’s not my job”, when they should embrace every opportunity to do and learn more about their company, the industry, and themselves. How do you know if you haven’t tried it? Too much emphasis is placed on the “right path” or “this is how you get ahead”. You shouldn’t get caught up in the “what you should do” business. Get focused on what you want to do to make a living. That occupation could take on a form that you never imagined. Try to figure out what it is that will make you happy and provide enough opportunity so you can make a nice living, be comfortable, and allow you to provide for yourself and your family. The word “happy” is the key. You spend one-third of your life working; that’s a lot of time to be miserable if you’re not in the right gig.
There are many successful and wealthy business people who have it all and have nothing at the same time. There are also many folks who have followed all the rules, and are nothing but an employee, building other people’s dreams. I can’t tell you the number of people who have told me that they hate their job, yet have done nothing to correct their situation. You cannot let society and “the way it has always been done” force you onto a particular route. There are no right or wrong answers – there are only options. You have to choose the course of action that suits you best in order to bring you happiness. Predetermined routes are not the answer – because life is not true or false, it’s multiple choice. Choose wisely.