Sunday, April 28, 2013
Pursue That Which Captures Your Heart
"Certain things catch your eye, but pursue only those that capture your heart." –Native American Proverb
I've been thinking about this piece of advice for a few days, and decided to look up some sites online that give career advice. I remember years ago talking to a young man who had been in one of my high school classes and who was in his first year post-high school. He surprised me with a phone call to ask for some advice. He told me that he had a lot of different interests, including fiber optics, dancing, and something else that I can no longer recall. He'd been counseled to pursue his interests, but the fact was that he had a lot of very different interests. This was back in the 1980s, but even then I knew that the average person in the United States no longer had only one lifelong career job. I told him that he should prioritize his interests and just focus on one, for the job, but I also told him that not all of his interests needed to lead to a career. The happiest people in life seem to be the ones who have not only a job that they like, but also an avocation, which is a lifelong interest that is often more than just a hobby. I told my former student that no matter what job or career he trained for, he would probably end up in something totally different by the end of his working life, and that the job he finally retired from might not have been invented yet. I told him that whatever skills he had honed in one or more previous jobs might be just the right combination of skills to get his next job.
The statistics say that nowadays the average American has about 10 or 11 jobs in his or her lifetime, and that in the future, the average may jump to 15. With kids getting jobs the age of 16 or so, the first few jobs are likely to be part-time jobs or summer jobs taken to pay for gas and upkeep of that first car. Also, not all job changes are career changes. For example, I have taught in elementary, junior high, high school and college levels, and I have also taught adults. I have taught Japanese language, French language, and English as a Second Language. That's a lot of different jobs for one career. I suspect a lot of people's working life has been like that. Another big change in the work environment is that there are more people working as consultants to several different firms, rather than being a regular employee of only one company. More and more people are starting up businesses, many of them online.
Very few people plan their career changes. Most of the people I know who have switched careers wholesale more or less bumbled from one thing to another, and the change resulted from being in the right place at the right time, knowing someone influential, or being told that their job was cut and they would have to find other employment.
Nowadays, career counselors are telling young people that they may be able to parlay a particular passion of theirs into a career, but maybe not all at once. Young people are counseled to find a job that pays the bills, then plan a way to turn their passion into income later in life. They are told to pursue their passion by carving out a special niche for it in their free time, expanding their network of contacts in the field that they are passionate about, and expecting to do a lot of volunteering at first. They are counseled to take classes in their area of passion and try to save up enough money to live without income for a few months while they finally make the switch. It sounds like good advice to me. Naturally, when one is married, especially if there are children to support, one has to have one's spouse's blessing and be sure that the children's needs are taken care of.
There seems to be disagreement about the statement, "Find your passion and the money will come." First, I agree that it isn't always true, at least at first. In fact, one may never get a lot of money from following their passion. Teachers are a prime example of this.
Teaching has been a lifelong passion for me, and I never seriously imagined any other career. I'd say that most teachers – not all, it's true, but most – are passionate about kids and about education, but for the most part, teachers are not paid what they're worth, and that's even more true in private schools and universities than in K-12 public schools. However, I would say that for the vast majority of teachers, money is not their first priority, and while almost everyone in education would like to be making as much as even the middle-management people in business, not that many teachers actually quit because of low salary. Some do, and that's fine, because if money is your priority, you are probably not that good a teacher, anyway. Money just isn't everything. Of course, if you think otherwise, no amount of explanation on my part will bring you around to this point of view. I know there are people who cannot imagine being satisfied with a meagre salary. So be it.
So I followed my bliss and no, there wasn't that much money in it, but I got a lot of satisfaction out of it, all told. If I had researched money-making careers as a young woman, and if I had chosen some other career, I would probably not have been very happy. Still, I always knew that teaching took a lot out of me, physically and mentally, and that there would come a time when the energy drain was just too much. It would have been great if I'd taken my own advice about planning for a career switch in my retirement years. While I was working, I could have spent a lot more time free time writing, and I might even have been published by now. I would hopefully also have made a wide range of author, agent and publisher contacts. But of course, that is just crying over spilled milk at this point.
I do at least have a basic retirement income and the time now to do the writing that I have always dreamed of doing. I've taken on not one, but two blogs, and so far I am publishing something every single day. I haven't managed to get it down to a routine yet, in terms of time spent each day, set working hours, or a goal of a certain number of words per day, but I am pleased to see that I have the discipline, stamina, and perseverance to get two blog entries written every day. That's a start.
As far as things that have caught my eye in life, I have always wanted to be able to afford a three-bedroom apartment, with one bedroom dedicated as an office and a guest bedroom for friends and relatives. I even tried that, once, but it was just a bit too expensive for my blood. Another thing that caught my eye has been travel, and I've done that, too, but with declining health and energy, not to mention a sharply-reduced income in retirement, travel is not something that I will be doing a great deal of. At various times in my life, I have enjoyed playing the piano and flute, taking voice lessons and singing with choirs, and learning how to do Japanese flower arrangements but for one reason or another none of these has been a lifelong passion. I still aim to try to keep up with the flower arrangements, but on a limited basis. The other things were fun while they lasted, and I learned a lot. In many ways, my time as a singer was like living a whole other lifetime. I enjoyed it immensely, but can never go back to it. And I'm OK with that.
For now, writing has captured my heart, and I pursue it each day. Who knows what will happen next...? :-)