I was a junior in High School when I watched Steve Jobs’ commencement address to Stanford University’s graduating class of 2005 for the first time. Looking back, I don’t think I fully understood the meaning of his speech — I had just finished my SATs, completed my college applications, and I found it hard to believe I would be dropping out of school to pursue a side project in my parents’ garage. I expected, if I did everything right, that working hard in college, earning my degree, and focusing on what I loved would earn me a well-paying, stable job upon graduating.
I learned very quickly that this is all easier said than done, and that there is a reason a dream job is not called a “reality job.” In college, I had followed Steve Jobs’ advice, or so I thought; I found what I loved: psychology, marketing, and working with people. I was going to graduate and join a marketing firm where I would focus on capturing the attention of an audience through producing fun, innovative advertisements, utilizing my education and creativity to become successful quickly. I had done 7 internships in college, earned two bachelor degrees, and participated in extracurricular activities. I felt prepared and confident beginning my job search in 2009.
The first interview I had was in San Francisco for a PR/Marketing firm downtown. The office was fun, energetic, and I truly felt it was my “dream job.” I was presented with a verbal offer as a contract to hire Marketing Coordinator…. at $35,000. After spreadsheets filled with columns of San Francisco’s ridiculous living costs, I came to one of my first adult realizations about the working world — we don’t all get to do what we love, especially when we are 22. I took a job in recruiting; it wasn’t what I dreamed of doing, but it would pay the bills, and I would get to work with people.
But I was unhappy in my career, because it wasn’t what I loved. After a year, I finally decided I was going to do what everyone tells you to do — “follow your dream.” I would go back to school, earn my Marriage and Family Therapy license, and really make a difference in the world through counseling others. The nonprofit I worked for paid me $10/hour. My first tuition bill was $5,000. I came back to recruiting, continued to take classes, and found myself becoming extremely cynical about the entire “follow your dreams” notion. How are you supposed to do what you love without the time or money you need?
The reality though, for many millennials like me, is that the majority of us aren’t doing what we love. The problem, however, is that just because we aren’t doing what we love, doesn’t mean we should stop finding what we love to do. When I recently watched Steve Jobs’ speech again, his message finally clicked with me in a way it hadn’t before. There are three particular pieces of advice that resonated with me this time, that I feel all those young in their careers can benefit from:
1. Find what is interesting to you, outside of your “required schedule.”
In his speech, Jobs described how, “The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.” He goes on to talk about a calligraphy class he took, the way in which it sparked his interest in the beauty of typography. While this had no practical application in his life at that point, the dots connected when he later designed the first Macintosh computer. Had he not dropped in on this calligraphy class, personal computers might not have the magnificent typography that they do today, and that made Apple’s products so unique from the beginning. He notes that, “Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.”
To find what you love doesn’t have to mean changing careers each year — but it does require setting aside time to look outside your “required schedule” and take advantage of the classes and discovery opportunities that life has to offer. Think about what you love to do, or what you’ve always wanted to try, and explore it. Do you love to cook? Try out some new recipes as you make your dinner. Interested in languages and culture? Download a Spanish book on your phone for the commute to work. If you are investing time outside of your career doing the things you love, like learning calligraphy, especially early on in your career, you will find fulfillment while the dots start to connect.
2. Look for opportunities to connect the dots.
“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
This is one of my favorite quotes, because it causes you to switch your thinking from worrying about the future and planning ahead, to focusing on trusting your instincts in order to connect the past to the present. To take what you are passionate about, what you have learned, and let your gut prompt you to apply it to a problem or project at the right time.
I recently spoke with a friend my age who has constantly talked about leaving her well-paying Sales job for a non-profit children organization — quitting her realistic job for a dream job. She called me recently, thrilled, that a new program opened within her company, a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club. She immediately took on the voluntary role, organizing company visits and helping bring a philanthropic mission to her company. The role has gotten her visibility from the leadership team while allowing her to spend part of her week truly doing what she loves. This is fulfillment within a growing career. When you find yourself frustrated that you aren’t doing what you love, look beyond it; find what you love to do, and trust that the dots will connect.
3. Have patience…. finding what you love takes time and faith.
Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.
When I began my career journey after college, I got hit with a lot of bricks. I became frustrated with money, with internal politics, with the roadblock of inexperience that I felt prevented me from doing what I love. But I continued to purse my passion in psychology, and I let the dots connect themselves. On my way to become a counselor, my MFT program led me to take a course in Organizational Psychology. I was fascinated by it. My current job at the time, a temporary recruiter for a mobile gaming start-up, had no need for a psychologist. But it did have a need for a new hire program, for someone who really cared about investing time in its people. I used my class-material from my first I/O class to create such a program, and developed a huge passion for what we call in the Bay Area, “people programs.” It led me to take a new role in Human Resources for a biotech company, handling the benefits and leave of absence programs for a company with an amazing mission. I now get to work with people, to counsel them — not just through work issues, but through the struggles of balancing work with life, whether that be a family illness and hardship, or the joy of having or adopting a child. The dots connected for me in a way that I never anticipated, but that has allowed my passion for helping others to become part of my career.
So again, my advice to you is to stop focusing on needing to do what you love right this minute. Rather, focus on setting aside the time to find what you love to do; look for and develop your interests, find opportunities to apply your passions, and have patience as the dots connect themselves. Trust and believe that they will, and if you follow your gut, they will.