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When choosing a career, do you choose what's practical or where your passion can thrive?
Years ago, a client came for help with his resume. He was a CFO for a large multinational company which was due to merging with another large multinational company. He wasn't sure whether he would still have a job after the dust settled and he wanted to be ready to send out his resume if needed. He looked the part, a businessman with the suit, black shiny shoes and not a hair out of place. His demeanor was very serious as he did not smile very much.
Even when the focus of the consulting service is limited to writing a resume for someone, I ask some of the same questions I do when I am assisting them with career advice. The two questions I always ask are, "what do you like about the work you are doing now?" and "if you were the sole winner of the lottery today and the jackpot was big enough that you never had to work again, what would you do to keep yourself occupied?"
I debated about whether or not to ask this CFO the lottery question because I felt he might find the question too frivolous. I did ask him what he liked about the job he was doing at the time. He rolled his eyes and shook his head. "What's not to like?" he said with a more than obvious sarasm. "It's an amazing amount of pressure, unrelenting conflict, we spend hours and hours in fruitless meetings where nothing really gets resolved." He sighed and then continued, "Most of the time, it's total puppetry and I hate it. But, my background is finance, it's what I do and I enjoy the challenge to a certain extent."
In answering this question, the CFO turned even more glum than he already appeared. I decided to punt and asked him the lottery question as I thought it might lighten the mood. After I asked, I watched as this very serious man morphed into someone who reminded me of a little boy underneath a Christmas tree who had just found the present he had been waiting for. With a beautiful smile on his face, he replied, "I'd teach sailing," he said. "I have always loved to sail, my father sailed, his father sailed. I know everything there is to know about sailing. It's the one thing in life that just keeps me going....It would be great to be able to share it. I'd definitely teach sailing." Then, he turned a bit glum again. "This doesn't help with my resume, though, does it?"
Still amazed by his reaction, it was totally what I did not expect, I replied. "I wish I had a mirror just then to hold up to you. You obviously have a passion for this. Why don't you look into teaching sailing and charging for it? Do you have a sailboat" I asked.
He replied that he did have a sailboat and even took out his wallet and showed me a photo. But, he said that it was too risky to change horses in the middle of the stream and his wife would think he had lost his marbles if he abandoned all for what he thought was such a risky endeavor.
I asked him if he had ever actually asked his wife because if she had seen what I saw, the way that he lit up when talking about it, I can't believe she wouldn't encourage him to at least look into it. But, he never brought it up because he thought it was just too impractical.
After that brief interlude, we re-focused back on the CFO job and I collected the rest of the information I needed for his resume. He was as happy with his resume as he could be, given someone who really didn't like his job.
About nine months later, I got a call from the CFO. He said he wanted to meet with me briefly so we arranged a time to meet. The man who walked in was completely different than the guy I met nine months before. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and sandals. He was very tanned, had sunglasses on top of his head and he had a ponytail. He was teaching sailing and loving it and just wanted to thank me for asking that question which I almost didn't ask.
That night after meeting with me, he had gone home and told his wife about our conversation. It turns out that she had always thought he should teach sailing because she knew how much he loved it and that he was so good at it. Once he set himself up, he had an instant client list of friends and colleagues who always wanted to learn how to sail.
Finding a career is a challenge to explore your creativity and talents
There are situations where being practical is the only way to earn a living. But then, when you measure it against what you are sacrificing in order to be practical, is it worth it? And, how do you know that burning passion, that thing you really love will not also turn out to be the practical thing (ie, the thing that brings in the money?). It is always worth looking into it and not just writing it off because you aren't sure how practical it is or how to do it. It just takes a little resourcefulness and research to find out what you need to do to make it the focus of your work life. You may decide that it is not practical but don't make that decision until you have done everything you can to find out if you can make it work for you.
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© 2010 M Selvey, MSc