I had a crazy moment the other night. I was up to my elbows in green goop (literally), and I suddenly thought: I’m getting PAID to make silly putty right now… This is my work.
Now, nobody actually said, “hey Emilie, I’ll pay you to make silly putty with your friend Mike.” I set that up for myself.
If you’re wondering what the silly putty’s all about, it’s a symbolic gift that I’ll be giving to the multipotentialites at my seminar tomorrow night. This art/science project is just one of the many surprises that I’m smooshing into the event. I’ve also brought in my love of music, some communications theory, a bit of history, a touch of Shakespeare, and some dramatic storytelling. The seminar is going to be so much more than just a talk.
There’s something incredibly meta about the whole thing. I’m teaching others how to smoosh their diverse interests together into one “group hug” career. Meanwhile, the presentation itself is a glorious smoosh of disparet fields and formats. But I can’t not do it. Everything I create seems to be a combination of multiple, “unrelated” ideas. Life is so much more interesting at the intersections.
This experience illustrates one of the main themes in my talk: that you need to be a self-starter when it comes to your career. In other words, if your dream job doesn’t exist, invent it.
“Discover Your dream career”
A few weeks ago, I Googled “career test” out of curiosity. I wanted to see what the mainstream approach to career selection looked like, and what students were being taught. One of the headlines struck me. It said “Discover your dream career.”
While seemingly romantic at first, this statement embodies the problem with the mainstream approach.
It explains why a few years back, my good friend went to our law faculty’s career development office and was told that she could become: A) a corporate lawyer in a big firm, B) a lawyer in a small, boutique firm, C) in-house counsel at a company, D) a lawyer at a non-profit or governmental body.
She was presented with a set number of predetermined roles, and she was expected to choose one of these profiles and FIT herself into it. Nothing was mentioned of people with law degrees who are using their skills in unconventional ways– people like Dustin, Rachel, or Jodie.
The problem isn’t just that career counselors are unaware of the wide range of alternative careers out there. It goes much deeper. It’s that we’re encouraged to approach our careers from a place of discovery, rather than design.
What if, instead of looking outside of ourselves at preexisting roles, we came at our careers from a place of introspection and conscious design. What if we ask ourselves, what kind of life do I want to create, and how can I make that happen?
That’s a totally different starting point.
What kind of life do you want to create, and how can you make it happen?
I asked myself this question about two and a half years ago. I didn’t imagine myself making silly putty per say, but I did imagine a life where I got to do creative activities, explore new concepts, collaborate with inspiring people, concoct fun projects, do challenging work, and make a difference in the world. I imagined a mix of coffee shop flow states, group work, co-working, and teaching.
(Note the absence of any specific medium. It didn’t matter if I was painting, developing websites, or doing math. It was about the feelings that I wanted to experience. The types of activities that I wanted in my life.)
I had no idea what this would look like in practice, and I certainly did look to other mentors and think about what elements they had in their careers that I would like to integrate into my own career.
But I approached it from a place of design.
Approach your career like a mad scientist
The best thing that career counselors can do for students these days, is to encourage them to be self-starters. To be proactive and approach their careers like mad scientists, so that they can have lives that are fun, fulfilling, and fueled by their super powers.
Being a self-starter isn’t necessarily synonymous with being an entrepreneur by the way. Even if you want a more traditional career, it’s still important to approach it with this attitude.
What if your dream job exists, but is really hard to get?
Lets say the traditional approach works for you and your dream job IS out there. Don’t wait until you get the gig before doing the work. Lets say, for example, that you dream of writing for the New York Times. Don’t wait for the New York Times to hire you before you start writing. Do the work that you WOULD do for them, but do it now, on your own. Start a blog and publish it there.
I listened to an incredibly inspiring interview on Pat Flynn’s podcast the other day. Leslie Samuel had dreamed of being a professor of neurobiology. He was doing his masters, heading down the traditional path toward academia. However, during his studies he found himself doing a whole lot of experiments on crickets, which he hated.
The prospect of another six years of crickets was too much for him, so Leslie decided against doing his doctorate. Meanwhile, he had already created several blogs on different subjects (multipotentialite). Suddenly it hit him. Instead of waiting to be hired as a professor, why not begin teaching the stuff he wanted to teach now, on his own?
Leslie used the tech knowledge that he had acquired while building his other sites, and created the website Interactive Biology, a platform on which he could teach all of the ideas in Neurobiology that he was excited about.
A few years later, you guessed it, Leslie was hired by a university to teach. The only reason he got this job was because of Interactive-Biology.com. He didn’t have the credentials, and they almost didn’t consider him for that reason. But after spending some time on his website, it was clear he would make an incredible teacher. He already was one. Leslie got his dream job by being a self-starter and doing the work he wanted to do immediately. He didn’t wait to be chosen.
Become an expert in yourself
You don’t need to become an expert in one field, but you do need to become an expert in yourself. Who are you? How do you like to work? What kind of impact do you want to have in the world? Nobody knows this stuff from the get-go either. Use your passions as a compass, explore those intersections, and reflect/tweak as you go.
Who knows, maybe one day you’ll look up and find yourself doing something like this:
Do you approach your career from a place of design?