As students and young professionals, many of us have faced the dilemma of having to decide between two career paths: one that leads to a secure, steady-paying job but lacks excitement, and one that were passionate about, but is plagued with uncertainty and a dearth in pay. Perhaps youre deciding between a career in law and a career in music. Or, perhaps youre deciding between working for someone else and working for yourself. Its either, passion or practicality?
We each have a different tolerance for risk, and we all have our own unique dreams and personal situations, so I wouldnt dare to make a blanket statement on whether people ought to stay on a safe, secure path or blaze their own trails. However, based on some personal experiences and that of other young professionals, I would like to share some insights.
Ananda Sen, a graduate of Stanford Law School, has put his law career on hold to devote himself to his music. He plans to make available for download one song a week for 52 weeks. Fifty-two songs in 52 weeks is a true test of musical endurance. This is supposed to be hard. Its not a walk in the park, Sen says.
He has an important point. Pursuing your passion often requires you to put everything else on the back burner and devote yourself entirely to your goals.
Brace yourself for financial, psychological and social consequences
I left a potential career in chemical engineering to pursue a passion for writing. When I attended my high school reunion last year, I couldnt help but notice all the people who had real careers as engineers, nurses and management consultants. They owned houses and took their kids on vacations. Meanwhile, I was unemployed and living with my parents. Seeing where you could have been if you were more sensible, can be a lot to swallow psychologically. Explaining your career choice at social functions can be awkward.
Sometimes you need a Plan B
Some of us look before we leap and need the peace of mind that a back-up plan can provide. Sana Amanat, Managing Editor at The CulturalConnect, says, Always have a backup. Amanat left a securebut not terribly stimulatingjob at Time magazine to work for a start-up publication. Within months, the start-up went under and Amanat was jobless. Her back-up plan was applying to graduate school. Fortunately, she found a position at Virgin Comics before she had to rely on her Plan B, but at least she had the security of knowing it was there.
Others dont need the mental safety net of a back-up plan. Raymond Rouf, one of the founders of The CulturalConnect, had no back-up plan when it came to starting his consulting company after college. I never entertained the thought that I would not do this, he explains.
When you chase your dreams, youll inevitably find that some people support you (your cheerleaders), and some people will discourage your (the naysayers). My attitude is: Support me or get out of my way. Sen agrees. Negativity from people who are skeptical is part of the game. Youve got to overpower it , he says. He also notes, You have to go in understanding that no one can believe in you the way you believe in yourself.
Rather counter-intuitively, Rouf believes in keeping pessimistic people around. To him, the presence of doubters builds character and strength. Its important to take what they say and become better, he says. Plus, sometimes theres no better motivation than the need to prove the naysayers wrong.
Prepare for setbacks
Life never goes according to plan. Amanat lost her job at the start-up magazine just a couple of months after leaving the security of Time. She remembers thinking, I followed my heart, and this is where I ended up? She had to slog her way through unemployment for six long months.
When Rouf started his consulting company, he encountered dry spells when he had little business. Then there would be times when he was overwhelmed with jobs. What it rains, it pours, is how Rouf describes the work flow that cycled between extremes.
What happens if you try really, really hard to reach your dream, and its just not working out for you?
I remind mind myself that if you aim for the stars, youll at least reach the moon. In other words, if you sincerely strive toward your dream, youll get pretty close to reaching it. And pretty close just might be good enough. Maybe I wont be writing for The New York Times one day, but Im already working for a major magazine early in my career.
Sen also insightfully notes that dreams change. Sometimes in aiming for the stars, you reach the moon and realize the moon is what you want.
As young professionals who are focused on our careers right now, we need to step back and put things into perspective. Its so important to realize that happiness comes from many sources. After enduring more than seven months without a full-time job, I came to appreciate that your job doesnt have to be the primary source of happiness in your life. It can come from family, a caring network of friends, community service, and athletic and creative endeavors. Your job can essentially become the sidebar to your life. The bio of Sumaya Kazi, executive director and co-founder of The CulturalConnect, captures that sentiment well: In her spare time, she works full-time as a Marketing Manager for the Global Communications Group at Sun Microsystems.
There are, after all, 24 hours in a day, and infinite possibilities in a lifetime.
Some of our interviewees offered their sources of inspiration, which helped them choose between passion and practicality.
What Color Is Your Parachute? (Richard Nelson Bolles, Ten Speed Press): This book is a classic thats been around since the 1970s. It shows you how to do both a traditional job search and a non-traditional job searchwhat you do when all else fails. It gives you hope when it seems like the rest of the world is conspiring against you.
The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho, HarperSanFrancisco): Amanat says that reading this book made her realize that we all have a purposea destinyand there are signs pointing us in the right direction if we just pay close enough attention.
Rick Warren: Rouf recalls listening to one of Pastor Warrens speeches in which he talked about Mosess staff. The staff in Mosess hand symbolized his identity (as a shepherd), his source of income (tending sheep) and his influence (in leading others). The message that Rouf got out of that tale is: What is in your hand? What is your source of identity, income and influence?
Preeti, 28, recently graduated from Duke University with a master’s degree in public policy. Her background in writing includes stints as an op-ed columnist at The Chronicle (Duke’s student newspaper) and at the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper in her hometown of Lexington, Kentucky.
The views and opinions expressed in these comments do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The CulturalConnect.