Categorized | Career

What is the flipside of career success?

Posted on 14 September 2008

We envy them, those people who leave corporate life to pursue some longtime love: starting scuba shops in the Bahamas, sculpting statues in backyard studios, or baking up a new line of gourmet dog treats. Why not? Do what you love, we’re told, and the money will roll in. Just do it! Follow your dreams! Americans are constantly urged to meet their goals–or die trying.

Some do succeed, right? They do what they want, answer only to themselves, and generally feel fulfilled. They’ve accomplished what they were born to do. But some of these dream-followers eventually fall apart, and they don’t know why.

Success Breeds Discontent?
Sometimes, you just can’t finance a dream. “After college, I was completely broken-hearted to realize that I couldn’t support myself by doing what I loved. Waiting tables became my full-time job,” says Lynn Mitchell, an artist in Charleston, SC. “My dream career has always been in the art world. If money were no object, I would open a gallery this afternoon. But my wallet hasn’t allowed it.”

Just because we love something doesn’t mean it will provide us with riches and constant happiness. We can do everything right and still go under.

Then again, your dream profession may not be what you think it is. “Entertainment is a business, driven by money, and money blinds,” laments Robert Sherwood, who recently moved to Los Angeles to become a comedian. “I had to accept that fact. It hurts to see the untalented or the physically beautiful make it, while true artists waste away in anonymity.”

Dreams require a bit of research, too. A passion for literature does not give you the skills to open a bookstore. An animal lover may not be emotionally or intellectually equipped to be a veterinarian, handling sick pets every day. But don’t dismiss your dream career yet.

“People can choose to be happy, whatever happens when following their dream career or opportunity,” says career counselor Heather Wagoner, PhD. “However, there has to be extreme flexibility.” Being flexible helps you avoid the guilt that can set in if your dream flounders. Bills have to be paid. Families must be cared for. Economies rise and fall. Just because we love something does not mean it will provide us with riches and constant happiness. We can do everything right and still have go under; no need to add guilt to the equation.

“Don’t waste time fretting about your decision to go for it,” Wagoner advises. “If you respect that you tried things out instead of criticizing yourself, then you will grow. You would have never known these things if you hadn’t explored them.” So, she adds, consider your secondary interests. “It’s not too late to begin other things you love. For most of us, similar to our concept of love, there isn’t typically an ideal career, but many realities we would be compatible with. Be open to this.”

Try to get support from friends and family. “Pursuing a dream can be exhausting,” Wagoner says. “Your family connections are an essential component toward surviving this type of change. They truly know who you are, so they can help you explore alternative pursuits.”

Specifics Required
First and foremost, Wagoner believes, you must clarify your path: “What do you want from the future? What is important to you? What isn’t? Write these things down. Do a timeline of successful events in your past, and then note any characteristics you displayed to make these effective. Say to yourself, ‘If I displayed those traits then, I still have effective abilities. How can I continue to build upon these in my next step?’”

What if you love the dream but can’t really make a living at it? Easy. Pursue the dream part-time instead of full-time, as Mitchell is doing: “I’m saving money through retail and real estate. I’ve been buying homes to rent to friends. Eventually, I’ll open a furniture and antique store and sell artwork and furniture from local artists. Meanwhile, I’m networking with artists and have learned how to run the business end of a retail operation. I’m working smarter instead of harder.”

Sherwood is equally determined to make it. “This sounds like something you’d cross-stitch on a pillow,” he says, “but I don’t see how anything you have a passion for could ever be cancelled out by negatives. I see a lot of bored people in this world. I know why–they have nothing to pursue with passion. I’m very lucky to have found something I really love, no matter how hard it is.”

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