Here's the career advice I'd give my teenage self.
There are a few people in this world who choose careers at a very young age, and then proceed to make it happen. Doogie Howser, M.D. comes to mind. Maybe some real people too. I don’t know any myself, because I’ve literally never met anyone who’s doing exactly what they thought they’d do when they were 7, or even 17. Here’s a list of what I wanted to be when I “grew up” at five-year intervals:
5 years old: Cartoon mystery-solving duck
10 years old: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle
15 years old: Kid in the Hall
20 years old: Singer-songwriter, but also travel writer and beer-tester
25 years old: Philosophy professor (or otherwise somehow still in college)
30 years old: Something with vision and dental benefits
I am now 35, and as long as I feel like I’m learning, growing and helping others in some way—and have enough money to have what I need—I consider myself to be doing pretty well. Never in a million years would I have guessed I’d be doing what I’m doing, but even though I’m not where I thought I’d be, I am fulfilled. Proud, even.
Looking back, here are a few things I’ve learned. I wish I could go back to the mid-1990s and tell myself these things, but since Elon Musk hasn’t invented time travel yet, I’ll tell you instead.
Keep an open mind.
I am a strong believer in dreams, but I think there’s such a thing as wanting them too badly.
Caring only about a really specific dream can give you tunnel vision and make it so you don’t notice some really rad opportunities. Have you ever felt super into someone only to realize later that (a) they weren’t that cool and (b) while you were obsessing, you missed out on someone else who was way cooler?
I think this happens all the time, even with our careers. We’re so dead-set on becoming the host of Wheel of Fortune that, when Jeopardy! calls, we don’t pick up. Those are weird examples, but you know what I mean.
If we do somehow achieve a specific dream, it might even harm us. We’ve put so much pressure on this one thing to make us happy that, if it’s not perfect, we feel cheated. And of course, it’s not going to be perfect, because no job is perfect. Careers can be amazing, sure, and can be a huge part of who you are … but no job can be solely responsible for your happiness.
Dream big, and keep moving.
Dreams are important.
Dreams help us do incredible things. They help us take risks. We learn to fail, discover that it’s not so bad, and learn to try again. We evolve, meet interesting and creative people, and challenge ourselves with new environments and ideas we never knew existed. Sometimes we end up in a big old ditch filled with spicy garbage; that’s OK, we survive. Dreams are good. They keep us from treading water.
Here’s a thought experiment. You love reading the news, so you choose a school in state that has a solid journalism program. You take a few newswriting classes, which are OK, but you try a broadcast journalism class and absolutely love it. You switch your focus, start calling football games, and interning at the radio station in town. When you graduate, they offer you a job, and you can’t believe it!
But you’re young and it’s entry-level, so they make you do all of the promotional stuff. You host dealership grand openings and pet-adoption fairs. Over time, you grow to love meeting new people. You’ve gotten good at it, too; when you talk, people want to listen. You’ve also come to think of your college town as home, weirdly enough, but there are some things you’d change… so you run for a seat on the school board, and you win! Then, before you know it, you’ve been made Queen.
Maybe not quite, but the point is, your calling in life may not have even occurred to you yet. So keep your heart and mind open!
“Having money’s not everything—NOT having it is.”
This quote comes to us from Kanye West, a notable Midwestern musician.
If someone tells you being rich is the key to happiness, don’t believe them. Just as with a dream job, if you put too much pressure on money to make you happy, it will let you down. It can buy super cool stuff like sports cars or puppets (as many as can be owned within the legal puppet limit), but these are still just things. They’re a means to an end, to get us what we really want: love and connection. Relationships, respect and personal fulfillment are what we really crave.
If money made us happy, why are there wildly rich people who are wildly unhappy? When you’re lonely, you’re lonely whether you’re in a mansion or a studio apartment. Maybe more lonely in the mansion, since the guest room and garage are so far apart.
If anyone tells you money isn’t important, don’t believe them. Man, how I wanted to believe this. It made me feel so much better about being financially clueless for most of my life. Let’s all live on a commune and pay for things in beads!
It’s a cool idea, but money matters, no matter how you slice it. For so many reasons. It’s necessary if you want to go to college, take care of a pet, travel anywhere at all, retire before you turn 100, visit the doctor, go out with friends … everything.
Most importantly, it gives us freedom—freedom to do cool stuff, sure, but mostly, freedom from worry. You don’t have to be a Scrooge McDuck (Ducktales joke) about your account balances; just pay attention and know where your money goes. Even if your dream is to live the minimalist lifestyle, you should know where your money goes, so you can take care of you and future-you.
Director of Communications at a nonprofit based in Denver. I make music, fiction, art, jokes; I enjoy forests, reading, coffee, music, cemeteries, and murder-mysteries; I love my wife, family, animals, and buddies. I am unhealthily into sunsets and Paul Rudd.