Art Markman at the University of Texas posted a request on LinkedIn.
Hey LinkedIn folks. I’m working on my next book, which will focus on the psychology of the workplace. Periodically, I’ll be looking for great stories. You can send me your stories in the comments to this question or as a DM if that is easier for you.
Today’s question: How did you figure out what you love to do? Were there jobs you tried that you discovered you hated? I’m looking for stories that relate to the way people develop some excitement about their careers.
So here’s how I answer that question…
When I got into my early 30s, I was tired of all my under-achieving job choices. I had started, big opening a restaurant in London when I was just 23, having a big hit with it and then discovering I hated every moment of it. I’ve blogged about that here: Purpose Is Not Enough.
I worked painting houses, in sales, in retail, as a body guard. I sold real estate in Santa Fe, which I liked in general for the freedom and for imagining what you could build on a piece of land. But I didn’t love spending all day making cold calls to doctors to sell them investment properties.
All this time I was writing. I edited a yoga magazine for free. I wrote song lyrics for a band. I was getting poetry and short stories published in literary magazines. I made a few bucks writing brochures for a business. But I couldn’t figure out how to make a living out of it. By the time I was 37, I was managing a regional office of a security guard company in Houston. I realized the only part of the job I like was when I got to do something creative. I took some vacation time and spent a week sitting in our spare room at home, writing all day long, and by the end of that week I decided that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
When they asked all the manager to take a pay cut, I quit. I had some work lined up writing brochures. I wrote some magazine articles and sent them out. Some got published, some I didn’t get even a rejection letter. It wasn’t going very well. I was struggling.
And then one day, the phone rang. The Chief Engineer at Chevrolet was on the line. A car magazine had sent him an article I’d written on why Chevrolet had lost their brand mojo. He’d read it, made it required reading for the top execs and was calling to find out who I was. “We’ve been trying to articulate this for 10 years,” he said. “You did it in 10 pages.”
He asked me what I did. I said I wrote speeches (guessing that might be an in). He said, “I need speeches.” The following Tuesday, I was on a plane to Detroit. I vaulted into the C-Suite, stuck the landing and am 30 years in a great career doing something I love with people I respect.
I was lucky, sure. But I was also ready when the door opened. I created a writer’s life for myself and have loved pretty much every moment of it.