I was reading an article last week about The Lone Bellow, one of my favorite bands of the last year or so, that gave a little bit of history on the band. It talked about the years before they hit it big, when they were all just living in Brooklyn working multiple jobs at diners and restaurants. It got me thinking about what we consider success and how long it takes to hit it. Zach Williams, the lead singer, was 31 when their first album came out, an ancient by college standards and pretty darn close to my age.
I started to look up other “stars” who got a late start in life. Julia Child didn’t learn to cook until she was over 40. Andrea Bocelli didn’t sing opera until 34. Colonel Sanders started KFC at 65. Laura Ingalls Wilder (of Little House on the Prarie fame) didn’t start writing until she was 40 and her Little House books weren’t written until her 60’s. Alan Rickman (Professor Snape in Harry Potter) got his first movie role at 46. And speaking of Harry Potter, JK Rowling was 32 when the first book was published. Vincent Van Gogh has his first exhibition at age 32. Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn at age 49.
This isn’t a “chase your dreams no matter how long it takes” rant. It isn’t a “follow your heart, even if you initially get rejected” article. I can only speak from personal experience, but my time in college gave me some sort of idealistic “change the world” attitude that implied if I hadn’t really done something meaningful with my life by the time I graduated, then I was wasting it. I mean, I grew up in a Facebook world where Mark Zuckerberg was an overnight billionaire as essentially a college kid. Follow your dreams, chase your passion, make a difference and for the love of God, don’t settle for a corporate job at a bank or something like that.
Enter 4.5 years at US Bank, a mere two years after graduation. Currently, I work for another financial firm, a great company, but a job none the less that I never imagined I would have. And no (sorry employers), it is not my dream job.
My generation grew up being told to follow our dreams, to chase the dream job. There is a great quote by Howard Thurman that says “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I grew up wanting to be a professional football player and well, I didn’t exactly chase that dream. I have friends who are artists and designers and entrepreneurs and I know their job makes them feel alive and if I look at it romantically, I think, “Man, they have arrived! What am I doing with my life?” I am 29 and still wondering what I want to be when I grow up. My dream of owning a coffee shop concert venue may never be a reality. Does that mean I am a failure, because I didn’t follow my dream?
I don’t think so, but my self-doubt and insecurities sure bubble up and say yes. I know it’s never too late, that I could still be the next Colonel Sanders, Mark Twain or JK Rowling. But for every success story like those, there are a lot of failures or those who never actually tried and despite what I feel pressured to say by some invisible inspiring force, I don’t think that not trying equates to failure. Maybe I am trying to justify myself, but I don’t think so. Perhaps there is honor in working the job that you don’t like because it is where God placed you. Perhaps there is honor in working a job just to pay your bills and support a family instead of risking it all for the dream. Perhaps there is deeper meaning in living life with a purpose that is more than entrepreneurial.
Dreams change and rightly so. What was a dream as a kid may be my life passion… or it may not. I was listening to a This American Life episode a while ago and Nancy Updike said, “Not every death is the end of a well-lived life.” I think there lie the seeds to chasing your dreams and success and failure. It is about a well-lived life and what makes up a well lived life. And that isn’t defined by the dream job.