The Dream Job and a Well Lived Life

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.

 

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Don’t Drift Away

“Your mother used to say that I was afraid, but apathy is not the same as escape, and I was never running. It’s just that I was never fighting. Indifference sneaks in subtly, and subtleties can kill a man.” Ch 8 White Wales Like Black Plagues – Levi The Poet: Correspondence

This album was released in November but I first heard it at the beginning of January and I haven’t been able to shake it. I don’t think I want to shake it. It is, as a friend of mine said, “not a passive listening experience,” but one where if given the opportunity, it sinks in slowly. Thankfully, I have had a few hours of data entry at work that I have been able to just sit an absorb the album again and again. I have literally listened to it straight through six times in the past week. It is a story of “A whaler’s daughter, out at sea. An orphaned son, building a treehouse for her return. The letters they write back and forth to one another, carried by the waves via the ship-captain’s liquor bottles.” But it is more than a story.

I think the reason I love story is because of the deeper truth that can come across. It is those moments in a movie where you get choked up because you identify. It is the times when you jump out of your seat at a movie because the good guy wins and something in your heart says, “Yes, that is the way the world is supposed to be, before our brokenness ripped it to the pieces that it is now.” We LONG for a story where the wrong will fail, the right prevail, the showdown at high noon where John Wayne walks away the victor. And yet in those moments where failure happens, often, we identify with that as well.

So when Levi drops the line, spoken from the perspective of the girls alcoholic ship-captain father when he says, “I was never running. It’s just that I was never fighting. Indifference sneaks in subtly, and subtleties can kill a man.” Well, in those moments, I identify. Indifference sneaks in subtly, never running just never fighting? That is a sad reality that is often true of my life. It is the moments that you wake up and wonder how you got lost off the path that you were intended to be on.

I remember hearing someone say, of someone who committed adultery, “No one wakes up one day and decides, ‘Today I am going to ruin my life and the life of my children.'” No, those decisions are the slippery slope of compromise, the decision to not fight, the decision to be apathetic, the move towards ease. It isn’t just the game changers like adultery. It is the moments that we lose sight of True North. It can be the moment that compromise is made at work. I remember a time when I lied at my previous job. It was a lie in the interest of my client, a white lie, something that wasn’t cheating the bank out of money, just trying to help my customer. That decision was a decision, a moment, a time when I chose to put my integrity aside in such a way that I could justify it. It scared me, ate at me, and I confessed to my boss the next day, terrified I would be fired, as he very well could have. Thankfully he talked to me about how nothing is worth trading for integrity, made me change the incorrect information and let me off the hook. It was a moment that could have been a turning point in my life, where I began to choose compromise over honesty, justifications over integrity. I thank God it wasn’t.

I hope you haven’t been in that place. But have you been in the place where you took the job for money? I am not talking about taking a job because you have to feed yourself or your family. There is honor in doing a crappy job to provide for those we love. I am talking about taking the job where you traded your family for status. Heck, it is probably even justifiable under the umbrella that “I am making all these sacrifices so that my kids can have what I never had, the best of everything, a college education without having to pay for it.” But I am going to argue that presence is worth more than money, than the things you can provide. In the same song, “I know that drifting is a deeper threat than betrayal. No one has to convince you to abandon anything, you just inevitably end up downstream, maintain your pride and wonder why the world keeps on shifting, convinced you’re still standing in the same place. You never mean to drift away.”

You see, there are some things in this world that are worth fighting for but you have to at least know who you are in order to choose those fights. Otherwise you will end up throwing punches in the dark, eventually giving up because you lose sight of the prize, of the reason you started swinging in the first place. It is the professional athlete that becomes focused on the money, not the game he grew up loving. It is the lawyer who focuses on the paycheck, not the justice that drew them to the profession. It is the artist that focuses on the critics review, not the joy of creation, of making something out of nothing. It is the husband who slips into apathy instead of romancing the woman he fell in love with. Don’t be that. Don’t slowly drift away.

Lose the Excuse

When I began writing for this blog, I had two goals. The first was to publish an interview that I did of a friend or aquantince who is an artist every Friday. I have already dropped the ball on that one, resorting to an older article I published with another magazine. The second was to post something every Monday, calling it Monday’s Musing, that was thoughts on music or art or purpose or something of the like. And yesterday, I dropped the ball on that one too.

Now, I have great excuses for this apathy towards dropping the ball. Yesterday, for example, I had started two different blog posts (one on the Super Bowl and one called “If No One Was Watching”) but I didn’t like the direction they were taking, the way they were turning out. I didn’t want to write some crap and lose whatever equity I have with the few people who read this. I don’t write during the day because I am at work or I want to spend time with my wife and son. As for the interview, it takes time to get good interviews and I don’t want to publish just interviews of my family (more of those to come, though, they are an artistic bunch). So like I said, I have lots of excuses.

But that is crap. I need to lose the excuse. Read reason for not posting like my goal? Lack of planning and execution. Laziness in the morning and getting caught up in reading articles about the best Bourbon Ale or shopping for a hotel for a NYC trip. Lack of follow through on calling friends who are artists and arranging interviews. And lastly, just probably plain old apathy and thinking, “No one will really care if I follow through on this goal or not.” If you are anything like me, you are probably just as skilled at justification and excusing actions that really boil down to laziness and characted flaws. But I don’t want to admit that.

Yesterday night, I was playing basketball with some guys and the guy I was guarding was playing a little rough, to say the least. To top it off, whenever I wouldn’t back down and let him bowl me over, he would call a foul.  I was pretty tired of it by the end and in the second to last game, we got a little tied up and there was a little bit of shoving that happened. Now, what I wanted to do was take a swing, or at least hit him with the same elbow he kept drilling me with. And talking to everyone else after they game, they all concurred that he was playing a little dirty and that he was calling crap fouls. You see, I managed to justify my loss of temper and then get other people at the game to justify it as well. I am good at coming up with excuses.

I need to lose the excuse. Chances are, so do you. You haven’t pursued the passion that you once had because work got in the way? Lose the excuse, get up earlier, sacrafice TV time to make it happen.