“The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning you didn’t even think to ask.”
– Jeff Johnson (180 Degrees South)
Today marks the end of the first leg of my journey. Two weeks ago, I left Boston excited, but uncertain. For months, I’d imagined this trip. Despite my best efforts to relax and let things come, I’d thought endlessly about how the interviews would go – the questions I’d ask, the insights I’d gain.
In just two weeks, those questions have evolved. For months I’ve been compiling a list of potential interviewees. I looked for people whose jobs sounded unique and whose paths to those jobs sounded in some way unconventional. I built up an image in my head of people who had “made it.” This collection of entrepreneurs, writers, actors, farmers, activists were leading fascinating lives, and I wanted to understand how they’d gotten there. I wanted to hear about the ups and downs in order to tell a story of triumph.
What has become clear, is that the traditional narrative of “making it” will not work for my project. All of the people I’ve spoken with, the people who my project is designed to highlight, are in some way or another claiming their own lives. They have rejected a variety of professions in favor of paths that excite them. What we’re used to hearing about these types of people is a happy tale about overcoming adversity and achieving lasting success. We think that the process has already played out. In reality, for the people I’ve spoken with, the process is ongoing.
The self-doubt, the questioning, the fear that naturally accompanies risk taking is a part of the process, and it’s a part that doesn’t go away after you’ve established yourself and begun to make a steady income. However, mixed in with these more negative emotions, I’ve also seen an abundant enthusiasm. These people are having fun.
Tommy and Wilson, best friends from their days as seldom-used pitchers on the baseball team, light up when they share stories about the growth of their small beer company. Stevon’s sentences speed up when talking about the plans he has to bring support to the same public high schools that failed so many of his peers.
More than a collection of strategies for getting a particular job, I feel like I am learning about a way of thinking – a mindset that is allowing the people I’ve spoken with to feel fulfilled in their work.
When I worked as a consultant, I often ran interview campaigns. After ten or fifteen interviews, the responses usually started to sound similar. Over the past two weeks I’ve spoken with a macro economist, an online campaigner, a furniture artist, a weight loss life coach, a geologist turned designer, and many others. Each story is unique. Each offers its own lessons. At this point, I don’t know how they’re related or if there are commonalities that will provide insight into the big questions I’m asking. At this point, I may not even know the right questions to ask. But I feel a power in the stories, a power in their work that gives me hope that I’m on the right track.
For now, so long San Francisco. Leg one of the journey is complete.