In honor of recent graduates: When you finished your schooling, did you know what you wanted to do in life? How long did it take to find a job or profession that “fit” you? Are you still in your original field?
I had the idea that after college I would move back home, my mom and dad would move out, and I’d get the house! I’m being brutally honest; at 21 years old, I had potential but I was much more into partying. In my opinion at the time, I had learned two very valuable things in college: Never run out of beer and only date girls who have their own cars!
What I wanted in life at that point was to be judged according to my wit, knowledge, and education, but I learned that I was really judged by my actions. (I was also judged by an actual judge, but we won’t go into that.)
After college, I started working for AT&T during the divestiture. I learned a lot about office politics but little about what I wanted to do with my life. I came from successful people and I was expected to be affluent, not just earn a living. So, naturally, I wanted to be in show business or become an artist. My education was in psychology, history, and marketing, so it seemed I was only qualified to think deeply about convincing people to spend money in the past!
When we look back through our career tracks, most of us talk about the “path” we were on; but if we really take time to think about it, it seems more like an unblazed trail than a path. Personally, what I traveled was more like that worn area you see in someone’s yard from people cutting through the lawn because they did not have the patience to walk around it.
When I became a corporate department head at a Fortune 500 company at age 27, I was clearly promoted beyond my abilities. People used to mistake me for my own assistant (which does have its benefits when you want to avoid people you have never met). I was forced to learn to be influential, considering that every conversation my management peers had with me started with the word “Son”!
Along my “unblazed” trail, I became a professional stand-up comedian, touring the country and appearing at places like the Comedy Store in Los Angeles and the Funny Firm in Chicago. I appeared with people who are now household names, and one of my ex-girlfriends went on to be a famous movie star. I did some TV and radio and had speaking parts in a few films (which went directly to video). People often ask me how this segment of my career came about. All I can say is I went to an open mic night, and within a year I was earning a living on the road. I did this hot and heavy for six or seven years before realizing that, for me, making people laugh was not enough. I’ve got nothing against stand-up – I just wanted to make more of a contribution. Plus, living in a different city each week and sharing the comedy condo with depressed guys who used to be famous and their tattooed girlfriends with big snakes around their necks … let’s just say it gets old after a while.
Ultimately, I put my business background, education, and show business experience together to create the life I have now. In 1996 I started a research-based training company that specializes in personal influence in areas of leadership, sales, marketing, change management, and safety. Through this company I now speak at conventions 100 times a year. (It’s still a lot of travel but not as many tattoos and snakes … depending on the convention.)
My advice to graduates is to do very little of what you don’t do well and a lot of what you do very well. It’s practical, proven advice that might also sound profound if you are under 25 years old and still hung over from college.