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In college, it seemed normal to be lost.

I had a handle on the obvious: financial security, a little adventure, and eventually a stable, happy home life.  But my career?  That was anyone’s guess.

Apparently it was also anyone’s choice. I went with the flow, took the jobs that were offered, even attended graduate school. I made the best of it and was successful by all the usual standards.

I told people I worked so I could fund my vacations. After a while, it felt like it.

By the time I decided my life needed an overhaul, I was a wise 37.  I had financial security, the annual adventure, and a wonderfully stable home life.  But something was missing.

All those years of work experience and trying out different jobs hadn’t helped.  I still had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do when I “grew up.” It was a complete blank.

So I spent six intense months taking personality tests, working through exercises in the book The Pathfinder, and talking to anyone who would listen.  I finally figured it out.

It was a relief … and also a huge surprise.

It turns out the biggest mystery was that my ideal career had been staring me in the face all along, I just couldn’t see it. And to understand why we’re going to have look in an unusual place.

The octopus and the ideal career

A couple of weeks ago I attended a scientific conference on natural materials.  There were all sorts of cool talks on everything from glowing sea worms to radiation resistant bacteria and how to make artificial spider silk.  But when researcher Roger Hanlon showed this video about his encounter with an octopus, I nearly got out of my chair.

I finally understood why I’d had such a difficult time piecing together what I wanted to do with my life.  And it’s probably the same reason you are too.

Did you catch it?

When we think about defense mechanisms in the octopus, most of us probably think about its ink.  The problem with ink is that by the time the animal is using it, it’s already been discovered.  It’s far safer never to be seen at all.

Turns out your deepest dreams and desires feel the same way.

One of the scientists at the meeting (now about to retire) confided he’d always wanted to be a photographer.  His father had begged him to show some sense.  How many of us could tell the same story?

We pushed those fantasies down until they didn’t dare come back up.  We ignored them and called them mean names like “impractical” or “stupid.”  Our teachers and parents rolled their eyes, or stared at us like we’d just divulged a cancer diagnosis.

After all, everyone knows you can’t make a living performing magic tricks, drawing cartoons, or galavanting around the world like some modern day Jonathan Livingstone.

Name nearly any interest, and I can probably find someone making a decent (or better than decent) living at it.  What we really fear is that while a select few have the right skills or luck to make those dreams happen, we don’t.

Yep, our dreams got the message loud and clear.  The only way to survive is to hide.

How to find the unfindable

Fortunately, there are ways to coax them out of hiding.  Taking a cue from our octopus example, here are five ways to get started.

Be patient

It took years of neglect to get to this point.  Don’t be surprised if it takes more than a single feedback session or lunch time conversation with friends to draw them back out again.  Meditation, exercise, and showering are all good strategies for finding the unexpected.  And hey, there’s no harm in doing all three frequently!

Know what you’re looking for

Tim Ferriss argues that a big part of our problem is that we’re asking the wrong question.  It’s not “What do I want to do?” but “What makes me excited?”  Hang around some kids (preferably your own if you have some) and watch what makes their eyes light up.  Catch yourself being happy, then try to engineer work situations that recreate that feeling.

Get up close

You’ll never appreciate the beauty and complexity of an octopus until you get really close.  Same thing with your dreams.  Get specific. Do you want to work inside or outside?  Do you want to travel frequently or only on vacation with the family?  Ask questions until the shape and texture of what you really want becomes clear.

Don’t be threatening

Sounds obvious, but hey, you don’t have a very good track record.  Put away those old fashioned notions of how you might actually earn money from your dreams.  They don’t need the pressure.  Stop thinking about whether your mother will be proud of you for leaving your law practice to be a stage hand.  Let your dreams tell their story without making any demands.  Show some respect.

Listen and observe

You don’t have time for this.  You feel silly.  You’re sure there’s nothing inside that you haven’t seen or heard before.  But how long have we shared the earth with the octopus without understanding how it blends so beautifully into its environment?  Believe, for just a moment, that you are one of the most fascinating creatures on earth. What’s your natural habitat? What skills and talents come so naturally you take them for granted? If someone could only hire one person for a job, which one would make them pick you?

What we know

Play is a behavior found only in the most intelligent of species.

So quit listening to those who claim work can’t be joyful.  Decide right now you’ll stop looking at the ocean through the glass of the tank you’ve created for yourself.

Because you’re smarter than that.  Aren’t you?

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89 Responses to Why Your Ideal Career Is Hiding From You

  1. Really great insight. And my kids loved the octopus video too. It was a great start to our homeschool day.

    It’s a hard thing to reexamine your life and be willing to admit that maybe you’ve been on the wrong track through the years. Maybe the wrong track isn’t the right word for it because we still learn and make progress on our journey. But to discover we could be going somewhere else if we make a change, is both exciting and terrifying.

    Thanks for this!

    • Faith,
      You got it–terrifying and exciting. I distinctly remember the night I committed to changing my career. It felt like someone had given me a shot of adreneline right in my neck! I think one of the best things about being a scientist is that you go through all of life holding out the possibility you are wrong. Or put another way, scientists relish the chance to discover new insights–hard to do without someone being wrong!

  2. Hi Jen,

    It’s interesting that you say most of us think of what we’re going to ‘do’ as work when we ‘grow up’.

    When we find our ideal career, it’s not so much that we ‘do’ it, rather it flows from finding – and living out – our passion. All the better if you can get paid for demonstrating your passion.

    Also, it’s as if being ‘grown up’ means settling for the sensible, acceptable option and pouring cold water on your passion. If anything, when we find our ideal career or vocation, it sets fire to what everyone else regards an ‘approved occupation’ for us.

    PS I’d never thought of an octopus as a career advisor… but there you go!

    • Interesting, Scott. You and I see “grown up” in entirely different ways. I consider myself grown up when I can choose what I want (instead of what other people tell me I should want) and know myself well enough to believe in it. It may include being “sensible,” but only if you mean that in the real, not pejoritive sense of the word. For example, I think it’s sensible to really enjoy what you do for a living.

      I do, however, love the idea of “setting fire to the approved occupations.” That’s a beautiful way to say it. And yes, the octopus career advisor. Who knew?! :)

    • On
    • January 18, 2011 at 11:27 am
    • Daria
    • Said...

    What a powerful post Jen. I am absolutely trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up and your questions and advice here are spot on. Not, what do I want to do, but what makes me excited. It’s been so long though since I’ve been able to figure that out…

    Lol – I especially liked your quip about showering. Too funny and true at the same time.

    Great post and thank you for the continued inspiration.

    • Daria,
      Thanks for appreciating my humor. I can’t keep it out entirely. :)

      It’s funny, isn’t it, that we become so burdened with things we feel we have “to do” that we can’t even remember or find what excites us anymore? Make time for it, Daria. I really believe it’s the most important thing you can “do.”

    • Hi Jen and Daria, I absolutely agree that we have to do was is exciting and plan time every week to enjoy and develop!
      Truly Irene

      • I think the trick is making the time to figure out what you really want. It’s easy to pursue simple pleasures. It’s much hard to find what fulfills you. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  4. Awesome post Jennifer. I don’t know if I ever caught what it was you wanted to do.

    I could relate to your feelings about going through college and taking the jobs you have to at times. Thankfully, I landed a job where I am now that is very rewarding, but my first job out of school couldn’t have been further from the job I like to do.

    When you mentioned taking personal assessments, my ears perked, since that’s what we do at our company.

    We use DISC and Motivator Assessments to help professionals find the work that fits their natural behaviors and motivations. It is very satisfying to hear back from our clients when they find a job they love and for the help we provided to get them there.

    • Bryce,
      That’s funny. You’re right, I never said it. I always wanted to be a writer. And now I am one. :)

      I recently took the DISC assessment and thought it was quite good. I am also a fan of Myers-Briggs. That helped me quite a bit. I did not take a formal aptitude test, but working through it on my own provided some great insights.

      So glad to hear you are loving your job. We should talk offline about how we might work together. I’ll send you an email.

      • Thanks Jennifer,

        I’ll look forward to your email.

  5. Great post Jen! It took me a really long time to figure out what I wanted to do… I spent many years working in “corporate” jobs because that was what I was expected to do and what you did if you wanted to be “successful.” Took me a really long time to figure out that I get to define success and in my definition, success means doing something that I really enjoy, that makes me feel good about myself, and that makes a difference in the world.

    I think a part of me always knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t have the confidence to follow my own path so I followed someone else’s (if you had asked me at the time, I would have thought I was on my own path – hindsight is a beautiful thing).

    When I finally realized what I wanted to do I didn’t let anything stand in my way:
    -4 more years of school, no problem
    -massive pay cut while in school and finishing my internship, bring it on!
    -other people’s doubt about my path, learned to tune them out

    It’s been stressful and scary, but it’s also been the most amazing experience and I wouldn’t change one minute of it :)

    • Katie,
      Exactly. That was the frustrating and enlightening part of the whole process. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I had to “rediscover” it so many years later. Defining my terms for success made all the difference in the world.

      Your list of what you went through to get the career you really wanted is terrific. I want to tell these stories again and again, so everyone believes it possible with a little determination and confidence. Thanks for adding yours!!

  6. My ideal career was always out in the open I just never paid any attention to it. Probably because my life was simply to hectic and traumatic to even think about it.

    Once I finally received some rest it was pretty obvious. I am computer geek – design websites – and I love to write my thoughts and poetry. And so I started blogging.

    Very inspiring and interesting post, Jen. I like the octopus’ ink comparison.

    • Daan,
      I think that’s true for many of us–it’s right there, you just have to listen to what it’s saying. So glad you did!

      What kind of poetry do you write? Do you publish? My struggle has been staying focused on my second book of poetry now that I’ve gotten into nonfiction.

      Thanks to you too for sharing a success story. Love it!

  7. What if you’ve found what you like and it has nearly nothing to do with a particular industry or topic? Does that make it harder or easier? I like to work for / with someone who is smarter than me, engages in intellectual banter, and most importantly – is inspiring and innovative. The industry / field doesn’t really matter. I’m more concerned with the person or people. Thoughts on that?

    • We talked about this on the phone, but for the benefit of everyone else: you really do have preferences. You may be naturally curious (as am I), but some topics will just rock your boat more than others. For example, I want to be a writer, but I’m not equally excited by all topics (as I’m learning the hard way). So my advice to you is to zoom in a little more into you get true clarity.

    • On
    • January 18, 2011 at 10:51 am
    • Erika
    • Said...

    I’ve recently started going through this process and began making some changes to how I live my life. Thank you for new inspiration this morning! Great post and awesome video!

    • It is an awesome video in its own right. Glad you enjoyed it and happy to hear of your efforts on our Twitter chat. Look forward to hearing more good things from you!

    • On
    • January 18, 2011 at 1:02 pm
    • LeAnne
    • Said...

    What a timely find this posting was for me! I’ve had the sense for a while now that my long and deeply cherished dreams were dying one by one, and perhaps it was time to let them go and find some new ones. The deeper and more personal the dream is, the more sensitive and vulnerable it seems to feel. It doesn’t seem to take much to make that dream feel threatened and run for cover – perhaps even hiding for me. Lots of food for thought here. Thanks!

    • LeAnne,
      Absolutely this: “the more sensitive and vulnerable it seems to feel. It doesn’t seem to take much to make that dream feel threatened and run for cover.” See if following those five steps and see if that helps you uncover those old dreams. I think it’s better to find them before letting them just disappear (which they never really do, by the way). Think of it as gaining closure. It’s perfectly okay to let go of dreams and adopt new ones, but do it consciously.

      Let me know if those methods aren’t working for you and I’ll see what I can do. Glad you liked the post!

    • On
    • January 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm
    • barbara
    • Said...

    Looking back it’s so easy to see where you went wrong as a parent, and sometimes you see where you went right. My husband and I had different ideas about college for our sons. As a result our oldest went to college before he was ready and primarily, in my view, to please his father. He floundered and dropped out.

    Our younger son had always wanted to be an actor from the time he could talk. When he wanted to major in theater my husband tried to talk him out of it. I stepped in and pointed out that if he did what he loved he would at the very least end up with a bfa degree. I won that battle, I’m happy to say.

    That year I bought each of them a copy of Dr. Marsha Sinetar’s book, ‘Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow: Discovering Your Right Livelihood’. She was definitely ahead of her time.

    Both of my sons are quite successful today, I’m happy to report. But more importantly they’re happy. The actor fell in love and realized he wanted a stable home and family more than he wanted fame and stardom. All those years in the restaurant biz to pay the bills paid off for him, he’s a Food and Beverage dir. for a national hotel chain.

    My oldest son has been setting sales records for a large company for several years now and loves what he does. He has a natural ‘gift for gab’ which helps.

    Sorry Jen, didn’t mean to go on, but this subject truly strikes a chord with me. I believe there’s a reason some things seem to come easy to us and usually make us happy. I believe it’s always best to explore that a bit deeper because most of the time you will find your passion.
    Thanks for the post!

    • Barbara,
      I love hearing the story from the perspective of a parent. Very insightful! It’s so hard to be a well meaning parent. I hope I get it right when the time comes. Thanks for sharing this!!

    • On
    • January 18, 2011 at 2:52 pm
    • Natasha
    • Said...

    This topic really resonates with me. And I want to be…an octopus! They’re so amazing.

    I remember being told by my parents and everyone else old enough to have an opinion that I should do something practical. To make money. To have financial security. I always started out being practical, but my creative self always took over in sneaky ways. (I wanted to major in Journalism, but ended up studying Asian history, culture and Chinese language because it was more interesting)

    This past year I faced some serious medical issues and decided that life is too short to spend it doing jobs I hate just for minimum financial security. So I am putting my effort into refashioning my “career” into a multi-faceted creative operation — henna art, hand-painted fabric art, giving art workshops, and writing (about lots of stuff). And I’m starting to get paid gigs. I feel more excited about starting the day than I ever did when I worked in a cube.

    The husband has yet to release his dreams of a spouse who earns a steady income at a steady job. But he, himself, is not practical b/c he is a professor making a lot less than he would in the private sector — and he also has just accepted a 2nd pay cut (because he works for a state university system and the budget is tight…again). But he stays there because he enjoys freedom of research, the thrill of working with like-minded people on collaborative projects and he loves sharing his knowledge through teaching.

    So, ink in the faces of people who want me to be “practical” That didn’t work. Time to try a new approach.

    Thanks for this topic!!!

    • Natasha,
      LOL on wanting to be an octopus.

      I think your new career focus sounds terrific. And you sound excited. That’s coming right through. I think your husband will come around. I’d rather be rich in experience than in my bank account, but how wonderful if you could have both! And with that kind of enthusiasm, I don’t see why not. Good luck and thanks for sharing your terrific story. Shine on!

    • On
    • January 18, 2011 at 4:42 pm
    • Kristine
    • Said...

    Interesting read. My college to career journey is the opposite. I majored in something I loved (literature), but after graduation wasn’t satisfied with the career path it offered (and peanuts for salary), so I adapted my skills into something more practical (business/marketing). I feel at this point I have found what I really want to do, and I can see myself staying in this area for the rest of my career. Now, this post got me thinking— what if at this young age I already know what I want to do? I have done enough self-reflection and feel so sure of it. Should I expect that this will change in the future?

    • Kristine,
      You may very well have found your passion at a young age. I don’t think the process is tied to age or even work experience terribly much. It’s taking the time to do the self reflection and it sounds like you’ve done that. Now, it’s quite possible your priorities or interests will morph as you get older, and that could necessitate changing careers. But that’s okay! One of my big realizations is that I like change. I fully expect to go through the career design process again, maybe in 5-10 years. Nothing says you have to marry your career! :)

    • On
    • January 18, 2011 at 5:35 pm
    • Corinne
    • Said...

    Hi Jen,

    Thanks for the post. So, how do you reconcile living the dream and making enough money to pay the bills? I thought I wanted my own business as a bookkeeper. Took the schooling and things are taking off. BUT does it excite me? Nope. Is it my dream? Nope. But it can make money to pay bills. My dream is kinda out there a bit. What excites me most if cats. I read an article about a guy that has a cat ranch where he takes in cats/kittens, gets them the medical care they need including spaying/neutering, cares for them and gives them a home either there or in a new family situation. THAT excites me. Big time. Please share your thoughts.

    • Corinne,
      Ah, we’re soul sisters then. I love cats too. Can you make money doing something with cats? Absolutely. People spend an ENORMOUS amount of money on their pets. My advice, if you really want to pursue it, is to take a course like Ramit Sethi’s Earn 1K and figure out a side business you can eventually grow into full time income. I knew a woman who made her sole income as a pet sitter specializing in cats. In Bethesda, Maryland! She was single mom too. If she can do it there, I have to believe you can too. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

  8. It’s such a trip to read these comments. I would actually argue that I’ve had the opposite experience of most commenters here. I was encouraged to be creative, to dilly-dally, and to pursue my “dreams.” This left me confused and unhappy at the outset– the workplace didn’t care much for dreams, and my 120K college education didn’t prepare me for much else. Not to say I didn’t LOVE college, languishing among books; I did, very much so. But I came out the other end feeling under-equipped for making passion and practicality meet.

    Same problem, different angle.

    I’m still working on those answers. But Jen, while I’m thinking about it, I wonder if you shouldn’t have your own “Resources” list to share with readers– you’ve mentioned Pathfinder a lot, but I’m curious what else is out there that’s helped people figure it out. I always wished I had a mentor at my side. Being a straight-A student who always “did well,” I suspect I often got left in the dust. Especially in the school systems, the sense has been, at least for my generation, that it makes more sense to focus on the people having trouble than those who are naturally high achievers. And the result is we get less of the hard-bitten practical advice we could really use.

    A final note: in terms of practicality, my father has been my best teacher. Unfortunately, we spend most of our young lives thinking our parents are dolts, so I wasn’t able to take advantage of that mentorship soon enough. One of life’s many ironies.

    • The Resources list is a good idea. I’ll start working on that. I love your thought about helping the high achievers as well as those who are struggling. One of my biggest complaints with traditional mentor programs at most companies is that they only mentor you when you’re young, as if at a certain age, you know it all! Same thing with what you’re describing. Mentoring those who seem to have it all is a GOOD thing.

      • @Lindsey, your observation is correct about people having the tendency to focus on those that are struggling and not on the achievers. To say it winds me up would be an understatement. It all depends on how you define education as for me learning is a constant process that does not stop. Even when you are at the top of your game, it does not mean there is nothing else to go for. Many roads lead to Rome, so I think Jen sharing some of the tools would be great. What you should also consider Lindsey is a Life Coach. There are all sorts of Life Coaches out there, but you want to connect with someone who looks to help you be more of who you really are. A good Life Coach will always look to work with people that are winners and not whiners. If you are interested you might start here to get a perspective http://chombah.wordpress.com/

  9. I love the octopus analogy!

    I find it unfortunate and confusing that as young people we receive such conflicting messages from the people around us. When we’re children, often we are encouraged to use our imaginations.

    We are told things like, “you can do anything you put your mind to.” Then, as we get older, our parents and teachers, etc. want us to understand “reality” and start to tell us things like, “that’s not a realistic goal, try and think of something more realistic” – interestingly enough, they are trying to make us understand reality from *their* perspective and beliefs. Unfortunately, as one commenter posted, that leads us to want to please the other person (especially if it is a parent). I went to college because “I was supposed to” instead of going because I wanted to. I ended up not finishing.

    I think it is important for everyone to realize that we influence the people around us. It’s tough to get behind others’ and their wild dreams sometimes, but we have to do it, or we might end up being the reason someone takes 30-50 years to wake up and discover their passion. We have to find a way to encourage while helping open their eyes to the challenges they might face, so that they prepare early.

    Awesome post, Jen.

    • Michael,
      Yes, yes, yes! I don’t understand the switch in message as we get older either. I really don’t. But it’s also a delicate balance, isn’t it? We want to be supportive of wild dreams, whatever they are, but we also want to help people succeed at them. And our own models for success are usually locked in the traditional path. The hardest thing to recommend is something you’ve never personally done. I know as a parent, I worry a lot about how I’ll guide my daughter through those decisions when the time comes. Luckily you guys will give me a lot of practice before then, so I should be a pro! LOL

      Thanks for these thoughts, Michael. They’re important!

  10. Albert,
    Good point. It’s not just careers that are hiding. And there’s a lot of value in finding those smaller treasures too.

    When I first started the career design process, I was like you. I’m naturally curious about things and easily excited, so finding my “ideal career” seemed impossible. By cataloging things I knew I didn’t want, I was able to focus on one major activity (writing), while providing opportunities to explore other related interests (speaking).

    So if you find you’re having trouble with “focus,” you probably have more work to do in the five steps. I force myself to go through those routinely. Otherwise my curious nature would continually cause me problems!

    Glad you enjoyed it!

  11. Juanita,
    You betcha. Better late than never!

  12. Jen,

    It was absolutely worth the wait for the octopus! I have been trying to communicate this to some of the folks I work with, but your framework is so clear and elegant. I can’t wait to share it! I am grateful every day that I found my passion early. I continue to try to communicate to others that it is worth the risks and hard work, if you are regularly as excited about working as you are about playing.

    Thanks for the wonderful post. I so appreciate your perspective.

    • Ann,
      It’s such an important message, yet I run into people daily who refuse to believe it’s possible to truly be joyful about work. If my husband weren’t witnessing it, he’d probably be in that category too. I can only think it’s because so few can really claim they have found and embraced their octopus. Hmmm, that doesn’t sound as wonderful as it should…

      Let me know what your co-workers think!

  13. Great post Jen. I guess this all resonates with me as that is how I ended up with what I currently do, and it is always such an interesting balance when I am recruiting on behalf of a client, I meet people that I think are asking themselves the wrong questions when they are feeling uninspired where they are. My first question when someone tells me about what they do and they are looking for a change is always “What is it that you like the most about your current job”. It takes courage to go with your dream and do what you love, but I have never been happier! What is sad is when people get it, and yet they are afraid to just jump.

    • Thabo,
      Completely agree. It’s very sad, and the best we can do is to keep setting the example and showing them how life could be if they only embraced it. After all, if you go to all the trouble of figuring out what you want, why would you avoid the last step in claiming it?

      Thanks for the good thoughts!

  14. Although I can certainly relate to the octopus concept in many parts of my life, for some reason I have spent most of my working life doing things I loved. The first day of my current job (which I’m getting ready to retire from), I came home laughing and saying, “I can’t believe someone is paying me to have this much fun.” I’ve only had one job that didn’t feel “right” to me, and I quit right away and got a job I loved. The job I didn’t like was the one I took because my head told me it was a good idea, but my heart said look out.

    I know that I have been blessed in my work life. There are so many people right now who would feel blessed to have any job at all. It seems like a luxury to be able to consider possibilities that feed my soul.

    Your post has made me look deeper at my octopus dreams. I’m excited about coaxing them out!

    • Galen,
      When you can’t believe someone is paying you to do what you do, you know you’re in a great spot. Congratulations, and may your next phase be even better.

    • On
    • January 19, 2011 at 1:26 pm
    • Vic
    • Said...

    For me, we should not just dream, but should turn those dreams into desires. Dreams are only in the minds, while desires are in the heart. Those in the hearts give us the intentions that lead to actions. In my career, I always follow my joy. This joy comes from the patience I produce from all the hardships I face along the way.

    • Vic,
      What’s important is that the method works for you. Nothing else matters. Good luck overcoming those hardships!

    • On
    • January 19, 2011 at 4:04 pm
    • Kathirynne
    • Said...

    As usual, fantastic post. Well done, you!

    I just wrote a post on this very topic. I have reconnected with my inner 6-year-old, and am on the path to fulfilling a dream that was hidden under my own “octopus ink” for decades.

    • Kathirynne,
      I’m sure your inner 6-year-old greatly appreciates the attention. Best of luck on your journey. It’s exciting!

  15. It is interesting – this article and what I wrote today (Thursday) and what I have been thinking of late. I changed dreams drastically about 12 years ago when I discovered I was pregnant and going to be a single mom – no more saving the world in different countries at all hours of the night and day… the dream became being the best parent I could. And then I realized (just recently mind you) that I didn’t stop dreaming after that point about more than being a great parent and the experiences I wanted to share with my daughter – I didn’t stop dreaming, I just stopped allowing myself to feel and see the dreams. I am an active and risk taking person – so if I allowed myself to dream, then how could I sit by and not do anything about it! And yet, here I am dreaming – nervous, and excited, and dreaming and taking steps to make a dream come true – or learn from the journey toward that dream coming true. As I heard Saturday in South Pacific, if you don’t have a dream, how do you make that dream come true? And it home… I can continue to live the dream
    of being the best parent possible… and I can take steps to make other dreams come true!

    • This is very self aware and I hope you are feeling very proud of yourself for making this realization. It’s never too late to pick up on making your dreams a reality. And think of what a great example you’ll be setting for your child. Being a single mom is incredibly difficult, but being a good parent means being the person you can be, and that certainly includes demonstrating how to take care of yourself. Remember that you are modeling all the behaviors you want your child to take into the world. Best of luck and let me know how it goes. I’ll be rooting for you!!

  16. Always inspiring! This post is no exception! When I started my career as a teacher, I thought that was it. But questions gnawed at me about what else was out there. What else could I do? I’m a big fan of testing ourselves to discover what’s in our tank and uncovering outlets for it. So I went on to some amazing things.

    Many times I just leapt into new ventures, not knowing how big the risks were. There’s fear and then there’s no fear…both can be very risky. For me, it’s all about trying. Like you suggest when we try a little it can lead to a lot. Then it gets really exciting!

    Thanks for a wonderful piece, as usual. ~Dawn

  17. Jen,
    This was an excellent analogy. I will try NOT to write a book here! I got married at a very young age, younger than 20, and hubby and I just got *jobs* to pay the bills. He and I increased our skills thru the years and gravitated towards things we were good at (kinda hard to get the jobs if you don’t know how to do them!) Now in our mid 40’s, we’re trying to decide what can we *really* do? We got used to earning larger paychecks, we have 2 kids in college. I am currently writing, and will be launching online courses for helping people live a more balanced life, and eventually some life-coaching. But hubby sees that he is *stuck* in his position. He would much rather be self-employed but doesn’t see us being able to do so. I just hope that within a few years I’ll be making enough so he can take his turn to live his dream!
    I also wanted to comment as a parent. We have 4 kids which we homeschooled for 8 years. We learned to teach to our kids natural abilities, and encourage them in that direction. Oldest daughter has her own craft business as well as does online research for companies. Second daughter works in the theater industry as a stage tech and director’s assistant. Son is in school for automotive technology, and youngest will be working towards a business/entrepreneur degree in a major city with the plan to work and apprentice in the fashion industry. It took some time and experimentation to get where they are, but it was worth it. We do realize as you mentioned in another comment, that their interests may morph as they mature. I am a little jealous that they *know* what they like at such a young age! (ages 18-29)
    Thanks for such an interesting and thought provoking post!
    Getting the respect you deserve

    • Thanks, Bernice. I love hearing how others came to live their ideal careers. Tell your hubby not to lose hope. Does he already know what he wants to do, or just that he wants to be self-employed? And remember, you can “unlearn” those big paychecks. It’s really not that hard once you set your mind to it. Our incoming dollars have decreased 25% and are about to go down another 25% in a month. I couldn’t be happier. :)

  18. Hey Jen, (so this is the one you were working on?!)

    My challenge over the last couple of years has not been what gets me excited as much as how to get them all to fit, my passions are so diverse I’ve often wondered how I can present them into a package that allows me to explore all of them in one go!

    I loved that video and for a moment, I thought was that a camera trick or can that octopus really do that?

    • Ahh, I used to have the same problem. I am easily excitable. :)

      I ultimately discovered that my initial excitement fades for a large number of topics. I’m a life long learner, so just about anything, if well presented, will pique my interest. So it was a matter of finding what held my interest, not just what got me excited. That’s an important distinction.

      Not sure if the same is true for you, but an easy way to find out is to force yourself to focus on one interest or another for a while (2-3 mo?) and see if you get tired. I’m guessing you’ll find major passions and minor ones. The minor ones are best suited to hobbies.

      And yes, an octopus really can do that. They not only change colors, but they can raise up little papillae all over their skin which alters their profile. It’s amazing!

      • Interesting however, most of these things I love doing, I’ve been doing for years…not months…for me it’s still the conundrum of how to bring them all together. It’s all good though, it’s keeping my mind engaged…it’s forcing me to think, not only outside the box, but in new dimensions, it’s keeping me growing and evolving.

        • If it’s working for you, that’s all that matters. :)

  19. I’m so glad there are people like you writing about finding passion, not being afraid. I’ve had several careers and am about to jump into a new one. I can safely say that within the “profession” of marriage and family therapy, I will be unleashed to countless possible job opportunities and it’s exciting!

    There is noting more emboldening than quitting what you thought was your dream job in your dream company. It proves the world is bigger, brighter, and more expansive than you ever imagined. (I’ve done it!)

    Yippee. May a few more octupi get out of hiding and go on their way thanks to you. :)

    • I had to laugh at this Elizabeth: “There is noting more emboldening than quitting what you thought was your dream job in your dream company.” I think a lot of readers here would love to just know what their dream job/company is, much less work there and then leave it! :)

      But yes, your situation is incredibly empowering. It’s the same reason we love travel, but for some reason we’ve told ourselves we only get to do that on vacation, not in our careers.

      We create the world we believe in. That’s the subject for an upcoming post. Thanks!

  20. WOW! Great post and so timely for me and my family…I’ll be back again today to read it- and probably again after that. Thank you Jennifer!

    • Glad this was helpful, and if anyone in your family has a question, just raise a virtual hand! :)

  21. Jen,
    1st, you’re an excellent writer – drew me in and kept me captivated until the end. THe video was an excellent one by itself and then really made your point.

    I was also like you and nodding my head throughout, but as post became more and more concrete about what to do I got knots in my stomach. Very interesting and thought provoking for me. Doing what I want with steps towards it scares me – old messages came up.

    Thanks for a great post. Cherry

    • Thanks for the kind words, Cherry. I’m really glad you liked this. I’m surprised to hear you got knots in your stomach–you are such a leader and wonderful intellect. I bet you’re reacting to paper tigers. Let me know if I can help.

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    • On
    • February 9, 2011 at 4:31 am
    • Felicia S.
    • Said...

    A great post. I’m getting very specific these days about exactly what makes me happy. I’ve come up with some new and funny things. Made me feel carefree like a child again. Thank you!

    • I’m so happy to hear that! Once you give those dreams room to breathe, it does make you feel like a kid again. Wonderful.

      By the way, I cannot figure out what your avatar picture is. Do I have to come up with three guesses or will you humor me? :)

  23. Pingback: This post is not about finding your passion | Sense By Nonsense

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    • On
    • August 26, 2011 at 5:34 pm
    • Cherie
    • Said...

    HIya Jen,
    This is my first visit to your site, as I was directed to this point via some other self-help type blog posts. I was blown away by the octopus video too. Nature is one amazing thing.
    I’m certainly on the same page as far as figuring out what excites you. I’m a recent college graduate you see, and received a BS in something pretty pointless (IMO) and now I’m so stuck – what should I do? I don’t know what excites me… it’s been so long since I’ve ever had the freedom to learn things that I want. There’s a lot of family pressure to succeed immediately, but a confused person is no good at any thing! Failed job interview after another, I’m wonder what I am to do now.
    I really hope I come across my answer soon. Time is ticking.

    • Cherie,
      I think the first step is to relieve the pressure. One of the things I wanted people to get out of this post was that finding your dreams can be touchy, and honestly, the pressure to find them or succeed right away just won’t help. Imagine frantically looking underwater, thinking “I have to find an octopus, I have to find an octopus!” Sounds silly, but a lot of us do that with our passion/dreams, and then wonder why they don’t come out to meet us.

      So, take care of your needs. Make sure you’re in a financially stable place, even if that means doing less than what you love for now. I can’t comment on the failed interviews without going in depth to your situation, but it may be you are sabotaging your efforts, because you know you won’t like the job. If you can’t get over that mental obstacle, then try freelancing for a while. Everyone has marketable skills.

      Once your basic needs are met, you can give yourself permission to start exploring new options. Don’t try to optimize it. The exploration should be fun (after all, that’s the whole point, to find what you enjoy doing!). As you said, it’s been a long time since you had the freedom to learn and do what you wanted. It’s going to take time, so build that into your expectations.

      Then you need a system. I’m going to be releasing a series of free training videos on how to do what we’re talking about here. Go to this sign-up page, and it will send you the links to the videos when they’re available. Then let’s talk some more. I know it feels overwhelming, but you need a process to anchor you and reassure you that you’re on the right path. We’ll get you there–don’t worry!

        • On
        • August 30, 2011 at 2:51 pm
        • Cherie
        • Said...

        Hey Jennifer,

        Thanks so much for your feedback! I absolutely agree that the pressure isn’t helping. I know I have to get myself financially stable right now, but it’s hard to settle of a job that “less” in many ways. I keep thinking “what is this going to do for me?” or how I don’t want that to get in the way of finding the right job. It’s silly but it’s certainly a worry. I’m stuck right now, but I feel like I’d get even more stuck if I took a job just for the money.
        I’ve signed up for your newsletter, and can’t wait to hear what you have to say :) I hope things turn up for me soon! Thanks again!

  26. Pingback: Dreams are elusive « Cats, Owls and Giraffes

    • On
    • September 5, 2011 at 12:57 am
    • Colleen Setchell
    • Said...

    Wonderful article. I had that horrible feeling for ages in my job until I got booked off so much with stress, I had burnout. It is so important to be happy in your job. So I’ve quit and started travelling while I figure out what makes my eyes light up and gives me fire in my belly :-)

    • Colleen,
      Terrific! People really need to hear stories like yours. Not just because burnout is real and debilitating, but that you found a way to do something much more positive. I’m guessing you put off travel for a long time while you were working so hard? Our goal is to help people change their lives for the better before burnout or some other tragedy. Thanks for sharing!

    • On
    • September 16, 2011 at 3:58 pm
    • Kristen
    • Said...


    I feel as though I don’t have a passion. What do you tell people that feel this way? I certainly have hobbies and interests. I love learning new things. And a love of learning has taken me lots of places. But there is little that I seem to enjoy teaching myself. After years of school and internships after internships, I have found interests along the way, but still feel I have come up short of finding my passion. I’m starting to feel tired of trying to find out what my passion is. I wonder instead if I should be learning to be passionate about just ‘being’, because all this trying to find my passion is getting me down.

    Thanks for any thoughts,


    • Kristen,

      Someone else just wrote nearly the same thing to me in an email. It’s clear I need to do a post on it. Here’s what I said:

      I think for some, it’s a issue of scale. That is, I may be all consumed by my passions, whereas someone else dervies a good deal of joy from thinking/doing their passion, but doesn’t experience the same level of emotion. And that’s okay. I think the tricky thing about the word “passion” is that it hints at some absolute level of emotion that not everyone needs or is capable of experiencing. It’s a little like dating. Some people get consumed by their relationships, others may find a sense a peace and contentment. One is not better than the other. The key is getting to a place where you’re happy.

      So I would say, if you have a lot of interests, look at framing a career around those and don’t worry if you aren’t reaching career ecstasy. It sounds like that just isn’t your personality type, and you probably wouldn’t enjoy it much anyway. I think one of the biggest issues with this whole process is the pressure we put on ourselves.

      Long story short, yes. Stop putting pressure on yourself and focus on being happy and fulfilled with who you are. Your interests are more than enough!

    • On
    • May 7, 2012 at 6:31 pm
    • MaryAnne
    • Said...

    Thanks for writing this up. I agree. It’e not about what do I want to do but about what excites me, where do I thrive? And you are right — great point — someone out there is doing what I’d love to be doing for a living and making it work.
    I think, often when looking at our fears about a work situation where we are not feeling successful, some part of of feels that we can be who we truly are — if we show who we truly are, it won’t connect with our clients or won’t work in our’work world’. It’s a great break through when we realize the only person we can be is ourselves and at the root of what we do or what we are excited about is, it’s a place where we are comfortable and true to ourselves.

    • Yes! Being who you truly are at work (and at home) is so important. Many of us have grown accustomed to pretending and fitting in. You’re right–finding the work that rewards you for being you is a huge part of finding fulfillment.

  27. Pingback: Consider Yourself Retooled « ajgunter

    • On
    • December 5, 2012 at 4:23 am
    • Trent Hand
    • Said...


    What a wonderful post, not to mention a cool video. I started watching thinking “where’s the octopus?” Last year I left my safe, secure lifestyle to live in the Mediterranean with my fiancee and have now started my career as a personal development writer. I’ve never been happier and it’s all because I took a risk. Now, I’ve got my first book finished and a review on Amazon!(only one, but it’s a start!!!)

    Thank you for helping others do the same.

    Enjoy the journey,

    • Thanks, Trent. Glad you liked the video, it’s one of my favorites. I may not have been meant for a career in science, but I do enjoy hearing about it!

      Congrats on the move to the Med to write. Sounds fab. Let me know if you’re ever in London…

    • On
    • January 22, 2013 at 10:14 am
    • betty
    • Said...

    I’ve been stuck on this site for the last 3 hrs…thank you for sharing, thank you very much!
    I’m 28 going from a sad accounting internship to another, hating what I’m becoming…forgetting my passions just to please my too demanding parents who do not like what drives me, and feel like acting safe is always the smartest choice. Reading this (and may other amazing posts) I feel like give a try at doing what I really love.

    blessings from Italy.

    • Betty,
      So glad you found this community. It really does help to see that others are struggling (and succeeding!) in finding their way to a career they love. The great thing is that you are starting to making a positive change while you’re still quite young. My one piece of advice is to not put too much pressure on yourself to “figure it out” too quickly. It sounds like you are already getting plenty of pressure, so don’t let it come from within as well!

    • On
    • April 27, 2013 at 1:30 pm
    • Anny Luna
    • Said...

    I just read this. And I feel that you just said what I need to hear. I feel really scared because this year I’ll be a bachelor degree in law school. The problem is that i don’t feel happy with it. Maybe I shouldn’t choose it. I want now to be a doctor or an economist. I exactly do not know.


    • Hi Anny,
      Please know you are not alone! You might want to check out my No Regrets Career Academy. We’re just about to close this session, so I don’t know if you’ll see this note in time, but you can sign up for some free training here which might help. What you need is a structured method for working through the problem of what you want to do with your life and career. Most of us are think we either should “just know” or think the answer will come in an epiphany, but I find that usually doesn’t happen. Take a look at that material and see what you think. Best of luck and welcome to the Everyday Bright community!

    • On
    • October 14, 2013 at 7:44 am
    • Sebastian
    • Said...

    We’ve heard for for our entire lives. How many times do we see in movies and hear from our grandparents to do what we love? Do something that you’re passionate about?

    Nevertheless, college students still shut down that inner voice and settle for fitting the crowd. Most regret it 20 years later. Is it fear of failure?

    • On
    • May 27, 2014 at 9:03 am
    • Hannah
    • Said...

    Thank you so much for this post. I am 17 and in my first semester of university. I am in a season of life where my dreams are calling me to follow them, in a different way than I expected, in very small steps that are effective to the future plan that I can’t really see yet. I know there is a plan for me in this life and I know that it could be huge, if I don’t follow the fears that consume me when I take a step forward, when I don’t cry in my car in the morning because of my insecurities yelling that I can’t do it and that I’m unimportant and really have nothing significant to bring. I’m really scared that the pressure from my parents to stay in university and my job and eveything will keep me where I am but I just have to keep taking steps. I came across your blog tonight as I was researching for an oral I’ll be speaking at university on encouraging others that they really can change the world. Thanks for the encouragement in everything you write :) x

    • Hannah,
      Delighted to have you here! Sounds like you have a lot of exciting things ahead of you. One of the things that really irks me about the traditional education system is that it rejects lifelong learning. It says you learn from age 6 to 22, and then you’re done. Then you work. Hogwash! The best learning takes place outside the classroom anyway. So whatever it is you’re contemplating doing, whether it works or doesn’t, it’s a learning experience. And if you ever decide to return to University, it will be a powerful, real life case study to continue to learn from.

      By the way, you might want to read my post on Changing the World for your talk. Good luck and please let me know how it goes!

  28. Pingback: What Is Your Ideal Career Path | New Job Today